The Millennial Task Force, a group convened by the House Republican Policy Committee, held its first hearing this week to discuss one of the biggest challenges for the Republican party in the 2016 election: securing the millennial vote.
A recent survey conducted by the Harvard Institute of Politics yielded discouraging results for the GOP. Millennials – roughly, those between the ages of 18 and 31 – still consistently say that they would prefer a Democrat rather than a Republican win the presidency in 2016.
However, not all hope is lost for the Republicans. The truth is that approval ratings for the federal government and Congress are still low, and millennials, like the rest of the population, are tired of hyper-partisanship and empty promises of “hope” and “change.” Indeed, they would rather embrace an entrepreneurial spirit.
We need to “learn how to construct an empowerment economy,” as chairwoman of the Millennial Task Force, 30-year-old Rep. Elise Stefanik said, to inspire the millennials and reengage them with the political sphere.
We also need to start by asking the right questions. Panelist Jared Meyer, author of Disinherited: How Washington is Betraying America’s Young, found that millennials today operate on a central question: Is it fair? Some of the questions he said millennials were asking were, “Is it fair that Washington now prohibits you from taking an unpaid internship? Is it fair that you’re going to have to pay for these entitlement programs that you never voted for or put in place? Is it fair that you’re going to be paying more for the Affordable Care Act so that older people who have a lot more wealth than you can pay less?” When we move away from broad questions and get specific, Meyers argues, many millennials do tend to identify with the ideas of the Republican party.
Meyer said that when conducting research for his book, he found that even though millennials can appreciate a free lunch once in a while, they were more hesitant to ask for larger government. They realize that they will be the ones to shoulder fiscal burdens from prior generations and, at this point, Meyer pointed out that some are starting to see Social Security as a burden, because they realize it probably won’t be there for them.
Like millennials themselves, the task force and the panelists were optimistic about the future. As panelist Kristen Soltis Anderson, a young pollster, noted, the tables have turned: Whereas Republicans are usually characterized as the party of the old, white, and rich, if Democrats choose Hillary Clinton as their nominee, she will epitomize this definition. “Republicans are what’s new, Democrats are what’s old,” Anderson said. Even now, of the 31 members of Congress who are under 40, 20 are Republican. Furthermore, with education as a top issue for millennial voters, it will be tougher for Democrats to appeal to them by clinging on to an antiquated system. Education reform will be crucial in this election.
One of the biggest challenges, then, will be for Republicans to actually engage millennial voters. Currently, according to the Pew Research Center, only 26 percent of millennials say that politics and government is one of their top three interests. This is not only because they feel the government is wasteful and inefficient, but also because they feel neglected by politicians in both parties.
With 61 percent of millennials saying they get their news from Facebook, social media will be a key player in this election. The task force meeting also proved the power of Twitter—people were able to tweet questions to #GOPFuture, which became the number two hashtag trending in Washington for the duration of the hearing. Also, with a decrease in voters identifying as white, Republican candidates will need to acknowledge the diverse composition of the millennials.
The hearing was packed with a mostly millennial audience, which shows that these challenges are not impossible to address. The millennials are speaking, and they want to be heard—this is the Republican party’s chance. As Rep. Susan Brooks of Indiana put it, it’s time to be part of the disruptive generation rather than the silent generation. Because, as Anderson reiterated, “there is much that is just waiting to be disrupted and made to work better for and by this generation.”
Alexandra Seymour is an intern at The Weekly Standard.