The "millenials" born between 1982 and 2003 are a very large cohort. Ruy Teixeira has the numbers:
Between now and 2018, the number of Millennials of voting age will be increasing by about 4 and a half million a year and Millennial eligible voters by about 4 million a year. And in 2020, the first presidential election where all Millennials will have reached voting age, this generation will be 103 million strong, of which about 90 million will be eligible voters. Those 90 million Millennial eligible voters will represent just under 40 percent of America’s eligible voters.
Young voters moved strongly to the Democratic column in the 2006 and 2008 general elections. Even worse for Republicans, Morley Winograd and Michael D. Hais point out in this piece that millenials "identify as Democrats by a ratio of 2-to-1. They are the first in four generations to contain more self-perceived liberals than conservatives."
Chris Bowers highlights the "truly frightening math for Republicans":
In 2008, first time voters made up 11% of the electorate, and 69% of them voted for President Obama (D+16). Roughly 4% of the 2004 electorate did not vote in 2008, and that group had a partisan index of R+2. If that same pattern holds in 2012, then President Obama adds 5.1-5.2 million votes, and another 3.6%-3.7%, to his margin in 2012, even if recurring voters from 2008 are precisely tied. On top of their already large 2008 hole, Republicans are falling behind by more than one million additional votes every year.
What can Republicans do to appeal more to younger voters?
Some people, such as Meghan McCain and Steve Schmidt, believe the GOP needs to stop letting religious litmus tests define the party. For example, they believe a party that stands for limited government interference in personal lives should not be hostile to gay rights, including marriage equality.
Obviously the Republican Party is not going to take this advice. Many Iowa Republicans believe gay marriage will be their ticket to victory in 2010. Some conservative activists have even threatened to support primary challenges to Republicans who oppose same-sex marriage but didn't push the issue strongly enough in the state legislature.
Another way Republicans could stop the bleeding among young voters is to improve their standing with Latinos, who make up a higher percentage of the millenials than of the older cohorts of voters. The GOP has lost considerable ground with Latino voters since 2004, when President Bush won approximately 44 percent of the demographic. John McCain was touted as a Republican presidential candidate with great potential to appeal to this group, but he only won about 31 percent of Latino votes last November.
Ben Smith reported at Politico that Republican leaders are aware of this problem:
"It’s absolutely urgent. The demographics are there in black and white," said former Rep. Henry Bonilla (R-Texas), a casualty of the Hispanic swing to the Democratic Party. "If we don’t figure out a way to open our party up to more Hispanic voters, nothing else we do will matter. Mathematically, we can’t get there from here."
The math is, in fact, simple. Hispanic voters represented 7.4 percent of the electorate in 2008, up from 6 percent in 2004 and 5.4 percent in 2000. And growing Latino populations in the Midwest and the Carolinas stand to give Democrats an edge in a growing number of swing states. [...]
But so far, there are few visible attempts to reverse the trend.
"They’re making no overt efforts to appeal to Hispanics again," said University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato, whose new book cites the defection of Hispanics from the Republicans as a central cause of Obama’s victory. "They all know it’s a problem. They aren’t talking about it, because they fear the anti-immigration wing of their party."
"They’re afraid to even mention the word ‘Hispanic,’" he said.
So again, the Republican base stands in the way of the party appealing to large numbers of young voters. Good work, Steve King fans!
A third tactic, favored by many Republicans in the business community, is for the party to go back to the Reaganite strategy that served Republicans well during the 1980s. Downplay divisive cultural issues and make the case for lower taxes, spending cuts and less government interference in the economy generally. It sounds like a good strategy until you learn more about where millenials stand on economic issues. David Madland and Ruy Teixeira just published an eye-opening report called New Progressive America: The Millennial Generation. Teixeira included some findings from the report in this post, and it's worth clicking over to see the graphs.
For instance, 78 percent of millenials agree with the statement, "We need a strong government to handle today's economic problems." Only 22 percent of millenials agreed with the conservative statement, "The free market can handle these problems without government being involved." Also,
60 percent of 18-29 year olds agree that "It's time for government to take a larger and stronger role in making the economy work for the average American," according to that survey; 27 percent agree that "Turning to big government to solve our economic problems will do more harm than good"; 13 percent said "both." The poll includes results from targeted online samples (people recruited on demographic basis to complete a survey online) and phone surveys on both land lines and cell phones.
It doesn't sound to me like communicating Reaganesque beliefs better through social media and traditional channels will solve the GOP's problem with younger voters.
Like Reagan bashed liberals in the 1980s, Republican leaders today are labeling Democratic proposals "leftist" and "socialist." I don't think they'll get far with this tactic, especially with young voters. Neither does Republican blogger Matt Mitchell, who mocked the recent RNC decision to brand the Democratic Party the "Democrat Socialist Party":
How in the world are you going to tell a generation that didn't live through the Soviet Union that universal health care is evil because it's "socialist"?
You can't. Which is why the RNC either needs to find better ways to spend its time rather than play with names, or find some new members who will actually contribute to building a better long term outlook for the party.
Mind you, it won't pay for Democrats to get over confident. If we don't produce results at the federal and state level, we won't necessarily hang on to our current margin with millenials or other groups that have swung toward Democrats during the past eight years. Bowers cautions:
Now, partisan voting preferences within demographics groups are not fixed. This is especially true among age cohorts. There is no doubt that disillusionment could kick in at some point. For example in 1996, when Generation X made up the entire 18-29 group, it gave Democrats their strongest performance among youth voters ever (D+6). However, only four years later, Bush and Gore were tied among younger voters. That is a rapid partisan shift, and it could happen again if Democrats do not govern well, and / or don't manage their image well.
That said, the Republican Party is in a very deep hole with millenials, and may keep digging under pressure from the uncompromising conservative base.
Share any relevant thoughts or predictions in this thread.
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