Young Republicans know the GOP has an Old White Man problem. It starts with plain math. Despite America's quickly growing minority population, 89 percent of Republicans are white. The party stumbles through clunky attempts to reach young voters via social media. And the mainstream GOP is at odds even with the few millennials it has managed to snag. A 2014 Pew Research Center survey found that millennials identifying as Republican or Republican-leaning often expressed more liberal values than older conservatives. For example, 64 percent of conservative millennials agree that homosexuality should be accepted by society, whereas only 45 percent of their baby-boomer counterparts agreed.
Still, half of all millennials don’t affiliate with either major political party. The good news for Republicans is, that leaves plenty of potential hearts and minds to win.
Chasing that hope, and cognizant that millennials will outnumber boomers by the next election, the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) hosted a new series of sessions and lectures this year—many of them in a TED Talk-like format—that revolved around activism, social media, and reaching younger voters. This “Activism Bootcamp” featured a number of younger speakers touted as conservative “millennial spokespersons.” Despite impressive credentials and an obvious drive to reach their peers, are these whippersnapper conservatives enough to ensure the GOP lasts past 2016?
“I think many millennials are just turned off with politics in general,” said Aubrey Blankenship of American Majority, a nonprofit organization that supports conservative activists and candidates. “However, they are turned on by many other good things, like social causes.” Blankenship said once conservatives show millennials how the party can work for them, millennials might realize that their views are actually more conservative than they think. “That same sentiment [for social causes] is a political sentiment, but millennials don’t see that,” she said.
Ron Meyer Jr., president of Springboard Media Strategies, agreed that Republicans need to do more for young voters. He offered Obama’s free community college plan as an example of how Democrats make practical appeals to an indebted generation. “We don’t combat those sort of policies with ideas of our own,” he said.
However one millennial rep, Caleb Boham, editor-in-chief of Campus Reform and creator of The Caleb Bonham Show, said through emails that he thought connecting with millennials is more about overcoming false media stereotypes to better appeal to the millennial generation. “We are charitable (even more than liberals), loving, an overall happy group of people who just want the government to remain faithful to its proper role and not push us around,” he said.
Bonham also said he believes millennials will become more conservative once they mature and leave the bubble of academia, which he sees as perpetuating liberal ideology and breeding “faux-intellectualism” on college campuses. “The best example [of faux-intellectualism] right now is with the ‘unearned privilege’ movement,” Bonham said. “Faux-intellectuals are the dingbats pontificating about gender privilege, cis-gender privilege, ableist privilege, and other privilege silliness. All they are doing is looking for someone to blame.”
Throughout the Activism Bootcamp at CPAC, there were few sessions devoted to gaining minority voters, even though a Census Bureau report finds that 42 percent of millennials identify as a minority. In addition, each millennial spokesperson was Christian, white, and male (except for Blankenship, who is female).
Even though Meyer said that conservatives have made strides to be more inclusive in the past few years, he believes conservatives also need more young people in office to appeal to a younger generation. “In politics as a whole it’s a bunch of old white guys,” he said. “If you’re going to have a fresh message often you have to have a fresh messenger as well.”