Being a young and diverse country means we do not yet share a common view on divisive social issues such as gay marriage, gun control and abortion. However, a common thread that we share is our concern for the economy. A recent survey from McLaughlin & Associates shows the economy and jobs are the top issues that will have the most impact on our future.
Yet, our politics are so intensely divided on social issues by party line that many of the economic issues affecting the nation are ignored. For example, the burdensome deficit, which should be our central focus, is put on the back burner. Important problems like our broken Medicare and Social Security systems get lost amid the noise over issues like gun control and the war on drugs.
The Republican Party is starting to recognize this truth. In its recent "Growth and Opportunity Project" report, the party realized that, "For the GOP to appeal to younger voters, we do not have to agree on every issue, but we do need to make sure young people do not see the Party as totally intolerant of alternative points of view."
Their self-assessment is fair, but voters also have a responsibility to prioritize issues of importance. The older generation realizes this.
In the 2012 election, most seniors voted for the Romney-Ryan ticket because they believed they would save Medicare and Social Security from bankruptcy and reduce our national debt. In contrast, millennials aged 18 to 30, overwhelmingly supported the Obama-Biden ticket, largely because of social issues.
These Americans do not vote in their own financial interest, but they should. Under the Obama economy, today's youth are losing employment opportunities that once were available to us. Studies have found that the youth have been hit hardest during Obama's presidency. Unemployment, increasing tax burdens, and weakness in the economy are all making it harder for millennials to climb the professional ladder as quickly as their parents have.
Instead of focusing on their future, young millennials choose to vote based on which candidate is best on social issues. Republicans' ability to tout their economic message of frugality and capitalism is drowned out at the presidential level by the importance of social issues among the growing population of youth and minorities.
This does not bode well for the economic future of the nation. If we ignore our dire fiscal situation and focus only on social issues, we will reach a point where we are hungry, lack economic competitiveness and descend into a second- or third-world economy. By then, social issues could be a luxury.
As Americans, we must share more than our physical borders. We must share a desire to preserve the benefits of America for future generations. Until and unless we do so, our divided path on social issues threatens our necessary focus on cleaning up our financial house.
Gary Shapiro is president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA)®, the U.S. trade association representing more than 2,000 consumer electronics companies, and author of the New York Times best-selling books Ninja Innovation: The Ten Killer Strategies of the World's Most Successful Businesses and The Comeback: How Innovation Will Restore the American Dream. His views are his own.