Democrats repeatedly make the claim that Republicans can’t win back young voters. DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz did so recently in the fall of 2014 when she declared, “You look at their records, and I can’t imagine what would be appealing to young people.”
Unfortunately for Democrats, young voters did take a look at Republicans’ records in the 2014 midterms and decided that there was something attractive about tuition freezes and record private-sector job growth. Despite the narrative that “young voters stayed home,” the national youth vote share was higher in 2014 than it has been in the past three midterm cycles. From 2002-2010, the national share was around 11-12 percent.
In 2014, the national youth vote share was 13 percent — just 6 points lower than the high watermark of 19 percent youth turnout in the 2012 presidential cycle. Moreover, in several competitive states, youth vote turnout was almost at presidential levels: Maine (19 percent), Florida (14 percent), Kentucky (15 percent), Wisconsin (17 percent), Michigan (14 percent), and Colorado (15 percent). Republicans won statewide in all of these places by holding young voters at 40 percent or above.
Many of these midterm superstars like Gov. Scott Walker and Gov. John Kasich are now considering bids for the White House in 2016 and will get the chance to showcase their records to a broader audience.
Democrats have also been bleeding millennials for the better part of the last decade. While it is true that the GOP has suffered with millennial voters consistently since 2008, we also haven’t done ourselves any favors by not communicating directly to them where they are.
In 2014, when groups and campaigns like the College Republican National Committee began taking our case to online spaces like Hulu and Pandora and to college campuses, it’s no coincidence that Republicans saw significant gains with this key group.
Democrats, however, have experienced both rapid growth and a precipitous decline during this same period. Self-identified millennial Democrats peaked at 35 percent in 2008 and fell to 27 percent in 2014, according to Pew.
Many of these voters were originally independents that identified as Democrats and voted for the president in 2008, only to abandon the Democratic Party when “hope and change” fizzled.
Democrats have had a popular president to make their case for seven years and are still losing ground. That’s not a turnout problem; that’s a persuasion failure.
Any honest appraisal of the situation reveals that Republicans still have significant work to do with our generation, but also shows Democrats do not have a monopoly on young voters.
And they know it. On a conference call held last week to attack Sen. Rand Paul’s entry into the 2016 presidential race, the DNC picked a college student to help deliver the message.
Last Wednesday, The Des Moines Register reported that an Iowa Democratic Party official would speak to students at the University of Iowa about the impact of a “Rand Paul presidency.” For a party that’s so dismissive of our chances with young voters, they sure sound awfully defensive.
Democrats can’t stand the idea of candidates like Sen. Rand Paul, Sen. Marco Rubio, and former Gov. Jeb Bush looking to expand our party with young voters and minorities.
Unlike Democrats, who strictly enforce the party line and promote a myopic view of the complex issues of the day, Republicans have the flexibility to have a real debate. While Democrats scramble to defend Secretary Clinton’s deleted emails and donations from foreign countries to the Clinton Global Initiative, young voters will see that vibrant conversation taking place among our party’s best and brightest.
If Democrats’ trepidation about our candidates is reflected in their specific attempts to discredit them with young voters, those fears are not unfounded.
Alex Smith is the College Republican National Committee chairwoman. She is a native of Bryn Mawr, Pa., and is a graduate of The Catholic University of America, where she graduated magna cum laude with a degree in politics. Prior to being elected as national co-chairman for the 2012 cycle, she served as chairwoman of the D.C. Federation of College Republicans. For more of her reports, Go Here Now.
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