The Republican Party hasn’t captured a majority of the 18-25 demographic for decades now, and with President-elect Obama renewing the debate about youth in politics, it’s about time we ask ourselves, “How can the GOP capture its fair share of the youth vote?” As a rare member of that demographic who votes Republican (Obama won the youth vote 66-32), I have a few answers — and they all have to do with some fundamental differences in mindsets and rhetoric. The disconnect is more about words and less about policies.
The 18-25 demographic is made up of a few types of voters, the two largest being the idealistic and apathetic. Somehow, election cycle after election cycle, the Democrats manage to mobilize the idealistic and either scare the apathetic into action or, in the event of a pro-Republican cycle, keep them home. If the GOP could somehow make the case that there is idealism in conservatism and there is an urgency of action, we wouldn’t lose the youth vote. It is true that there is a wave of liberal thought on college campuses, but policy points aren’t driving the difference in young adult voting.
Let’s start with the idealists. Throughout the last election cycle, Republicans made fun of the “hope and change” mantra of the Obama campaign and criticized it for lacking substance. What most didn’t realize was that he was making a direct appeal to the 18-25 demographic. Yes, he was attacking the Bush administration by pushing “change,” but he was also trying to inspire a group of young adults who favor big ideas over meticulous details and new vision over long-developed experience. John McCain ran as the pragmatist, while Barack Obama ran as the idealist. Idealism sells to the youth vote.