Kristen Soltis Anderson: Can Republicans Win Millennials in 2016?

Kristen Soltis Anderson: Can Republicans Win Millennials in 2016?

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Tuesday, October 6, 2015, 12:00-1:00pm
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October 6, 2015 Kristen Soltis Andersonco-founder of Echelon Insights, an opinion research, data analysis and digital intelligence firm, discussed the divide between the Millennial generation and the Republican Party, and what the party can do to better resonate with young voters in future elections.

While researching her book, The Selfie Vote: Where Millennials Are Leading America (And How Republicans Can Keep Up), Anderson found that the tendency of Millennials to skew liberal is not simply a function of their youth. “The way people think about politics when they first participate in the [political] process echoes throughout the rest of the decades of their lives,” said Anderson. The 2008 and 2012 presidential elections were the only times a Republican candidate lost the youth vote by a margin of more than 20 percent, she said. “In order for Republicans to win a presidential election, they simply must do better among the Millennial generation.”

Anderson said she was “cautiously optimistic” that the Republican Party could win back young voters, and even sees “a huge opportunity” for the GOP. Although young voters are “not enamored with the Republican Party,” they are also disappointed in the Democratic Party, disillusioned with institutions in general, and tend to reject labels and partisanship. “This is not a generation that is fully in the tank for the Democratic Party anymore,” she said.

Anderson identified three crucial areas for the GOP to focus on in order to improve its standing with Millennials.

First, Republicans need to modernize the tactics they use to reach young voters. “Republicans have lagged behind Democrats in the last few elections…in their use of social media, targeted television, the way they deploy their message,” said Anderson. She identified Marco Rubio as being effective at using Snapchat to give voters a behind-the-scenes look on the campaign trail. “In a world where young voters are so distrustful of politicians, proving that politicians are real human beings…is very important.”

“Just showing up in other forms of media where young people are” is also critical, said Anderson. As an example, she discussed President Obama’s appearance on a web series hosted by comedian Zach Galifianakis to promote Healthcare.gov. The video became one of the most effective drivers of traffic to the website.

Next, Anderson said Republicans need to reshape their messaging to focus on “solving the problems of the future.” Republican voters tend to be white, married, religious, and often own their homes and live in rural areas – all demographics that are on the decline, said Anderson. To reach young voters, the GOP needs to “make a case that they understand the new ways that Americans are living, and have policies that are adapted to that reality.”

Finally, Republicans need a better understanding of Millennial values. “Becoming more libertarian” is not necessarily the answer, said Anderson. Although there are some social issues, such as gay rights, where Republicans and younger voters do diverge sharply, for other issues, such as abortion and gun control, there is less of a generational gap. Millennials are less trusting of large institutions – such as government, religion, and the media – which also has implications for economic policy. “When you say as a Republican, ‘oh just trust the private sector, trust the free market,’ they don’t trust the free market either,” said Anderson.

Championing public sector and regulatory reform to make government “more efficient, more effective and more suited to the era in which we live,” presents an opportunity for the GOP.  “Being a party of reforming, rather than necessarily getting rid of the government altogether, presents opportunity for a pragmatic generation.”

Anderson also addressed how far-right candidates harm the image of moderate candidates, how Republicans could address climate change, the debate within the party on social issues, and differences between younger and older Millennials. Listen to the full audio recording above.

Article and photo by Nilagia McCoy of the Shorenstein Center. This event was co-sponsored by the Institute of Politics.