- - Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Republican party has a problem when it comes to millennials. What’s the use in ignoring it?

In 2012, young voters overwhelmingly turned out for Democrats. But there was also another dynamic at work: During that election cycle, most millennials wanted to avoid being labeled as a Republican. To align oneself with the “R word” was, in their minds, to support a party that was out of touch with the young, cosmopolitan and intellectually curious population.

But that’s the past. What about the future?

Millennials could make up more than 36 percent of the voting pool in 2016. So while bringing this critical demographic to the right side of the ballot box won’t be easy, but it’s never been more important.

Where should the GOP start?

By intelligently rebranding its message. The key to success doesn’t lie in changing the message, but in packaging and selling it more effectively. Put simply, conservatives have to show millennials why conservatism can work for them. Here’s how:

• Keep the message positive: Republicans must paint an uplifting picture that shows how conservative policies lead people out of hardship. Democrats currently do a far better job of this, most commonly by telling voters what the government will give them. President Obama has made a point to advocate for “free” college, health care, food, housing and even child care. It feels good to be told that you’re entitled to free stuff.

In contrast, the GOP’s desire to reform (or as the left says, “slash and burn”) welfare programs and handouts has made it appear heartless in the eyes of many millennials. Instead of saying they want to “cut” wasteful government programs, Republican candidates should highlight specific pathways to social mobility as alternatives to welfare dependency.

Remember, positivity has a proven track record.

Ronald Reagan mastered the art of using passionate, positive messaging to effectively convey conservatives principles. This style worked so well with young people in the in the 1984 election that Reagan won the youth vote by 20 points. And the 20-somethings of the ‘80s still remain the most Republican voter group.

• Reach out to traditionally non-conservative groups: Forty-three percent of millennials are non-white, making them most racially diverse generation in U.S. history. Democrats, who currently enjoy 80 percent of the black vote, have shamelessly portrayed Republicans as racist. By reaching out to minorities in meaningful ways, Republicans can help prove their potential to advance the well-being of minority communities.

After all, liberal policies have imprisoned generations of underprivileged people in poverty by subsidizing them to stay poor. Just look at Detroit, where 35 percent of citizens are on food stamps and 40 percent are in poverty. Democrats have been “taking care” of Detroit residents with big-government policies since 1962, when the city had its last Republican mayor. Similarly, Baltimore, the recipient of $1.8 billion from the Obama administration, remains in a state of social poverty. Businesses are fleeing the city, educational standards remain pathetic, and the streets burn with anger and hopelessness. Republicans show these communities that opportunity and free enterprise leads to prosperity and empowerment.

• Chill on abortion and gay marriage; turn the heat up on economy and jobs: If Republicans insist on making 2016 all about abortion and gay wedding cakes, so be it. But kiss the 2016 youth vote goodbye. Young voters will not elect a president who is more closely associated with restraining abortion and gay rights than boosting economic prosperity and creating jobs.

Millennials, who tend to be more secular, are not interested in legislating morality: 68 percent support legalizing gay marriage, 69 percent support legalizing marijuana, and 56 percent think abortion should be legal in most cases. The facts are clear.

Republicans can resonate with these voters by focusing on the economy. Today’s 20-somethings are 10 percent less likely to have a job now than they were a decade ago. Liberal policies put in place during the Obama administration have impeded free enterprise and punished workplace opportunities.

• Utilize edgy messaging platforms: The bad news for Republicans is that ABC, NBC, CBS, MSNBC, and The New York Times hate them; the good news is that young people don’t watch or read these old media outlets. Seventy-one percent of young Americans use the Internet as their main news source.

In 2012, Mr. Obama did a fantastic job speaking to millennials via sources that they used most. He has communicated with the younger generation by doing interviews on sites like Vox and Buzzfeed. The Democrats’ willingness to embrace new media has made them the party of everything hip and fresh. To compete, Republicans must ramp up their Internet presence and set up a powerful social media infrastructure. Posting attack ads isn’t enough.

Conservatives should also be edgier and take some risks. For example, street artist SABO brought an element of coolness to Ted Cruz when he plastered Los Angeles with posters of the Texas senator as a smoker with two full sleeves of tattoos. This isn’t just about PR. Tapping into current and unique communication methods echoes the creative energy of many of today’s young voters and will make them listen.

The 2016 elections may prove to be a turning point in American politics. If Republicans can find a fresh way to present their message of freedom and personal responsibility, millennials will take notice. And come November 2016, some might finally take a chance with the R-word.

Kristin Tate is a political columnist.

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