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Kristen Soltis Anderson is a pollster who’s spent the last few years arguing that Republicans can do better with young people, if only they can figure out how to tailor their message to the Millennial generation. Last month, she published a book on the subject, The Selfie Vote, and has been doing the media rounds promoting it. Here’s an an interview with her on the Cato Daily Podcast, and here’s another with Reason’s Nick Gillespie:
Anderson, a Millennial herself, offers plenty of reason for Republican dismay: not only do Millennials vote for Republicans less than previous generations did at the same age, there’s less reason to think that they will “naturally mature” into conservatives as they grow older. Worse yet, Republicans have shown little effort — and even less success — at figuring out why that might be or what they can do about it.
But Anderson suggests we can do something about it and offers some encouraging answers that don’t align well with conventional wisdom. To begin with, she doesn’t think social issues — specifically, gay marriage — are quite the albatrosses they’re generally presented as being. Indeed, Millennials’ attitudes about abortion are on par with those of other generations, with about half of them thinking it is morally wrong. Additionally, Millennials are actually more judgmental about sexual sins like adultery than their predecessors, and other research has shown that — stereotypes aside — they have fewer sexual partners by the age of 25 than did either Boomers or Gen-Xers. Full-sprectrum social conservatives they may not be, but neither are Millennials morality-phobic participants in unending bacchanalia. By presenting traditional values in Millennial-freindly ways — specifically, by emphasizing harm to others — Republicans have both more reasons to hope and fewer to despair than they might have thought.
Moreover, Anderson thinks Millennials might be receptive to Republican stances on economics, provided the message is tailored to their needs. Millennials are adverse to taking on debt as adults, due both to watching their parents’ savings go up in smoke in 2008 and because many of them emerge from college with heavy loans. Consequently, they have much lower rates of home and car ownership than did previous generations at the same age, and seem less interested in those things as markers of adulthood (in one of the most startling statistics in the book, fully 54% of 18-year-olds today don’t even have a drivers’ license). They do, however, respond positively to the idea of finding meaning through work and are eager to listen to anyone who will talk sense about the education debt crisis.
Anderson further argues that Millennials aren’t particularly enamored of the Democratic Party, let alone its policies. As she wrote in an article last fall:
And while it is certainly true that the GOP is not loved by very many young people, it is an astonishing failure on the part of the Democrats that their performance on the ballot in the Harvard survey is so underwhelming, given that fewer than one out of four young people actually approve of the job Republicans are doing in Congress. That Republicans have pulled to nearly even with Democrats on questions like “which party do you trust more to handle the economy” is a remarkable turn of events from just four years ago. That 57 percent of young people still say they disapprove of the Affordable Care Act is devastating for Democrats who have relied on that law as the crux of their sales pitch to the Millennial generation.
There’s an opportunity here, if only we will take it.