College Republicans to Young Voters: Forget Social Issues. It’s the Economy.

The diversion technique didn’t work for Mitt Romney, but it’s all they’ve got.

Fresno State College Republicans outside a Paul Ryan event before the 2012 election.
National Journal
Matt Vasilogambros
Aug. 21, 2013, 2 a.m.

Next week, Wayne State Uni­versity ju­ni­or Mi­chael Stroud will set up his table for Col­lege Re­pub­lic­ans, hand­ing out lit­er­at­ure, pens, stick­ers, and even bottle open­ers to passing stu­dents at his urb­an De­troit school.

“Come join the best party on cam­pus,” the 20-year-old Michigan nat­ive tells them.

In the last elec­tion, young people didn’t agree with that boast; 60 per­cent of voters between 18 and 29 voted for Pres­id­ent Obama over Re­pub­lic­an Mitt Rom­ney, a dif­fer­ence of 5 mil­lion votes.

Eco­nom­ic con­di­tions be­fore the 2012 elec­tion, from high un­em­ploy­ment to skyrock­et­ing col­lege costs, should have made it easi­er for young people to choose Rom­ney, says Alex Smith, the chair­wo­man of the Col­lege Re­pub­lic­an Na­tion­al Com­mit­tee. “We didn’t feel like there was a whole lot there to mo­tiv­ate them to vote for the pres­id­ent again,” says Smith, who was elec­ted as the first fe­male chair of the 121-year-old or­gan­iz­a­tion in June. “But it was my gen­er­a­tion who cast the de­cid­ing votes against my party.”

This group — the coun­try’s old­est stu­dent or­gan­iz­a­tion, present on 1,800 cam­puses, nur­turer of con­ser­vat­ive lead­ers such as Karl Rove, Jack Ab­ramoff, Ral­ph Reed, and Grover Nor­quist — has re­leased a blue­print for fix­ing the prob­lem.

The 90-page Col­lege Re­pub­lic­ans re­port, “Grand Old Party for a Brand New Gen­er­a­tion,” doesn’t sug­ar­coat the Re­pub­lic­an Party’s dif­fi­culties with young voters. Many of its find­ings, in fact, are sim­il­ar to the “autopsy re­port” the Re­pub­lic­an Na­tion­al Com­mit­tee re­leased earli­er this year. The re­port out­lines prob­lems with di­git­al out­reach and the brand, com­piled from two na­tion­al sur­veys and sev­er­al fo­cus groups in Cali­for­nia, Ohio, and Flor­ida. It con­cludes that the GOP is seen as “rich, lack­ing in di­versity, and be­ing old-fash­ioned.”

Like the na­tion­al party, Col­lege Re­pub­lic­ans are try­ing to ramp up grass­roots and di­git­al activ­it­ies. The group is giv­ing its mem­bers Face­book gift cards to pro­mote on­line out­reach to stu­dents across cam­puses, while also en­cour­aging chapter pres­id­ents to in­crease their face-to-face in­ter­ac­tions with stu­dents through new events and or­gan­iz­ing on the ground.

All of that can help, and in­vit­ing a more di­verse ar­ray of stu­dents who be­lieve in the “big tent” ap­proach to party polit­ics might im­prove mem­ber­ship. But the biggest ele­phant in the room has al­ways been the na­tion­al party’s policies. And that’s where it gets tricky.

GOP op­pos­i­tion to abor­tion rights, mar­riage equal­ity, and im­mig­ra­tion re­form is mak­ing it hard for Col­lege Re­pub­lic­ans to reach young voters. Rom­ney faced a sim­il­ar chal­lenge with both wo­men and young people and at­temp­ted to solve the prob­lem with an eco­nom­ic mes­sage. He tried to con­vince work­ing moth­ers and young­er voters that Obama’s eco­nom­ic plan was hurt­ing them and that his would im­prove their lives. But the di­ver­sion strategy didn’t work with either group. In ad­di­tion to los­ing young voters, Rom­ney also lost the fe­male vote na­tion­ally, 45 per­cent to Obama’s 54 per­cent.

Des­pite that fail­ure, Col­lege Re­pub­lic­ans are es­sen­tially us­ing the same strategy: Don’t talk about the sens­it­ive is­sues.

Take same-sex mar­riage. Polls show that young people — and the rest of Amer­ic­ans — are in­creas­ingly sup­port­ive of same-sex mar­riage and gay rights. While Demo­crats have by and large em­braced this po­s­i­tion, an over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of Re­pub­lic­ans have not, and young­er voters no­ticed. But the Col­lege Re­pub­lic­ans re­port notes, “A large ma­jor­ity of re­spond­ents were open to vot­ing for a can­did­ate they dis­agree with on this is­sue.” That is seen as an open­ing to talk about the eco­nomy, and to bring young people in­to the fold to work for policy changes over the long haul.

And it will be a long haul, judging by what happened to this week to Stephanie Pete­los, chair­wo­man of the Col­lege Re­pub­lic­an Fed­er­a­tion of Alabama. After she ex­pressed sup­port for same-sex mar­riage, lead­ers of the Alabama Re­pub­lic­an Party cri­ti­cized her and threatened to re­move her from state party lead­er­ship. This sort of re­ac­tion could have a chilling ef­fect, Pete­los told the Alabama Polit­ic­al Re­port­er: “I think a lot of people would be act­ively for it if they didn’t live in fear of back­lash from party lead­ers.”

Same-sex mar­riage is a “huge is­sue,” says Ted Dooley, a Bo­ston Col­lege seni­or and the Mas­sachu­setts state chair­man. “But if you’re con­cerned about find­ing a job after gradu­ation, join Col­lege Re­pub­lic­ans. There is a di­vide, and we have to un­der­stand it. But you have to get in­volved in the party to change the policy of it.”

He also makes the same ar­gu­ments to liber­tari­an stu­dents, who echo the di­vide seen on the na­tion­al stage right now.

Since the RNC re­leased its re­port in March, mem­bers of the party have lam­basted the res­ults and many of the sug­ges­ted changes have gone by the way­side. In par­tic­u­lar, it is un­clear if House Re­pub­lic­ans will go along with one of its chief re­com­mend­a­tions: sup­port for com­pre­hens­ive im­mig­ra­tion re­form. Sev­er­al Re­pub­lic­ans, not­ably Rep. Steve King of Iowa, have am­ped up their rhet­or­ic in the im­mig­ra­tion de­bate and op­posed any pro­pos­als that have a path to cit­izen­ship. Rep. Justin Amash, a tea-party fa­vor­ite from Michigan, said the “polit­ic­al es­tab­lish­ment misses the point” and the re­port could push con­ser­vat­ives away.

Some mem­bers of the Col­lege Re­pub­lic­ans say they are do­ing a bet­ter job than na­tion­al Re­pub­lic­ans of em­bra­cing their re­port and mak­ing the changes it re­com­mends. “You hear a lot about how mem­bers of the na­tion­al com­mit­tee are re­ject­ing the re­port or not ac­cept­ing and throw­ing aside some of the policy polling that they did. We’re more ac­cept­ing of it. We see it on the ground. We real­ize we need to change,” Dooley said.

For now, the center­piece of the new strategy is lur­ing people in­to the fold with the tools and policy po­s­i­tions cur­rently avail­able. Stroud is already think­ing about ways to ex­pand his 160-per­son chapter on Wayne State’s 29,000-stu­dent cam­pus. Maybe he’ll bring in Re­pub­lic­an Gov. Rick Snyder. Or maybe he’ll take some chapter mem­bers to a gun range. His eyes are on the midterm elec­tions.

“Yes, it is an off-year,” Stroud says. “But it is most im­port­ant that we build our frame­work this year, look­ing for­ward to the in­cred­ibly im­port­ant 2014 elec­tion cycle.”

What We're Following See More »
BACKING OUT ON BERNIE
Trump Won’t Debate Sanders After All
1 days ago
THE LATEST

Trump, in a statement: “Based on the fact that the Democratic nominating process is totally rigged and Crooked Hillary Clinton and Deborah Wasserman Schultz will not allow Bernie Sanders to win, and now that I am the presumptive Republican nominee, it seems inappropriate that I would debate the second place finisher. ... I will wait to debate the first place finisher in the Democratic Party, probably Crooked Hillary Clinton, or whoever it may be.”

AKNOWLEDGING THE INEVITABLE
UAW: Time to Unite Behind Hillary
2 days ago
THE DETAILS

"It's about time for unity," said UAW President Dennis Williams. "We're endorsing Hillary Clinton. She's gotten 3 million more votes than Bernie, a million more votes than Donald Trump. She's our nominee." He called Sanders "a great friend of the UAW" while saying Trump "does not support the economic security of UAW families." Some 28 percent of UAW members indicated their support for Trump in an internal survey.

Source:
AP KEEPING COUNT
Trump Clinches Enough Delegates for the Nomination
3 days ago
THE LATEST

"Donald Trump on Thursday reached the number of delegates needed to clinch the Republican nomination for president, completing an unlikely rise that has upended the political landscape and sets the stage for a bitter fall campaign. Trump was put over the top in the Associated Press delegate count by a small number of the party's unbound delegates who told the AP they would support him at the convention."

Source:
TRUMP FLOATED IDEA ON JIMMY KIMMEL’S SHOW
Trump/Sanders Debate Before California Primary?
3 days ago
THE LATEST
CAMPAIGNS INJECTED NEW AD MONEY
California: It’s Not Over Yet
3 days ago
THE LATEST

"Clinton and Bernie Sanders "are now devoting additional money to television advertising. A day after Sanders announced a new ad buy of less than $2 million in the state, Clinton announced her own television campaign. Ads featuring actor Morgan Freeman as well as labor leader and civil rights activist Dolores Huerta will air beginning on Fridayin Fresno, Sacramento, and Los Angeles media markets. Some ads will also target Latino voters and Asian American voters. The total value of the buy is about six figures according to the Clinton campaign." Meanwhile, a new poll shows Sanders within the margin of error, trailing Clinton 44%-46%.

Source:
×