Polls suggest that the majority of Americans will blame either the Republican Party or President Trump for the government shutdown that began on Friday night — and millennial voters are the generation most likely to do so. It is yet another example of the disconnect between the GOP and millennials.
Party leaders need to put their heads together and come up with a real plan and real policies, aimed at tackling the issues that matter to young voters, and not just rhetoric. Should they fail to do so, the looming demographic crisis that the party faces will become more of a difficult reality at the polls.
As as the gulf between the Republican Party and millennials widens — and all the available polling shows that it is widening — Democrats (and not third parties) will reap the rewards. They did so in 2017 in Virginia, Alabama and a host of state and local races and, barring a significant change in public perception of the GOP, they will see gains at both the local and national levels in 2018.
The question is not if, but when the Republican Party’s leaders will remove their heads from the sand and finally address the problem the party has with millennial voters.
The millennial vote in particular is a primary reason why many Republicans are already privately conceding an election that is just under 10 months away. To the majority of millennials, the GOP is simply the party of the crusty old white guy and, unless the party starts to pay attention to the concerns of my generation, they may lose us (and any hope of achieving legislative majorities) for decades to come. Failure to do so will result in electoral disaster.
For the past few years, several of us younger Republicans have warned that our party is rapidly approaching a demographic crisis: Millennials — people born between 1981 and 1997 — are the largest generation in the United States, and they are simply not buying what we Republicans are selling.
The GOP brand is severely tarnished among this entire generation of Americans, as a paltry one in five millennials identify with the GOP or conservative values. We are perceived as waging a “War on Women” because of our policies regarding the right to life and outlandish figures like former Rep. Todd Akin who make ridiculous statements that a woman’s body can’t get pregnant in a case of “legitimate rape.” At the same time, millennials have bought into the idea, driven by Democrats, that it cares about the uber-wealthy and corporations more than it does the average American and minorities. (The recent tax reform didn’t help that perception.)
So it’s not surprising that a recent NBC News/GenForward survey found that 71 percent of millennials believe that the Republican Party “does not care about people like me.” The same survey found that a majority of millennials believe that the Democratic Party does care about them. Even more worrisome is what is happening among millennials and younger people who do identify as Republicans: The same survey revealed that the majority of millennial Republicans are soft supporters, with 54 percent responding that they are “not a very strong Republican.”
There is also evidence that younger members of the GOP are leaving the party: A 2017 Pew Research Center study highlighted that, between December 2015 and March 2017, 23 percent of Republicans ages 18-29 left the party. The exact reasons for the exodus were not ascertained, but it did coincide with the campaign, election and presidency of Donald Trump. Since this study, all signs would suggest that the self-deportation continues, as the president cemented himself as the prism through which millennials — and many others — view the Republican Party.
The erosion of young Republicans and the alienation of millennials can be reversed, but only if Republicans are prepared to take strong and decisive action, as well as demonstrate that we are able to govern as the adults in the room — something that millennials expect out of our leaders.
The erosion of young Republicans and the alienation of millennials can be reversed, but only if Republicans are prepared to take strong and decisive action, as well as demonstrate that we are able to govern as the adults in the room.
The government shutdown will only reveal that we are not, as it shows millennials that we are just a continuation of the gridlock and brinkmanship that has inhibited progress and results. We Republicans must put forth and implement real solutions to the very problems that impact millennials — as well as change the way in which Republicans conduct ourselves when talking with and about younger generations.
Americans, including millennials, hold a combined $1.3 trillion worth of student debt, and 34 percent more people in 2011 were likely to have taken out students loans than in 1989. The average cumulative amount borrowed also increased by more than 72 percent in the same period; 63 percent of millennials hold over $10,000 in student debt. (By comparison, the cumulative credit card debt in America, which is the highest ever, is only $1.021 trillion.) Student debt negatively impacts women more than men, as they hold about two-thirds of the total debt even as pay inequity causes it to take longer for women to pay off the same amount of debt as a man.
The Republican Party, however, has barely talked about how to fix this problem. Instead, we take to Twitter to mock those who do and are only further alienating ourselves with millennials.
We millennials want to hear solutions to the student debt crisis — including holding public universities accountable for wasteful spending and increased costs that are passed onto the student, cracking down on predatory loan agencies, simplifying and reforming the student loan process and empowering students and families to make informed decisions about paying for college. We do not want to hear Republicans and conservative media making more jokes at our expense.
Another area that we must address is Obamacare; millennials are particularly negatively impacted by the law. A Heritage Foundation white paper found that, without Obamacare’s mandatory coverage and pricing rules, younger Americans who either purchase their own insurance or who are covered by small group plans would likely be paying 44 percent less for their insurance premiums.
At the same time, though some provisions of Obamacare proved popular with millennials — like the one allowing us to stay on our parents’ insurance programs for longer — others have caused the cost of insurance for millennials to rise even as we’re forced to buy insurance if it doesn’t come with our jobs. For example, the provisions which prohibit insurers from charging older people more than three times more for premiums than younger people simply raise the cost of premiums for younger people purchasing insurance or receiving it through small business plans.
We Republicans must put forth and implement real solutions to the very problems that impact millennials — as well as change the way in which Republicans conduct ourselves when talking with and about younger generations.
Republicans should also focus on other issues important to millennials (and many other Americans): the skyrocketing costs of caring for America’s senior citizens, criminal justice reform, promoting equality and entitlement reform are policy areas to which Republicans must apply our efforts. Seriously addressing these and other concerns that are meaningful to millennials are both in line with conservative principles and will only help the Republican Party.
Let’s be honest though, we will not see overnight results in efforts to repair our brand, but that doesn’t mean that, as happened with the 2012 autopsy, we can simply abandon the project entirely. The support of millennials must be earned and doing so takes time. Republicans will probably not win the millennial vote in 2018, but we can and must try to increase our share of it from what we’ve seen in the last 18 months.
The question is not if, but when the Republican Party’s leaders will remove their heads from the sand and finally address the problem the party has with millennial voters. The longer they take, the bigger the electoral calamity, and the Republican Party will only have itself to blame.
Evan Siegfried is a Republican strategist and commentator and the author of "GOP GPS: How to Find the Millennials and Urban Voters the Republican Party Needs to Survive."