April 19, 2019 | 73° F

How can the GOP attract the millennial vote?

Photo by Edwin Gano |

While 51 percent of millennials identify as democratic, 35 percent identify as Republican, but younger Republicans have taken to adopting more lenient views on social issues.

With the presidential election approaching, a majority of millennial voters are either "Feeling the Bern" or "#ReadyForHilary."

A 2014 Pew Research poll found that 51 percent of millennials identify as democrats, 35 percent identify as Republicans and the rest are either undecided or Independent.

Many say the GOP needs to shift gears in order to win the crucial millennial vote.

But the strong Republican ideal of preserving free-market capitalism already resonates with many millennial voters, said Brandon Pierce, member of the College Republicans, who argued that the GOP candidates need to focus on their strengths rather than attack each other publicly.

"The candidates need to focus on why free market capitalism is good and why solutions outside of government involvement are better," Pierce said.

Most Republican candidates deny climate change, but Pierce said this does not help their chances with young voters. Instead, presidential hopefuls need to propose market-oriented solutions to global warming, such as trade-able emissions permits.

Emissions trading is a system that provides economic incentives for reducing pollution levels. The "cap-and-trade" strategy was formed in the 1980s by an alliance of free-market Republicans and environmentalists. Thus far, no 2016 GOP candidate has pushed this strategy.

"There's a difference between Republicans and Democrats on how to deal with climate change," Pierce said. "Democrats want the EPA and more federal regulations on businesses. Republicans need to explain how regulations hurt businesses."

Although young and old Republicans stand behind free-market capitalism, Pierce said there are still clear differences between the two groups.

"Young Republicans today are interested in such issues as the environment, which itself is a more social-Democratic category," said Michael Rossi, professor in the Department of Political Science. "The millennial Republican is interested in talking about new issues that the Republican establishment is just not paying enough attention to."

While older Republicans disagree with legalizing marijuana, many young Republicans are supporters.

Sixty-three percentof millennial Republicans support marijuana legalization, while only 38 percent of Republican Baby Boomers support it. And the market benefits of marijuana legalization that millennial Republicans favor are clear, where in Colorado, the legal weed market made $700 million in sales last year to be invested back into the state.

There is a stark difference between generations of Republicans on the issue of same-sex marriage as well.

Sixty-one percent of millennial Republicans support same-sex marriage, according to a 2014 Pew Research Survey. By contrast, just 27 percent of Republicans ages 50 and older favor allowing gays and lesbians to marry.

"Younger Republicans are more tolerant toward same-sex marriage," Pierce said.

Despite younger Republicans adopting democratic social views, Pierce believes one question ultimately separates Republicans from democrats: What role should the government play in our society, both socially and economically?

"Economically, I think the market works more efficiently than the government does," Pierce said.

In terms of poverty and education, Pierce said competition in the market would be more effective at solving problems than government social programs.

Presidential candidate Jeb Bush has been pushing this idea with proposals for an educational voucher system. The plan contrasts with Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders' promises of free public higher education.

Bush's plan would allow parents, rather than governments, to choose where their kids go to school. At a New Hampshire education conference in June, Bush told the audience to "let the suppliers come up with the creative solutions" to issues with the education system.

Still, Rossi said none of the current Republican candidates are likely to attract the millennial vote. The staunch opposition from GOP candidates on issues of same-sex marriage and abortion turn off the younger crowd.

"The younger generation of Republicans are gradually, but noticeably, changing their social values," Rossi said. "There is a greater acceptance for same-sex marriage and greater support for the legalization of marijuana. This is also true of the young Evangelical crowd."

The candidate closest to the young Republican base is Rand Paul, Rossi said.

"The Rand Paul supporters on the Republican side are about as young and as likely to think outside of the box as their counterparts in the Bernie Sanders category," Rossi said.

In order to remain competitive, Rossi said the GOP needs to change.

"We will see a significant generational change," Rossi said. "I think this election may galvanize that change faster rather than prolong it ... The Ben Carsons and Donald Trumps ... are forcing a number of young individuals who identify as Republican and conservative to feel they must salvage their party from what it is becoming."

Avalon Zoppo

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