This weekend, my research on young voters was featured prominently in a New York Times magazine piece about the next generation of Republicans who are working to rebuild their party. Two factors that need to be addressed by the GOP were the main focus: the party's brand and the party's technological apparatus. Indeed, the Republican Party is struggling with large groups of voters and these key components drove Republican losses in 2012.
The reaction I've received from those who read about the research has been quite positive, from Republicans eager to have their party back on strong footing with the broad electorate, and from independents who have said they are hopeful the Republican Party can again be a viable alternative for which they could vote. Young voters do not simply view Republicans as wrong on policy; they actively question Republican motives and aims and therefore look skeptically at the party, even on areas where they agree with the GOP, such as the national debt.
One of the most common criticisms, however, has been that the solutions proposed seem too narrow, that they focus on social media and changing positions on the social issues as the two next steps. I couldn't agree more that such an approach would be the wrong one. In fact, in 2009, I wrote: "But the idea that the GOP can get all of their members to sign up for Twitter, flip its position on gay marriage and suddenly have young voters rushing to join the party misses the point."
If there is one message I'd hope to convey to my party, it is this: The challenges we face are great, and they are all interconnected. We need an "all-of-the-above" approach to fixing the GOP.
Take for example the conversation about voter groups with whom Republicans do not do well. Republicans are struggling to win young voters as well as nonwhite voters. These two issues are linked, as fewer than 6 out of 10 young voters are white, while three out of four voters over the age of 30 are white. Indeed, Mitt Romney won young white voters by seven points but lost young non-white voters by such huge margins that he lost the youth vote overall by 23 points. Any approach to improving outreach to one group necessarily involves reaching out to the other.
Or take the problem of the GOP's incomplete embrace of data and technology in campaigns. Democratic targeting, using "big data," ran circles around what the Republican Party was able to do last cycle. Many may also recall that GOP challenges with polling, as data obtained through traditional methods using outdated assumptions about the electorate were proven wrong on Election Day. These two problems are not isolated from one another, and a change in how our campaigns culturally embrace and use data needs a major overhaul that will touch our targeting, strategy. and polling operations.
It is easy to say that the GOP's problem isn't a messaging problem, it's a candidate problem. Or that it's not a candidate problem but a demographics problem. Or that it is not a demographics problem, it's a technology problem. Or that it's not a technology problem, it's a policy and solutions problem.
The hard truth is that it is all of the above.
The problems that face my party are interconnected, and a piecemeal plan for fixing the GOP is not enough. We need an "all of the above" approach to rebuilding the party, and we need to start that hard work today.