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
Add to Briefcase
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 »
LOFTY GOALS
White House Proposes New Tax Plan
16 hours ago
BREAKING

The White House on Wednesday laid out its plan for tax reform, with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin saying it would be "the biggest tax cut and the largest tax reform in the history of our country." The tax code would be broken down into just three tax brackets, with the highest personal income tax rate cut from 39.6 percent to 35 percent. The plan would also slash the tax rate on corporations and small businesses from 35 percent to 15 percent. "The White House plan is a set of principles with few details, but it’s designed to be the starting point of a major push to urge Congress to pass a comprehensive tax reform package this year," said National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn.

Source:
EMERGING BUDGET FRAMEWORK?
Dems Proposes Obamacare-for-Defense Deal
1 days ago
THE LATEST

"An emerging government funding deal would see Democrats agree to $15 billion in additional military funding in exchange for the GOP agreeing to fund healthcare subsidies, according to two congressional officials briefed on the talks. Facing a Friday deadline to pass a spending bill and avert a shutdown, Democrats are willing to go halfway to President Trump’s initial request of $30 billion in supplemental military funding."

Source:
WHITE HOUSE BLOCKING DOC REQUEST
Michael Flynn Remains A Russian-Sized Problem
1 days ago
BREAKING

The Michael Flynn story is not going away for the White House as it tries to refocus its attention. The White House has denied requests from the House Oversight Committee for information and documents regarding payments that the former national security adviser received from Russian state television station RT and Russian firms. House Oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz and ranking member Elijah Cummings also said that Flynn failed to report these payments on his security clearance application. White House legislative director Marc Short argued that the documents requested are either not in the possession of the White House or contain sensitive information he believes is not applicable to the committee's stated investigation.

Source:
SENATE JUDICIARY HEARING
Sally Yates to Testify on May 8
1 days ago
THE LATEST
MESSAGE TO PUTIN
U.S. To Conduct Exercises In Estonia
1 days ago
THE DETAILS

The U.S. deployed "F-35 joint strike fighters" to Estonia on Tuesday. The "jets will stay in Estonia for several weeks and will be a part of training flights with U.S. and other NATO air forces." The move comes at a time of high tension between the U.S. and Estonia's neighbor, Russia. The two nations have been at odds over a number of issues recently, most of all being Vladimir Putin's support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in light of Assad's chemical weapons attack on his own people in the midst of a civil war.

Source:
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login