Youngest Woman Ever Elected to Congress Introduces GOP to Millennials

New York Republican Elise Stefanik holds hearings on “up for grabs” rising generation.

Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., and Martha McSally, R-Ariz., attend a House Armed Services committee meeting.
National Journal
Ron Fournier
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Ron Fournier
June 22, 2015, 6:36 a.m.

The young­est wo­man ever elec­ted to Con­gress wants to in­tro­duce her fel­low Re­pub­lic­ans to a pos­it­ive, rad­ic­ally dis­rupt­ive force in polit­ics: her gen­er­a­tion.

“In the private sec­tor, we’ve dis­rup­ted en­tire in­dus­tries to make sure they’re provid­ing the best qual­ity ser­vice to cus­tom­ers and the best products. We haven’t done that in Con­gress yet,” Rep. Elise Stefanik, from New York, said. “Hope­fully, mil­len­ni­als in Con­gress will bring that spir­it of bi­par­tis­an solu­tions to the table.”

The 30-year-old Har­vard gradu­ate is chair­ing a hear­ing for the Re­pub­lic­an Policy Com­mit­tee on Tues­day de­signed to edu­cate GOP law­makers about the chal­lenges and op­por­tun­it­ies of ap­peal­ing to young Amer­ic­ans. “Mil­len­ni­als and the GOP: Learn­ing from Amer­ica’s Emer­ging Lead­ers to Shape To­mor­row’s Re­pub­lic­an Agenda” is the first in what Stefanik en­vi­sions as a three-part series.

Tues­day’s hear­ing will be a primer of sorts, with a lineup of ex­perts who will de­scribe the demo­graph­ic, polit­ic­al, and cul­tur­al at­trib­utes of the na­tion’s largest and most di­verse gen­er­a­tion. “I want to help Con­gress put to­geth­er a vis­ion and set of policies that res­on­ate with my gen­er­a­tion,” she said.

One of the wit­nesses is John Della Volpe, the Har­vard In­sti­tute of Polit­ics poll­ster who has over­seen a 15-year study of mil­len­ni­als. As a Har­vard un­der­gradu­ate, Stefanik served on the stu­dent com­mit­tee that helped write and ana­lyze IOP polling. (Dis­clos­ure: Stefanik also served on a pan­el of stu­dents who helped re­search a book while I served as an IOP fel­low in the 2005. I now serve on the IOP board.)

Polling at Har­vard and for many oth­er or­gan­iz­a­tions sug­gests that young Amer­ic­ans are uniquely civic-minded — they vo­lun­teer in re­cord num­bers, for ex­ample — but they’re dis­con­nec­ted from polit­ics and gov­ern­ment, be­cause they don’t think those in­sti­tu­tions are a force for good. While strongly sup­port­ing Barack Obama in 2008, young Amer­ic­ans seem to be re­vert­ing back to their tra­di­tion­al status as a low-in­volve­ment, in­de­pend­ent-minded vot­ing bloc.

Della Volpe has called Pres­id­ent Obama’s ten­ure a lost op­por­tun­ity.

“Obama had a mo­ment, we all had a mo­ment, between the 2007 and the 2010 midterm elec­tions, to en­gage the largest gen­er­a­tion in U.S. his­tory, and we didn’t do it,” the poll­ster said in 2014. “We treated them like any oth­er polit­ic­al con­stitu­ency, and not like the ser­vice-minded cit­izens they are, and there­fore we dis­ap­poin­ted mil­lions of Amer­ic­ans.”

While mil­len­ni­als favored Demo­crats in that year’s midterms, Stefanik be­lieves there is an op­por­tun­ity for whatever party ad­apts to the mil­len­ni­als spir­it of bi­par­tis­an prob­lem-solv­ing. “My gen­er­a­tion is very tol­er­ant and tries to build re­la­tion­ships and build teams,” she told me in a tele­phone in­ter­view today.

Stefanik be­lieves, with some sup­port from polling data, that mil­len­ni­als would be open to a rebranded GOP that non­ethe­less sup­ports lim­ited gov­ern­ment and bot­toms-up ap­proach to gov­ern­ing. “Mil­len­ni­als are up for grabs if we can ac­tu­ally con­nect with them on those is­sues.”

She hopes to pro­duce mil­len­ni­al-minded policies in the second and third hear­ings. While the Re­pub­lic­an Policy Com­mit­tee is an arm of the GOP lead­er­ship, Stefanik said Demo­crat­ic law­makers are wel­come to at­tend the hear­ings.

She has already shaken things up a bit. Tues­day’s hear­ing will be live-streamed and has its own hasht­ag: #GOP­Fu­ture.

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