In 2008 I watched as my peers -- voters in their twenties and thirties -- defied the expectations of political pundits to play a key role in ushering President Obama into the White House. Four years later, America is facing one of the most important elections of our lifetimes, and my generation is again poised to play a deciding role. As a young Republican, it is important to me to point out that my generation is not inherently loyal to President Obama, Harry Reid or Nancy Pelosi. If the Republican Party can mold itself into an alternative that is clearly relevant to today's voters, we can not only win -- we can revitalize the GOP for years to come. To be blunt, it's time for the Grand Old Party to get a little bit grander and a lot less old.
It's a fact -- younger voters are rapidly losing faith in President Obama's trademark promises of "hope and change." With fifty percent of recent graduates either under -- or unemployed and buckling under the weight of debt, this generation is looking for a way out of this economic crisis. Unfortunately, some in my party insist on breaking out the same outdated playbook filled with ideas that have not had traction since before many of today's voters were born.
Despite the stereotype of young voters as idealistic, unthinking liberals more interested in saving the whales than dealing with budgets, right now if a candidate isn't talking about how to stimulate the job market or create an economy that will enable them to pay back their student loans, young voters don't want to hear it.
The last time Congressional Democrats passed a budget, there was no such thing as an iPad. Younger voters fighting are frustrated by liberal impotence, and looking for an alternative. As a result, there is really only one factor keeping younger voters in Obama's column: social issues.
While this voting block is inclined to consider conservative economic solutions, the GOP's perceived intransigence -- and some say, hypocrisy -- on the freedom to marry is a major problem. When the unquestionably conservative National Review recently reported on millennials' rightward turn, the author noted:
Independent millennials that are leaning Republican are focused solely on the economy and are not being drawn to the Republican Party by social issues. In fact, according to Luke Frans, the millennials in the Resurgent Republic focus groups refused to discuss the Republican Party's social views. In other interviews, millennials have noted that they preferred the Republican Party's leadership on the economy, but could not bring themselves to vote for a Republican out of distaste for current GOP positions on gay marriage and abortion.
It comes back to relevance. While polls show gay marriage at the bottom of most voters' political priority lists, younger Americans, most of whom happily attend same-sex marriage ceremonies, are offended by antigay politics. They believe this issue speaks to the character of the Republican Party. For younger voters, signing the National Organization for Marriage's pledge to discriminate against their gay friends and family is enough to wipe out a lot of reasons to consider voting Republican. More than that, it signals that the Republican Party is desperately out of touch.
If Mitt Romney wants to find himself inside the Oval Office on January 20, he needs to narrow the 13 point gender gap, win over more moderates, where he's behind by 21 percent, and cut into the president's lead among those ages 18-29, where he's behind by an astounding 32 percent. After 2006 and 2008, the GOP can't assume that these constituencies will not turn out in droves. The price for that mistake was handing over power to Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and President Obama -- a price that our nation will be paying in the form of higher deficits for decades.
Party leaders like Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus and Speaker of the House John Boehner know this, and are working hard to promote a conservative message that can appeal to all demographics, including mine. Romney's campaign can read the polls, and clearly wants to capitalize on the opportunity to peel away some of President Obama's supporters. Romney himself has said,
I think young voters in this country have to vote for me if they're really thinking about what's in the best interest of their country and what's in their personal best interest... I think young people will understand that ours is the party of opportunity and jobs.
The only way younger voters will hear that message is if Governor Romney abandons outdated talking points and social issue static. It's time to close the book on yesterday's politics. The Grand Old Party can be relevant, or we can be relegated to the past. It's our choice.