By Brandon Greife, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
A great chess player has the ability to see several moves ahead. He visualizes the board, predicts his opponent’s moves, and acts proactively. He dictates the flow of the game. Politics is the ultimate chess game. Unfortunately, neither team appears to be playing it very well.
For much of the recent past Republicans have relied on older voters. These are likely to be married, white, and Christian--three traditionally conservative voting blocs (especially in combination). Unfortunately, these groups are growing smaller as a proportion of the electorate.
On the other hand, Democrats are increasingly leaning on younger voters and minorities. Younger voters, often labeled Millennials, represent more than 80 million people--easily the largest generation since the Baby-Boomers. They are also the most diverse generation by a wide margin, with almost 40 percent belonging to a minority group.
With such a large and active base of young supporters it would appear Democrats have their Republican opponents nearing checkmate. But a closer look at the chessboard reveals neither party is in good strategic position to topple the other’s king.
The Republicans’ problem has been their inability to connect with youth and minorities. Only recently have they begun to deemphasize the socially conservative aspects of their platform that have polarized voters since the culture wars of the 1960s. A recent Pew Research poll found that young adults are “clearly more accepting than older Americans of homosexuality, more inclined to see evolution as the best explanation of human life and…are much less likely to affiliate with any religious tradition.” These and other social issues are not major concerns of young adults, a fact that is slowly being realized as Republicans seek to broaden their voting base.
But Democrats’ recent legislative priorities show they’ve also done a poor job at setting the board up for success. Enormous debt and deficit spending to fund a variety of new programs has created a dire fiscal future that is creating genuine fear among young adults. Then-Sen. Barack Obama said it best in 2006:
Increasing America’s debt weakens us domestically and internationally. Leadership means ‘the buck stops here.’ Instead, Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today onto the backs of our children and grandchildren. America has a debt problem and a failure of leadership.
The rhetoric of 2006 has not translated into reality come 2010. The failure of leadership now continues under his watch with trillions in new debt obligations. Young adults will not be able to ignore the red ink that fills the nation’s ledger forever. Unless Democrats act quickly to reverse the growth of the government’s deficit they will poison the well of Millennial support that carried them to historic victories in 2008.
To capitalize, Republicans must start thinking a few moves ahead. Recent GOP successes suggest the party is starting to do so. Rand Paul, Bob McDonnell, Chris Christie, and Scott Brown have been able to capture the excitement of the electorate by highlighting small government and fiscal responsibility themes while downplaying socially conservative issues that have a tendency to alienate younger voters. [See who supports Brown.]
Recent graduates know, perhaps better than anyone, the burden of debt. The average graduate walking across the stage is receiving much more than a diploma. He is walking into $23,186 in student loan debt. On average it will take him more than a decade to pay this off. A daunting sum, especially in this economy. However, this figure is dwarfed by the $117,889 that represents their share of the national debt as a taxpayer. A commitment to lowering this figure is the key to gaining the vote of young adults.
Republicans must understand that broadening their voter base is necessary if they hope to maintain the current partisan balance. Millennials are, and will continue to grow into, a political force. Thus far, Democrats have taken the support of young adults for granted. They are looking at their political chessboard and seeing an enormous piece advantage. In their complacency lies the Republican opportunity. They must be aggressive in explaining to young adults how spending today translates into debt, taxes, and slashes in government programs tomorrow. And they must present a unified message around broad fiscal themes that can appeal to a generation as diverse as young adults.
In this chess match Millennials are clearly the queen. Capture this generation and it’s as good as political checkmate.