Millennials are a new force in American politics In the recent past they helped usher in a president that knew how speak to them and their desires – even if the promises are now coming up short.
Millennials generally perceive the G.O.P as an outdated party basing their agenda on antiquated traditions not fit for present day. Kristen Soltis Anderson, a pollster and columnist for The Daily Beast who’s a prominent voice in the conservative/libertarian movement on how to engage Millennials, believes otherwise.
“I think our message is incredibly relevant to young people,” Anderson said in a phone interview. “I think what it starts by is being the movement that really talks about innovation and problem-solving, that we are not the movement of the past, that we are not the movement of the status quo.
“We are the movement of Uber, of start-ups, we are the movement that wants to get old restrictions out of the way that are preventing them from having flexible jobs or that are forcing dependency on others instead of relying upon yourself,” Anderson said enthusiastically.
This is exactly what Millennials want. They want to make an impact on a world that’s changing as fast as the Twitter feed updates on their battery-drained smartphones. They don’t want to be held back by unnecessary restrictions that inhibit their ability to start a business.
Their entrepreneurial spirit is something the conservative/libertarian movement can capture and use to fuel the driving force behind limited government and free market principles.
“Millennials are focused on problem-solving, on taking care of the people in their lives, and they’re sort of optimistic while at the same time being very distrustful of big existing institutions,” Anderson said. “They want someone to explain, ‘here’s how this idea solves a problem.’”
“This is somewhere I think conservatives have a challenge, but also an opportunity. We can’t guarantee everyone is going to be rich and successful, but what we can do is say our model offers people the most opportunity to make the most of their lives,” Anderson added.
The Republican party hopes to take advantage of that opportunity, although young voters have recently backed Democrats such as President Obama or libertarian Republicans such as Ron Paul.
“When it comes to winning more Millennial votes we have to show up, we have to be where they are,” said Raffi Williams, the deputy press secretary of the Republican National Committee responsible for the communications and messaging for young people. “We can’t be afraid to go to their college campuses and hear their concerns.
“In the past we haven’t done as good of a job as we should have going to young people and having a conversation to see what issues matter to them. Now we’re changing that around and are making sure that’s a focus of our operation here in campaigns,” Williams added.
But just as America was rocked by the recession, so to were the Millennials in their faith in government and those who deny steps to fix it. Practical solutions that produce tangible results felt both in the heart and wallet can be the golden ticket that will make Millennials believers once more.
“A lot of Millennials came of political age during the financial crisis so the idea that the market will take care of itself is terrifying,” Anderson said. “We as the pro-liberty, pro-market movement need to do a better job of talking to Millennials about why individual liberty can solve problems, why it’s not just an end, but it is a means to other very important ends that affect their daily lives.”
On the local and state level Republicans are seeing some gradual success with Millennials and, as Anderson put it, are beginning to “show [their] work” and show why these principles of limited government and free markets can lead to positive outcomes in people’s lives.
In San Diego, pro-business mayor Kevin Faulconer, with the help of the College Republican National Committee, proved that Republicans and members of the right are open to new ideas that go against common ideological stereotypes. Faulconer appointed San Diego’s first woman police chief and struck down a proposal that would’ve required a tax hike for funding affordable housing developments.
On the opposite side of the country, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie captured 49% of the 18-29 age bracket votes, a 13-percentage point increase from 2009 (his comical appearance on Jimmy Fallon might have contributed to that improvement). Challenger Barbara Buono had 51% of young voters, but saw a 6-percentage point dip.
In Virginia, former Attorney General of Virginia Ken Cuccinelli won over 18-24 year olds in his 2013 campaign against now-Governor of Virginia Terry McAuliffe with 45-39 percent of the vote respectively in that group. The CRNC were once again critical players in mobilizing their peers to cast their vote.
These were only a small pool of examples, but it shows that the Republican Party’s mission to open the floor to hear and engage with young voters is beginning to work.
It would’ve been foolish on the part of Republicans and Libertarians to ignore an electorate that will account for 36% of the voting population by 2020. In 2012 they made up 26% of the electorate.
The Millennial voice wants to be heard and their votes are going to go to the party that chooses to listen.
“I think that the conservative and libertarian movement has a lot of opportunity, but we first have to decide that young voters matter to us,”Anderson said. “We have to be ready to talk about how our ideas actually solve problems.”