Okay, maybe not lose, so much as lose by huge margins. I think that Republicans would have trouble winning a plurality of the youth vote even if they did everything right, but losing the youth vote by twenty-three points at a time of elevated youth unemployment is just brutal. The College Republicans have produced a useful report on the attitudes of under-30 voters that largely comports with my experience of that population.
In my experience, a plurality of young voters who don’t come from strongly right-leaning households very rarely hear a conservative message in a sympathetic way. Pretty much all they hear about Republicans are what Democrats and Democrat allies in the media (maybe especially the entertainment media) tell them. The College Republican study shows that young voters hold pretty moderate views on abortion policy. Fifty-one percent of young voters answered that they thought abortion should either always be illegal or generally illegal with a few exceptions. The only way Obama won his huge margins among young voters was by getting support from people whose policy preferences skewed pro-life.
How did this happen? Part of it was media consumption patterns. The only time the average viewer heard Republicans talk about abortion was when liberal-leaning media characterized what Republicans were saying about abortion or when some Republican out there said something incredibly stupid. Everybody heard about Todd Akin. The average news consumer never heard about Obama voting against extending legal protections to infants that survived botched abortions. Who was going to tell them? It wasn’t going to be the liberal-leaning media – for obvious reasons. It wasn’t going to be the Romney campaign. It wasn’t going to be Romney’s Super-PAC allies. They were too busy making ads about Obama bowing to China. The result was that Romney and his running mate
Todd Akin Paul Ryan came across as the abortion extremists even to pro-life-leaning voters.
There is also the problem of what Republicans are seen to stand for. Huge numbers of young don’t know anything about what Republicans want when it comes to policy. From what they hear, the Republicans are the party of white identity politics and high-earner self-interest. That is one reason why the “you built that” rhetoric fell so flat. Unconnected to a middle-class-oriented political agenda, the “you built that” stuff just came across as a defense of whoever already had lots of money.
Peter Suderman asked if we had a national debate about how Obamacare would increase the health insurance premiums of the young. From the perspective of the young voter, the answer was no. Who was going to discuss it with them? Most Republican candidates could not discuss health care policy past a few catchphrases that were designed to appeal to conservative primary voters rather than young swing voters. Romney wasn’t in a good position to discuss the negative consequences of a health care policy of guaranteed issue + community rating + coverage mandates + subsidies + an individual purchase mandate. Romney had already signed such a policy into law himself. So who was going to tell young voters that their premiums were going to go up? Karl Rove’s group was busy running ads about how Obama was picking on old, white, business owners.
The College Republican report shows that many young voters were ambivalent about Obamacare, but that they gave Obama credit for trying to improve health care policy. They were open to a substantive critique about how Obamacare would increase their costs without improving their access to care. They would probably have been open to a policy that increased access to low-cost catastrophic coverage with low premiums to those who did not have employer-provided coverage. On health care as on some many other issues, the Republicans lost so badly among young votes because Republicans were rarely heard and had nothing to say.
Even if Republicans had come up with a relevant middle-class agenda in 2012, many young voters still would not have heard about it. The language and understanding of technology to communicate effectively just doesn’t exist on the center-right. Conservative messages are effectively excluded from the media streams of huge numbers of younger Americans. Breaking into those media streams with a comprehensible message is a huge challenge. It will likely require a lengthy process of trial and error experimentation and the hour is already late. The problem won’t be solved as long as conservative donors keep writing huge checks to the same old Republican consultants to produce the same old worthless ads.