Is it the content, or the communication? College Republicans offer harsh critique

Waiting in line for McCain
In this 2008 file photo, Maddie Halvorson, a Lakeville South sophomore, waits in a line of about 2000 outside the high school waiting to see presidential candidate John McCain.
MPR Photo/Bill Alkofer

From a conservative point of view, a recent analysis of Republican Party's appeal among younger voters contains different kinds of bad news: Young people don't share some of the party's ideals, and some of the ideals they might share aren't being communicated well.

Read the calls, comments and Tweets

The College Republican National Committee surveyed young voters across the country to find out why they overwhelmingly support Democratic candidates. Nearly two-thirds of voters under 30 voted for President Barack Obama, for example.

"The report was supposed to be critical, and it was supposed to be harsh, and it was, as a way to move forward," said Karin Agness, founder and president of the Network of enlightened Women (NeW). She added, "One of the things that I think was great about the report was that it didn't just point out the problems, it offered some solutions."

The report offers five recommendations for saving the Republican brand:

1) Focus on the economic issues that affect young people today: education, the cost of health care, unemployment.

2) Capture the brand attributes of intelligence, hard work, and responsibility.

3) Don't concede "caring" and "open-minded" to the left.

4) Fix the debt and cut spending, but recognize that messages about principle and "big government" are the least effective way to win this battle of ideas with young voters.

5) Go where young voters are and give them something to share.

Agness said the report's focus on social issues shows that the party needs to do a better job of communicating its message, because on many issues, the GOP is as divided as the public.

"One thing the Republican Party needs to do is focus on the idea that it's not just gay marriage. There's other social issues, other cultural issues, that they really do connect with young voters on," she said. "When we talk about abortion, we don't see a big disconnect between young voters and the Republican Party overall. We them as split between those who lean pro-choice and those who lean pro-life."

"Sometimes we go down the road too far of, 'The youth vote is just gone for Republicans,'" Agness said. "As the report points out, Republicans haven't always lost the youth vote. Reagan won it. Other Republican presidential candidates have won it. So it's not a complete lost cause."

Ramesh Ponnuru, a senior editor for National Review, agreed that the distance between the GOP and young voters does not have to be as great as it is.

"The report ... is very realistic about social issues," he said. "It does mention the fact that younger voters tend to support same-sex marriage, and some of them, a minority of them, consider that a deal-breaking issue. They won't vote for Republicans, just based on that issue.

"But there are also a lot of other voters who find that the Republican message doesn't have a lot to offer them in a depressed economy where they're having trouble finding jobs, paying off student loans and getting health insurance. And they see the Obama message or the Democratic message as offering them something or at least trying to offer them something.

"A lot of what the Republicans tried to campaign on last year was the idea that these bad results, these unfortunate circumstances, ought by themselves to lead young voters to conclude that the Democrats had failed and it was time to try something new. Young voters apparently do not think that way. They think, 'Well, look, there are a variety of things that Obama and the Democrats are trying to do, and we don't see what the solutions that the Republicans are offering are.

"I think that should be a real wake-up call to Republicans that they need to devise policies that address people's economic concerns and are consistent with free-market principles, and then go out and sell those policies," he said.

The CRNC offered a harsh assessment of the GOP in its 95-page report. Politico summarized a number of the critiques:

Gay marriage: "On the 'open-minded' issue...[w]e will face serious difficulty so long as the issue of gay marriage remains on the table."

Hispanics: "Latino voters ... tend to think the GOP couldn't care less about them."

Perception of the party's economic stance: "We've become the party that will pat you on your back when you make it, but won't offer you a hand to help you get there."

Big reason for the image problem: The "outrageous statements made by errant Republican voices."

Words that up-for-grabs voters associate with the GOP: "The responses were brutal: closed-minded, racist, rigid, old-fashioned."

CALLS, COMMENTS AND TWEETS: Listeners and readers say 'me, too.' Leave your comment below.

Some of those perspectives echoed in the comments, calls and Tweets that came in during the show.

Ryan in Minneapolis: "If they don't let go of these social issues, they're going to lose an entire generation of voters, because a lot of people vote with their hearts before they vote with their wallets. ... Most people would agree with Republican politics, in terms of finances."

Ricardo in Egan: "I'm a lifelong Democrat, but I campaigned for [Republican Gov.] Arne Carlson because of what I felt was a failure of the public school system to educate young African-Americans and males in particular ... The social issues were what attracted me to Arne Carlson. The subsequent governor started calling Arne Carlson 'Republican lite.' As long as Republicans believe that government is evil, they will have a very difficult time communicating to communities or individuals that have experienced some degree of disenfranchisement."

James in Lino Lakes: "I feel really disconnected from the parties. I just feel that the young people are kind of forgotten by the parties. ... A lot of the issues I personally feel strongly about, like the environment and social equality, seem to be lost in the overall look of the government. Both parties seem to fail to address these issues."

@kerrimpr As a 20-yr-old conservative republican, the biggest problem I see is connecting ideas like low taxes with young people.

— Spencer Brown (@ItsSpencerBrown) June 6, 2013

@kerrimpr As America transitions to look more like California demographically, so too will it look like California politically. It's over(

— Paul Monnens (@Karateoldman) June 6, 2013

Another useless Dem vs. GOP "debate" on @dailycircuit. As long as the 1 percent control the economy, nothing will change for young people.

— 46thParallel (@46thParallel) June 6, 2013

@kerrimpr selling their policies?Under the republican Admins slower private sector job growth.they need Less selling, better outcomes.

— mark burnsville (@MBurnsville) June 6, 2013

@kerrimpr Why does the Republican Party seem to ignore the non-religious, a.k.a. "nones"?The non-religious are growing quickly.

— Jonathan Nowlin (@jjnowlin4) June 6, 2013


House Republicans broken into fighting factions "The House has not approved ambitious legislation this year. Lawmakers have instead focused on trying to re-brand the party around kitchen-table issues -- although even some of those bills have run into trouble. And the most momentous policy decisions, including an immigration overhaul and a fresh deadline for raising the federal debt limit, have no coherent strategy to consolidate Republicans, much less take on the Democrats." (The Washington Post)

Sen. Rand Paul says Republicans can make more appealing pitch to voters Speaking May 31, 2013 Paul told the audience that a Republican message of less regulation, lower taxes, more efficient government and more personal liberty will appeal to large numbers of voters. He also said "the party can be big enough to allow people who don't all agree on every issue." (MPR News)

What issues matter to young Republicans? Young Republicans at the 2012 Republican National Convention talk about the issues that matter to them and where they want the party to go. (The Daily Circuit)

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