Josh Romney knows that the Republican Party has struggled to attract the youth vote. But in his estimation, that disenchantment is more of a misunderstanding than an intellectual disagreement.
If young people understood how his party views the economy and the future, he said on Wednesday, they would vote Republican.
“I’m not going to have these programs [such as Medicare or Social Security] when I retire, if we don’t fix it now,” said the 37-year-old son of presidential candidate Mitt Romney. “I think we’ve got to do a better job at really portraying that message. This is about your future in this country, your ability to make your own dreams and be successful.”
His comments were part of a panel sponsored by National Journal, The Atlantic, and Microsoft, “Conversations with the Next Generation.” Speakers, including George P. Bush, Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Ill., and former D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee discussed what young voters want and whether the country’s education system is preparing them for the future.
Obama was far more popular than Sen. John McCain among young voters in 2008, earning 66 percent of the 18-29 year old vote, but this year neither he nor Romney has been able to engage substantial swaths of voting-eligible millennials. In July, just 58 percent of registered 18-to-29-year-olds said they were “definitely likely” to vote--down 20 points from the 78 percent who said the same in October 2008.
More than 15 million more millennials have turned 18 in the past four years, but they have done so in the midst of a severe economic downturn. In July 2008, unemployment rates for 18 to-19- and 20-to-24-year-olds were 17.9 percent and 10.2 percent, respectively. In July 2012, those same rates have risen to 22.2 percent and 13.5 percent, respectively. Meanwhile, total student-loan debt owed by those under 30 has nearly doubled since 2005--the only form of consumer debt that has grown since debt peaked in 2008. The average borrower under 30 now owes $20,835, according to data released by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
Confronted with such statistics, Republicans on the panel appealed to millennials with promises to reform the education system to better prepare students for jobs while reducing the cost of education.
Romney discussed his father’s education accomplishments in Massachusetts, heralding his ability to cut costs and maintain strong schools. He highlighted scholarships that the elder Romney instituted for high-performing high school students and consistently emphasized the importance of equal opportunities for all students, both in education and beyond.
In a later discussion, Schock said that schools ought to focus on helping students choose the right major earlier. He also rejected the notion that more spending meant more quality in education, emphasizing that simply increasing Pell Grants would not fully address the rapidly rising cost of higher education.
George P. Bush joined Schock to discuss his father--former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush--and their shared commitment to education reform. He emphasized the importance of flexibility for states and municipalities in education spending, agreeing with Schock that more spending wasn’t necessarily the best solution to the education system’s failings.
He also offered a surprising answer for how best to achieve education reform after November: keeping Education Secretary Arne Duncan, an Obama appointee, in his post.
“If we can replicate that blueprint of allowing charter schools--public or private--to think outside the box about education, I think we’re on the right track,” he said.