Why Republicans Haven’t (Yet) Lost The Selfie Vote

 

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.

There are 40 comments.

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  1. bridget Inactive
    bridget
    @bridget

    Bad: “Kids should work their way through college just like I did [when the inflation-adjusted cost was 1/4th of what it is today].”

    Better: “The ready availability of student loans, plus the inability to discharge in bankruptcy AND the lack of accountability for universities, has created this crisis.  Here are five proposed laws that will start to reverse this crisis.”

    Bad: [Screaming about aspirin and women’s knees]

    Better: “If we can figure out how to run Fortune 500 companies, we can figure out our own birth control.  That’s girl power. Republicans even want to make the Pill OTC.  Planned Parenthood has opposed our efforts for three years.”

    This isn’t rocket surgery, as they say.  Just stop insulting people, explain why feel-good policies actually cause harm, and put forth better solutions.

    • #1
  2. Frank Soto Contributor
    Frank Soto
    @FrankSoto

    This issue is being over thought by a lot of people.  Voters tend to coalesce around a party based on where the country is at when they reach voting age and who is in charge.

    Millenials lean so heavily democrat because they came of age at the end of the Clinton Years (highly prosperous) The Bush years (several years of economic downturn and unpopular wars)

    A successful Republican presidency creates the next generation of Young republicans.

    legacies

    • #2
  3. DocJay Inactive
    DocJay
    @DocJay

    This election will be the last in our lifetimes ( barring catastrophe) to elect a conservative to the white house.

    • #3
  4. Frank Soto Contributor
    Frank Soto
    @FrankSoto

    DocJay:This election will be the last in our lifetimes ( barring catastrophe) to elect a conservative to the white house.

    The Democrats thought this about their own party in the early nineties after young people were similarly pro-republican.

    • #4
  5. Frank Soto Contributor
    Frank Soto
    @FrankSoto

    For those who doubt my statement above, look at the chart of the young people produced during the Reagan years, and read this piece from 1988 by E.J. Dionne

    • #5
  6. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England
    @JamesOfEngland

    We should absolutely get her to write and sell her book on Ricochet, but I remain disappointed by her paired beliefs that we should talk about profit and growth more, and that it’s disappointing that there isn’t a conservative message being preached on student debt. The answer to that is to point out that economic growth diminishes debt, including student debt, not to stop talking about debt.

    • #6
  7. Bereket Kelile Member
    Bereket Kelile
    @BereketKelile

    James Of England:We should absolutely get her to write and sell her book on Ricochet, but I remain disappointed by her paired beliefs that we should talk about profit and growth more, and that it’s disappointing that there isn’t a conservative message being preached on student debt. The answer to that is to point out that economic growth diminishes debt, including student debt, not to stop talking about debt.

    I don’t know if you read her book. I didn’t. My feeling, which I think has been confirmed by multiple reviewers, is that she provides an excellent analysis of where millennials are at the moment. Where it unravels is in her prescriptions, which is where these efforts often tend to crash and burn. What disturbs me is the contradicting opinions, like the fact that they don’t expect to get Social Security when they retire but they also oppose reforms. Sometimes I feel like she gives them a bit more credit for legitimacy than they deserve, but I’m trying not to be cynical.

    • #7
  8. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England
    @JamesOfEngland

    Bereket Kelile:

    James Of England:We should absolutely get her to write and sell her book on Ricochet, but I remain disappointed by her paired beliefs that we should talk about profit and growth more, and that it’s disappointing that there isn’t a conservative message being preached on student debt. The answer to that is to point out that economic growth diminishes debt, including student debt, not to stop talking about debt.

    I don’t know if you read her book. I didn’t. My feeling, which I think has been confirmed by multiple reviewers, is that she provides an excellent analysis of where millennials are at the moment. Where it unravels is in her prescriptions, which is where these efforts often tend to crash and burn. What disturbs me is the contradicting opinions, like the fact that they don’t expect to get Social Security when they retire but they also oppose reforms. Sometimes I feel like she gives them a bit more credit for legitimacy than they deserve, but I’m trying not to be cynical.

    I got the impression that there was more than a pinch of projection, which then makes it hard to suggest that the desires described are illegitimate.

    • #8
  9. Sabrdance Member
    Sabrdance
    @Sabrdance

    Bereket Kelile:

    James Of England:

    Sometimes I feel like she gives them a bit more credit for legitimacy than they deserve, but I’m trying not to be cynical.

    I think to myself: this is what Pompey felt when he saw Caesar descending on Rome with his one measly legion.  “The glory and majesty of Rome, undone by one man with a rabble and vanity.”

    Even the smart ones have never thought in their lives -and they plan to get through to the end of their lives without thinking.  They oppose reform because the people who taught them oppose reform.  They don’t expect to get anything because the people who taught them (who do expect to get something) told they they aren’t going to get anything.  This is simply life to them.  There is nothing to be done about it.

    For this I do not entirely blame them -their teachers failed first.

    We are simply discussing better ways to manipulate the gullible.

    • #9
  10. Frank Soto Contributor
    Frank Soto
    @FrankSoto

    Sabrdance: We are simply discussing better ways to manipulate the gullible.

    I would argue that a clear majority of people have been gullible across all of human history.

    This generation is only unique in that we are so prosperous that their gullibility and stupidity is not suppressed by the every day work of staying alive.

    • #10
  11. zepplinmike Inactive
    zepplinmike
    @zepplinmike

    I actually think that, while problematic constitutionally, the recent gay marriage decision in the Supreme Court could prove to be a boon to the GOP with young people over time. That was one issue where the GOP platform and a strong majority of young people, even conservatives like myself, were totally at odds. Now the issue is not only decided in legal sense, but it’s essentially out of the party’s hands and it can stop being a dealbreaker for young voters. When it comes to other social/moral issues, I agree with the author that millennials (of which I am one) aren’t at all uniformly left-leaning.

    • #11
  12. david foster Member
    david foster
    @DavidFoster

    I wrote about this issue a couple of weeks ago:  Something is happening here, but you don’t know what it is…do you, Mr Priebus?

    • #12
  13. Bereket Kelile Member
    Bereket Kelile
    @BereketKelile

    Sabrdance:

    Bereket Kelile:

    James Of England:

    Sometimes I feel like she gives them a bit more credit for legitimacy than they deserve, but I’m trying not to be cynical.

    I think to myself: this is what Pompey felt when he saw Caesar descending on Rome with his one measly legion. “The glory and majesty of Rome, undone by one man with a rabble and vanity.”

    Even the smart ones have never thought in their lives -and they plan to get through to the end of their lives without thinking. They oppose reform because the people who taught them oppose reform. They don’t expect to get anything because the people who taught them (who do expect to get something) told they they aren’t going to get anything. This is simply life to them. There is nothing to be done about it.

    For this I do not entirely blame them -their teachers failed first.

    We are simply discussing better ways to manipulate the gullible.

    Before I dismiss an entire generation I will say that it’s important for campaigns to measure behavior rather than opinion in their research. The driving questions should be: how are people voting and why? Simply polling their opinions and trying to divine a strategy out of that is misguided.

    • #13
  14. Doug Watt Moderator
    Doug Watt
    @DougWatt

    My children came before the Millennials’ generation. I have some exposure to Millennials’ through family ties. What I have observed is anecdotal. They do not like to be challenged when it comes to ideas or concepts. Everything was provided such as playdates or recreation. Intellectual strife must be avoided at all costs. They view history as one big mistake and they have no interest in examining the root causes of conflict or the philosophy of ideas. They have grown up with the ability to shut the world out with the internet and create their own virtual world. They not only resent being challenged by the generations that came before them they resent being challenged by their own generation.

    Part of the reason they avoid any debt is because it is a way to avoid commitment just as avoiding marriage does. Are all Millennials like this? Of course not.

    I’m not sure making a collective appeal is going to work. They will ask what’s in it for me. When they ask that question they mean what’s in it for me starting tomorrow morning. Maybe we should promise them a safe room, a blanket, WiFi, and headphones and we’ll never bother them again if they vote for a Republican.

    • #14
  15. Judithann Campbell Member
    Judithann Campbell
    @

    Thank you for this post. What do we have to gain from attacking young people? As a gen xer, I am painfully aware that my childhood and young adulthood was actually much easier than it is for young people today. There was no terrorism back then, at least not in America, and there weren’t any mass shootings either. Lots of people thought that war was a thing of the past. In a million years, I would never claim that kids these days have it easier than I did.

    Some of the criticism that has been leveled at young people is legitimate, such as, their extreme discomfort with being challenged, but they are more than a just a bundle of gullible faults: as the op points out, in some ways, they are actually better than people of my generation. We shouldn’t ignore their good qualities, of which there are many. If we just attack and dismiss them, then we are finished. Why would anyone want to be finished?

    • #15
  16. Tenacious D Inactive
    Tenacious D
    @TenaciousD

    Tom Meyer, Ed.: … there’s less reason to think that they will “naturally mature” into conservatives as they grow older.

    I think this has a lot to do with the economy. Too many millenials haven’t had the experience of having a real job and earning a paycheck.

    As a millenial, let me offer a few suggestions on strategies:

    • Cities: we’re a very urban generation. There are a lot of success stories from conservative governors, but few from mayors of top-tier cities. Getting people elected to city councils and mayorships and enacting reforms (e.g. less restrictive zoning) that enhance freedom and make things more affordable would be a good start.
    • Make capitalism more accessible. This is already happening (with the gig economy and equity crowdfunding), but I feel like there is a lot of opportunity to encourage it by reducing/simplifying regulations. This is relevant: http://pjmedia.com/instapundit/212038/
    •  SJWs: there are some really strident voices in our generation, but I think a lot of millenials are starting to tire of the perpetual outrage. “Never interrupt your opponent when he is making a mistake.”
    • #16
  17. Ed G. Inactive
    Ed G.
    @EdG

    bridget:Bad: “Kids should work their way through college just like I did [when the inflation-adjusted cost was 1/4th of what it is today].”

    Better: “The ready availability of student loans, plus the inability to discharge in bankruptcy AND the lack of accountability for universities, has created this crisis. Here are five proposed laws that will start to reverse this crisis.”

    Bad: [Screaming about aspirin and women’s knees]

    Better: “If we can figure out how to run Fortune 500 companies, we can figure out our own birth control. That’s girl power. Republicans even want to make the Pill OTC. Planned Parenthood has opposed our efforts for three years.”

    …..

    I don’t think the lack of laws is driving the insane tuition inflation and resultant student debt problem. Certainly there are other bigger factors contributing too. Working through school (or before school) still seems like a prudent suggestion to me, despite the changed circumstances. How is that a slap in the face?

    Otherwise, does the Republican Party really want to make the pill OTC? I’m not so sure that would get majority support. Besides, Democrats have their crazies saying insulting and weird things too and yet it never seems to stick as part of the brand. Holding an apirin between your legs is hardly the Republican platform. At some point, responsible voters need to pay enough attention to distinguish between mainstream and ouliers and simply stupid offhand remarks.

    • #17
  18. Judithann Campbell Member
    Judithann Campbell
    @

    Ed G.: Working through school (or before school) still seems like a prudent suggestion to me, despite the changed circumstances. How is that a slap in the face?

    Back in the early nineties, I mostly worked my way through classes at a state university. Tuition for a full schedule was $500 a semester. I lived off campus. I didn’t incur any debt. Last time I checked, full time tuition for the state university in which I live was $10,000 a year for a student living off campus. How can a young person work their way through that at a low skilled, minimum wage job, without incurring debt?

    All the young people I know who are in college also work. Many do live with their parents to save money, but they work, and they work hard.

    • #18
  19. Ed G. Inactive
    Ed G.
    @EdG

    Judithann Campbell:

    Ed G.: Working through school (or before school) still seems like a prudent suggestion to me, despite the changed circumstances. How is that a slap in the face?

    Back in the early nineties, I mostly worked my way through classes at a state university. Tuition for a full schedule was $500 a semester. I lived off campus. I didn’t incur any debt. Last time I checked, full time tuition for the state university in which I live was $10,000 a year for a student living off campus. How can a young person work their way through that at a low skilled, minimum wage job, without incurring debt?

    All the young people I know who are in college also work. Many do live with their parents to save money, but they work, and they work hard.

    Agreed about the difference between 30 years ago and now. Fixing that has no easy solution and no solution through additional law. For an individual student, working certainly won’t hurt. It’s not an insult nor is it an irrelevance. Earning $12k per year is $12k less debt that must be taken on. That makes a difference. Or, perhaps people should work several years before going to school. Come to the table with a war chest then continue working and supplement with loans if necessary. Otherwise, junior college is probably the better solution for many students anyway, and it is not a bank buster.

    • #19
  20. The Cloaked Gaijin Member
    The Cloaked Gaijin
    @TheCloakedGaijin

    bridget:Bad: [Screaming about aspirin and women’s knees]

    Huh?

    • #20
  21. Solar Eclipse Inactive
    Solar Eclipse
    @SolarEclipse

    As a millennial conservative, I agree about the social issues.  We should take a lesson from the way traditional evangelical churches are growing, while the older progressive ones are shrinking.  Liberal secularism is an empty shell, and at least some of us are starting to realize it.  A conservatism that abandons the social issues in a misguided effort to attract younger voters is unlikely to succeed, and if it does, it will be a misguided victory.  Lacking a respect for shared meaning about life and community, any gains based purely on economic and political freedom will collapse in the end.

    I especially appreciate the author’s urge to reframe sexual values in terms of “harm to others.”  Increasingly, science and sociology are revealing objective, empirically-verifiable harm to both individual and community as a result of our sexually permissive culture.  Millennials are bearing the brunt of the damage.  Once we collectively start questioning the dogma of the Sexual Revolution, other aspects of the progressive worldview will start to fall apart.  Far from dodging the issue, the Right should be eager to hasten the process.

    • #21
  22. iDad Inactive
    iDad
    @iDad

    I heard her on Prager’s show.  She said that Millennials dislike government debt and being taxed but oppose reforming programs like Social Security and Medicare because it would hurt the people who receive benefits.

    How do you appeal to a generation (and, yes, I know there are exceptions) that engages in such “magical thinking?’

    • #22
  23. Judithann Campbell Member
    Judithann Campbell
    @

    iDad: How do you appeal to a generation (and, yes, I know there are exceptions) that engages in such “magical thinking?’

    I understand your frustration, but how do we not engage them? I don’t have all the answers, but we should be bending over backwards trying to engage young people. If we aren’t willing to do that, then we might as well just pack it up and go home.

    • #23
  24. Super Nurse Inactive
    Super Nurse
    @SuperNurse

    DocJay:This election will be the last in our lifetimes ( barring catastrophe) to elect a conservative to the white house.

    I totally understand and indeed, am frequently tempted to throw in the towel myself. However, this defeatist attitude has been shown time and again to be inaccurate. Worse, it makes us stop fighting. Buck up, Doc Jay! We have hard work ahead of us, maybe insurmountable. But we won’t know if we don’t try!

    • #24
  25. dialm Inactive
    dialm
    @DialMforMurder

    I have faith that things will come good in the end. Maybe after the economic and social collapse followed by bitter breakup of America and all the major western states, and subjugation at the hands of terrorists and dictators. But sooner or later we Millennials will realise where we went wrong.

    What locked me into the conservative camp was being burned by GFC and the lie that university-education equals high-paying job. But I didn’t have any major family wealth to fall back on and was forced into self-sufficiency earlier than almost everyone else my age. Reality will come to all of them soon enough, maybe once losing everything becomes a reality , sadly. I don’t sympathise with the “we have to change to make conservatism look cool” argument though. Millies just have to grow up, rather than having the right infantilise.

    • #25
  26. Judithann Campbell Member
    Judithann Campbell
    @

    I haven’t heard anyone suggest that we should change to make conservatism look good. I would actually be in favor of challenging young people head on when it comes to specific issues, such as their rabid political correctness and total lack of humor. Actually, the young people I know aren’t like that, but I have heard from many different sources that a large segment of college kids really are pretty bad when it comes to political correctness, so, by all means, challenge them: on specific issues. But to just dismiss them all as a bunch of hopeless losers is both unfair to them and suicidal for us.

    Engaging young people is not the same thing as pandering to them.

    • #26
  27. Judithann Campbell Member
    Judithann Campbell
    @

    I misspoke in my earlier comment: for older people to dismiss young people as a bunch of hopeless losers is suicidal for America. No one knows what the future holds; if we try to engage and challenge young people, we might fail. If we don’t try, we will fail, and America will fail too. Some may say that I am being naive. If saying that America is doomed is what you have to say to be considered smart around here, then I guess I will just have to live with being dumb.

    • #27
  28. Tom Meyer, Ed. Contributor
    Tom Meyer, Ed.
    @tommeyer

    iDad:I heard her on Prager’s show. She said that Millennials dislike government debt and being taxed but oppose reforming programs like Social Security and Medicare because it would hurt the people who receive benefits.

    How do you appeal to a generation (and, yes, I know there are exceptions) that engages in such “magical thinking?’

    I agree that’s nuts, but my understanding is that Boomers and Gen-Xers hold (basically) the same position.

    • #28
  29. Ed G. Inactive
    Ed G.
    @EdG

    Judithann Campbell:I haven’t heard anyone suggest that we should change to make conservatism look good. I would actually be in favor of challenging young people head on when it comes to specific issues, …..

    Engaging young people is not the same thing as pandering to them.

    How much of the disgruntlement and dissatisfaction on the right boils down to these desires: our guys need to challenge opposition and engage the persuadable. More than any particular stance on any particular issue, this is what I most want: a leader capable and willing to do that. A party class capable of that and willing to do it. Maybe then, we’d be more willing top accept compromise knowing that our case is being made and that we have people at the helm with their eyes on the real prize rather than just getting by.

    • #29
  30. Ed G. Inactive
    Ed G.
    @EdG

    Which is why, during the last election, I applauded Santorum for engaging that audience member on gay marriage in a calm and reasonable manner. The alternative is losing for sure. It’s why we like when Christie gets blunt and testifies to progressive hecklers who think they have his number. It’s why we like that Scott Walker didn’t take the easy way out of his fights in Wisconsin. It’s why we loved Reagan: the ability to simply yet persuasively make our case on various issues.

    There are those who deride this as ensuring defeat, who think that taking on tough positions and issues is a sure loser. I disagree. The only sure loser is not trying at all, whether we’re talking about engaging millennials or whether we’re talking about reforming social security or Obamacare.

    • #30
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