Several months after President Obama's successful 2012 reelection, a survey allegedly created by the Republican Party began circulating around popular social media sites such as Tumblr and Twitter. Billed as a way to discover how young people viewed the GOP and eventually taken by over 50,000 people, it asked questions such as "Do you feel the Republican Party discriminates against people?" or "Would you be more likely to vote for a GOP candidate if they were gay?" While such blunt questions were widely ridiculed by most of the blogosphere (see, for instance, Stephen Colbert's take on it), this survey, though done heavy-handedly, speaks to the broader problems facing the party up to the current day.
It's no secret that the Republican Party's social stances tend to alienate certain groups of voters. Nor is a secret that as the U.S. grows more demographically diverse and less representative of the GOP's main demographic -- white men -- that alienation is starting to become more and more costly. What is surprising is what that means for these newly diverse voters, specifically young ones, who reflect generational shifts in attitude on social issues such as LGBTQ rights. For these young voters, their political orientation boils down almost completely to those social issues, forcing them to ignore their economic convictions. A study carried out by researchers at Pennsylvania State University, for example, showed that even young voters who self identified as conservative tended to espouse liberal views on current social issues. Meanwhile, a study done by Gallup found that currently social liberalism is at an all time high of 30 percent, though economic liberalism remains unchanged at 19 percent.
Ironically, our generation could well be the GOP's chance for a triumphant return. As a generation that came of age during turbulent economic times, it should be easy for us to hammer home the need for economic conservatism. In fact, in the past five years, unemployment has risen from being the fifth highest concern to young people to the first, according to TRU, a Chicago youth research company. However, the clear mismatch between social and economic political convictions means that concerns such as those, in the voting booth, ultimately don't matter. For young people today, being a Democrat means supporting gay marriage or pro choice abortion policies, not more regulation on business or more government assistance for the poor. We might even be fiscally conservative, but we still vote liberally because the GOP, for many young people, is on the wrong side of history when it comes to social issues.
The generation coming of age today is a generation undecided and one stuck in a quandary, with incentives to vote both democratically and conservatively. This quandary is a script that's played out against the Republicans in the past two presidential elections, most notably in 2012. It's a script that's played out against the Republicans in the recent losses of Congress hopefuls like Todd Akin of Missouri and Richard Mourdock of Indiana after incendiary comments about rape -- both races ones the GOP had counted on winning.
For the past 159 years, the Republican Party has been able to get away with being a one-demographic, one-interest party. It could be made up of mostly old white men who mostly represented the interests of old white men because those were the voters that mattered. Today, that's no longer true. Today, our generation is more diverse and more socially liberal than ever before, and we've put the ball in the GOP's court. As young people generally do, we've thus far shown a preference for liberalism, but we've also displayed potential for conservatism. As the 2016 presidential elections appear on the horizon, it's up to the GOP to decide what to do with that- to figure out if they will steadfastly cling to the old ways and refuse to change even in the face of defeat, or if they'll prove their mettle and worth as a party by adapting to the changing voice and demographics of the USA.
As someone who, like many young Americans getting ready to vote for the first time, finds herself stuck between fiscally conservative and socially liberal ideals, I know which Republican Party I might be interested in being a part of.
Hint: it isn't the one which denies my rights as a woman and refuses to adapt to change.