The GOP is perhaps just beginning to digest the message of the 2012 election; in which the demographics of their coalition can be summed up as old, white, wealthy, and male — compared to the diverse coalition that gave Barack Obama a second term, helped the Democrats hold to their majority, and won few more Democratic seats in the House. Republicans devoted at least part of a recent retreat (at an unfortunate venue) to figuring out how to talk to women and minorities. Now, Republicans are trying to figure out how to reap the demographic benefits of embracing immigration reform, without splitting the party and enraging the base.
Young voters seem to have been forgotten amid the Republican party’s flailing to shore up its demographic deficits, but they’re an important electoral demographic. And new survey shows that young voters lean very progressive.
In a survey recently released by UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute, 47 percent of college students identify their political beliefs as “middle of the road,” up from 43 percent in 2008.
While it may sound like millennials are becoming more centrist, the truth is that they are still very progressive. What’s changed is that Americans are embracing progressive policies as core beliefs. As these progressive values become more mainstream, their supporters naturally see themselves in a similar light.
In the survey, college students’ progressive beliefs are clear: a full three-quarters of incoming freshmen support marriage equality, 64 percent agree that wealthy people should pay more in taxes and 61 percent support reproductive rights. Additionally, 64 percent of young people strongly support the DREAM Act and 71 percent are concerned about climate change and support alternative energy.
These positions are becoming more widely accepted, or middle of the road, by the country as a whole. Today, more than half the country supports marriage equality, 67 percent believe the wealthy need to pay more in taxes, 54 percent support reproductive rights, 70 percent support the DREAM Act and 80 percent see climate change as a serious problem.
Across the board, on both economic and social issues, young voters are solidly in the progressive column. If they describe themselves as “middle of the road” or centrist, it’s because among their peers those views are middle of the road. That’s a trend that’s unlikely to swing back to the right.
This does not bode well for the GOP down the line. Based on exit polls, Obama won 60% of the 18-24 year-old vote, and 60% of the 25-29 year-old vote, while the GOP only won the 65-and-older vote by a considerable margin.
It’s no mystery why young voters turned out to vote for Obama in 2012. And, no, it’s not because young people don’t read, as the National Review’s Dennis Prager suggested. It happened because the Obama campaign connected with young voters, via social media — where millions of young (and not so young) Americans do read and get information. Instead of deriding connected young voters, the Democratic campaign made a significant early investment in reaching them where they were.
It wasn’t just about technology either. In the end, the medium is only as effective as the message. The Obama campaign used technology to reach young voters where they were, with messages and policies that resonated with their concerns about jobs, education, and student debt. Republicans labeled this “gift” giving. It used to be called listening and responding to the electorate. Instead the GOP told students to “drop dead,” and Mitt Romney advised them to borrow money from their parents.
The virtual became real as young voters tuned in to see their impact play out.
Watch Young Voters Played Critical Role in Obama Re-Election on PBS. See more from PBS NewsHour.
As election results rolled in Tuesday night, young and first-time voters from schools throughout the Bay Area tuned in to see if their activism had made a difference.
Melanie Kristensen, a 21-year-old student at Santa Rosa Junior College, was relieved to hear the results of the presidential election. “Because we’re young, we’re going to be the ones most influencing a new generation of voters in the next few years,” she says. “We’ll be the ones most influencing whatever happens next.”
Kristensen is registered as a Democrat and donated money to the Obama campaign. When major networks began announcing that Obama had won the presidency, she was at her waitressing job in Marin County.
“For someone to have such a huge impact on our vote and get so many of our votes is huge,” she says. “The Republican Party is in trouble, especially because of the growing Latino community within the United States. If they keep alienating young Latino voters, there’s never going to be another Republican in the Oval Office.”
Republicans are in the process of choosing between adapting to the electoral new reality or rigging the game. Neither will be easy to do, but the former will prove more beneficial to the GOP, if only the party pays attention.