The largest issue negatively impacting the Republican Party’s ability to win young people, and the electorate at large, is the GOP’s lack of a coherent, positive message.
The GOP’s current message amounts to vague, wildly incoherent (though not unwarranted) negativity directed toward the Biden Administration and the Democratic Party. The thought process driving this messaging is pretty simple as it was designed to capitalize on the widespread unpopularity of both the Democrats and the Biden presidency. Younger voters disapprove of both Biden and his party, with 54 percent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 34 expressing disapproval at Biden’s job performance, and 55 percent expressing disapproval of the Democratic Party, according to Civiqs polling. Going on the attack, however, can only do so much for a Republican Party that happens to be even more unpopular than the Democrats among younger voters, scoring a 73 percent unfavorable rating among Americans aged 18 to 34.
Further contributing to the problem is that the common response from frustrated older Republicans when confronted with the overwhelmingly liberal voting tendencies of young voters is to lambast them for vague negative characteristics such as laziness and degenerate behavior or to simply blame their voting patterns on outside forces such as academic indoctrination.
After research showed high youth turnout contributed to the liberal candidate Janet Protasiewicz’s victory over her conservative challenger in Wisconsin’s Supreme Court election, former Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who currently serves as the President of Young America’s Foundation, a conservative group targeting young people, went out on Twitter to do just this. “Younger voters may be behind the stinging loss for conservatives in WI this week”, he pointed out. “Digital ads. Student coalitions. None of these will do it. We have to undo years of liberal indoctrination.”
There’s a major problem with this type of response. It shoves away all responsibility for Republicans to make an effort to appeal to young people as they are and attributes their failures to the politicization of academia, a problem for which no solution has been outlined by the party.
This strategy of ignoring young voters and their interests has done the GOP no favors. Last year’s midterm elections, largely anticipated to result in major gains for the GOP, yielded very little outside of California, Florida, and New York. In many areas of the country—especially the Midwest which has been at the forefront of Republican expansion in the Trump era—Republicans failed to produce any wave whatsoever.
Many different scapegoats have been put forward by frustrated Republicans to explain the recent electoral stagnation, but the explanation that’s legitimately backed by data is the ever-prominent progressive slant among young voters. A 2021 poll conducted by Axios and Momentive showed that 54 percent of Gen Z (ages 18 to 24) hold negative views of capitalism, and just 42 percent of the young generation view capitalism favorably. Younger voters have always voted to the left, but they’re becoming an even greater thorn on the GOP’s side in the wake of the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, which is resulting in stronger turnout among pro-abortion voters, such as in the case with Wisconsin’s Supreme Court election.
The reality is that young people actually do have goals in life, and plenty have concerns about the direction the country is headed and how it will affect their livelihoods. Many are worried about being able to buy a home, have children, and raise a family without spending their life savings. Many are worried about being able to get by without requiring two full-time incomes. Many are worried about whether or not they’ll have to compete for work with foreign laborers or whether any job they obtain could one day be outsourced overseas entirely. For them, vague talk about the GDP or federal spending isn’t going to cut it.
To an extent, the GOP has begun talking about these issues in recent years. Increasingly, Republican talking points have taken some notice of problems, such as declining home ownership, marriage and birth rates, and the decline of the American workforce. The platform has grown to include protectionist measures on jobs and trade, and policies that incentivize family creation, but only in certain instances and by certain figures, mainly those who are in the “National Conservative” sphere of the party.
A strong example of this mindset comes from J. D. Vance, the recently elected U.S. senator from Ohio, who campaigned on (and is currently legislating for) a pro-family, pro-worker agenda that is forward-thinking and aims to hold true to the label of “conservatism” by seeking to actually conserve the American way of life. Vance recently talked about making childbirth free in America, a proposal that is not typical of the Republican Party’s historical inclination towards rugged individualism. A proposal like this, however, is not only an objectively strong solution for America’s family crisis but gives Republicans a lane to appeal to young people and women without having to back away from their convictions on issues like abortion.
Vance campaigned on this positive, forward-thinking message and ended up winning his Senate race by over six percentage points while at a massive financial disadvantage against a Tim Ryan campaign widely heralded by pundits as the gold standard for Democratic campaigns. Other Republican elected officials who have joined Vance in embracing this doctrine are Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), and Representatives Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.) and Dan Bishop (R-N.C.). Republican governors such as Glenn Youngkin, currently holding a very positive approval rating in the blue state of Virginia, and Ron DeSantis, re-elected last year in the second largest landslide for the governor’s office in Florida history, have been rewarded for using their positions to achieve actual policy victories, including on controversial social issues, rather than by adhering to the typical restraint-driven GOP doctrine.
The Republican Party can find greater success among younger voters by joining Senator Vance and the “National Conservatives” in proposing and seriously adopting economic solutions to the issues that young people are facing. This approach requires Republicans to look beyond the “limited government” doctrine and ask themselves, as conservatives, what they are conserving. In order for traditionally progressive youth to overlook social issues like abortion and consider voting Republican, there needs to be an answer to the question, “What can the Republican Party do for me?”
It’s time to start offering some real answers, or the GOP can kiss its electoral future goodbye.