Republican pollster, Kristen Soltis Anderson, traces the demise of relations between Millennials and the GOP to 2006. That was the year Republicans lost control of the Senate and the House, ushering in the speakership of Rep. Nancy Pelosi.
“Republicans won only 39 percent of the votes of those under age 30–the worst result for either party among any age group going back over two decades,” Anderson writes in her new book, The Selfie Vote: Where Millennials Are Leading America (And How Republicans Can Keep Up) “young voters spoke loud and clear: they had simply rejected the Republican Party.”
Selfie Vote: Where Millennials Are Leading America
Anderson points out this is contrary to popular perception that 2008 was the watershed year young people starting flocking to the Democratic Party. The year 2006 was a bleak time for Republicans, whose brand suffered in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, immigration protests, debates of privatizing Social Security and the Iraq War.
“Barack Obama wasn’t a major national figure yet. Young voters weren’t caught up in Obamamania,” she writes. “Obama’s name wouldn’t even be tested in a major presidential election poll until 2007. This was not about Obama.”
If we go here from the trendsetting time, back to the period when Barack Obama really came into the limelight, the youth had already started organizing and raising voices on public issues and Obamamaia just followed. The Millennials still held a firm position in decision-making processes, but were getting setbacks from the top and bottom levels.
This points to an even more troubling trend for Republicans, Anderson argues, because Millennials fundamentally view the GOP as out-of-touch and outmoded–negative perceptions that transcend any one-time fervor for a charismatic junior senator from Illinois.
“I’ve spent the last six years trying to crack the code on young voters,” writes Anderson, who was honored by TIME as one of “30 People Under 30 Changing the World. “I’ve pored over countless public opinion surveys, conducted focus groups all over the country, and taken a deep dive into all of the data about where my generation stands and what we believe. What I have found should terrify Republicans … Republicans fundamentally misunderstand millennial values and where the opportunities–and challenges–exist. They often take too simplistic a view of what young people want.”
Anderson holds no punches in her criticism of Republicans’ digital savvy, yet in her chapter titled “Snapchats from Hillary” offers innovative methods of reaching young people where they are, whether that’s on Snapchat, World of Warcraft games, Madden NFL or Scrabble on their phone. This is in contrast with heavy TV ad buys, which often miss this crucial demographic. She describes this as a fracturing of content, from a mass-media marketplace to a consumer-based model of communication.
“The point isn’t necessarily that Snapchat itself is the future of political communication,” she writes in pointing out the technology gap between left and right, where conservatives scramble to catch up. “The point is that nowadays people are eager to weightlessly, casually share their lives, feelings, and opinions with the world. Young Americans in particular are living their lives on their phones. They don’t need things to be formal and highly produced and retouched.”
Photo: MSNBCSoltis Anderson, right, remains hopeful that Republicans – with some work – can win Millennials in upcoming elections. | Photo: MSNBC
Tracing demographic trends, Anderson points out that Millennials are delaying marriage, flocking to urban areas and are less likely than older generations to attend church. These are all factors that Anderson argues make Millennials different from their parents and grandparents, and since political identity is heavily formed in young adulthood, that doesn’t bode well for Republicans. So rather than harking back to previous models of family formation, Anderson calls on Republicans to better handle current family trends and structure policies that better serve families from all income levels.
“The problem with the Grand Old party was right in the name. It was old,” she quips.
Anderson says Republicans can lead on student loans by helping prevent unneeded or excessive debt burdens by promoting alternative forms of education, including MOOCs. She also calls for better minority outreach–embedding in communities rather than just airdropping in around election time. She also calls for reforming criminal justice laws, an issue gaining bi-partisan traction, but has historically been associated with Democrats.
“The cost to our society of locking up so many, particularly those who have not committed a violent offense, is extraordinary, both in terms of the fiscal costs to government and in the human toll it takes in the disproportionately affected African-American community,” she writes.
Rather than harping on “the selfie generation” as self-absorbed, Anderson urges Republicans to tap into the positive optimism exuded by the first generation of digital natives.
“I’ve combed through volumes of data and have come away hopeful,” she concludes. “I see the way that we’re eager as a generation to try new things, not because we think something new is always inherently going to be better, but because it has the potential to be … The technological, demographic, and cultural changes we are witnessing today did not begin yesterday and will not evaporate tomorrow. And it is young Americans who are leading the way.”