If you thought the youth vote was a problem for Republicans in 2008 and 2012, 2016 could be a nightmare.
Millennials, born between 1981 and 1999, consist of 80 million Americans who are the largest generation in 100 years. Accounting for roughly one-fourth of the total voters today—a larger voting block than seniors citizens—they are predicted to make up as much as 40 percent of the electorate by 2020.
They are now coming of age, leaning to the left, and beginning to take over the workforce. Soon, they’ll dominate American politics too.
The McCain and Romney campaigns largely glossed over the youth vote and paid the consequences. If either had one just 45 percent of the youth vote, they would have won their elections. Republicans do not need to win the youth vote, but we need a strategy to be competitive. But, that won’t be easy.
As Pew Research reports, “Millennials today are still the only generation in which liberals are not significantly outnumbered by conservatives.” Young voters continue to identify with the Democrat Party at relatively high levels and express significantly more liberal attitudes on a range of issues, from gay marriage, abortion, the environment, and the role of the federal government.
The GOP would be well served to take a marketing-based, business-driven look at what drives millennial minds.
Republicans may not need to change their core beliefs, but the Party must take the time to understand how to understand the issues that young voters care about most about, how they see the world, and their media engagement habits and preferences.
With messaging, we need to be more specific.
When it comes to politics, the “what works” principle seems to reign supreme in their minds. As an example, Pew has found that 53 percent of millennials would prefer “Bigger government, more services,” as opposed to only 38 percent who prefer “Smaller government, fewer services.”
While this seems bad at first glance, the good news is that specific messaging might change this perception. A 2013 CRNC survey found that replacing vague warnings about government being “too big” with harder policy points was a good way to attract millennials to the message and policies of limited government conservatives. We need to avoid clichés and stick to practical policies that would help everyone.
Another example: in a 2015 survey by the Public Religion Research Institute (PPRI), 55 percent of millennials say that abortion should be legal in all or most cases, vs. 42 percent who oppose. However, a National Journal poll showed that 52 percent of millennials are in favor of banning abortions in the second trimester (after 13 weeks).
Conservatives can win this controversial debate if we campaign on specifics. Running on banning late-term and pain-capable abortions is a winner, versus running on banning all abortions, which would lose Republicans significant support.
Beyond just messaging, Republicans also need to show up. We need to message to millennials on their own turf.
Americans aged 18-to-24 consume 64 percent of their news online, and only 20 percent from television. Compare that to people to ages 55 and older consuming just 25 percent of their news online. Young voters have significantly less trust in traditional news outlets vs. online social media sites.
Conservatives are doing a great job reaching Republicans on Fox News, which older voters watch, but Republicans have no real presence in entertainment news. 39 percent of the Daily Show’s regular viewers audience is younger than 30, the largest youth audience for any TV news program.
Republican candidates need to focus more on being heard and seen on shows that have online and social media reach. It may look ridiculous to older Americans for candidates to “slow jam the news” with Jimmy Kimmel, but those are the types of videos young voters watch.
Conservative media entrepreneurs should also consider investing in youth-friendly online videos or television shows focused on humor. For TV news, it’s not necessarily that millennials favor the “liberal take” on news and politics as much as the more appealing format of talk shows like The Tonight Show and The Daily Show.
If conservatives can create similar news programs with skits and jokes in this mode, and avoid the lecture-based news programming of today’s conservative programming, we may be able to get much bigger numbers of millennial viewers consuming conservative viewpoints in the news.
Imagine recruiting Vince Vaughn or Rob Lowe to host a libertarian/conservative news show. That would be effective. While Republican candidates do not yet have access to these types of shows, we need to go into the lions’ den and appear on more liberal entertainment news more often.
Candidates who show up are more likely to win, and candidates who show up with specific, pragmatic, youth-focused messaging are what Republicans need to compete in 2016. If we do not start competing for the youth vote in 2016, we will be doomed as a Party by 2020.
J.P. Moran is a Catholic writer and marketing CEO who frequently appears on radio shows across the nation.