Millennials voted two-to-one for President Barack Obama in 2008 and they also supported John Kerry in 2004, but, in today’s Wall Street Journal, Fox News contributor and author Margaret Hoover contends that Republicans can still win them over.
Hoover first sketches a brief profile of the millennial generation, pointing out three key characteristics: (1) Millennials have been hit worse by the Great Recession than any other age cohort, (2) Millennial politics are pragmatic, not ideological and (3) Millennials are the most diverse and least traditional generation in America.
Given those characteristics, Hoover recommends the following approach for the GOP:
In order to win this generation over, Republicans need to minimize their emphasis on social issues and focus instead on jobs, jobs and jobs. The party should also showcase its significant ethnic and gender diversity in the wake of the 2010 elections, when the GOP put three female governors and two Hispanic governors in office. It also has two Indian-American governors, and it has fielded female and African-American presidential candidates. The Republican Party, in other words, is no longer a party of elderly white men.
With a focus on positive, pragmatic alternatives to the tried-and-failed policies of the Obama administration, Republicans have a chance to win back the youth vote. But the party will have to make a persuasive case that it offers the hope and change millennials have been waiting for.
Like the millennials Hoover describes, that sounds like a particularly pragmatic approach to me — especially her acute emphasis on jobs. After all, as Hoover points out, fully 37 percent of millennials are unemployed or underemployed, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And the effects of the president’s economic policies are pretty difficult to spin in BHO’s favor. Hoover explains:
Since President Obama took office the deficit has more than tripled and the debt has skyrocketed. Every dollar Mr. Obama has borrowed or spent is a dollar millennials are going to have to pay back in the years ahead, in the form of higher taxes, a more sluggish economy, or both. Republicans can stress that while the Obama presidency has darkened the fiscal future, they have put forward solutions (such as the budget authored by Rep. Paul Ryan) to jump-start the economy and salvage the safety net for millennials.
But as much as I admire Hoover’s practical strategy, I’m not sure it goes far enough — at least not in terms of “winning the future” beyond 2012. It makes sense, in terms of winning elections, to craft a message to fit the electorate. But in terms of winning hearts and minds, underlying ideas — first principles, to use the catch-phrase — matter most. And all too often, the problem among millennials is that they haven’t had enough exposure to the first principles of conservatism. I’d be interested to know what proportion of millennials have casually encountered the ideas of Edmund Burke to go back a bit or of the more recent William F. Buckley, Jr., Russell Kirk, F.A. Hayek, Milton Friedman, etc., etc. Conservative organizations like the Intercollegiate Studies Institute have made great strides in this area — but I’d still bet more of my generation haven’t studied conservative underpinnings than have.
Millennial pragmatism seems to me to be nothing more than youth voters’ best attempt to make sense of politics in the absence of an ideology, which, incidentally, need not be a “bad” word if it’s understood as a coherent scheme by which to interpret information. Provided with such a coherent scheme, millennials might find some principles are worth fighting for.