By Irene Morse, Carisa Lopez and Jessica Huseman
If it wasn’t becoming clear already, the 2012 election put it into sharp focus: Generation Y and the GOP aren’t getting along.
The last three presidential elections have seen the young vote swing decidedly blue: They voted for John Kerry in 2004 by 9 percentage points; For Barack Obama in 2008 by 34 percentage points; and again in 2012 (though by a smaller margin) with 23 percentage points.
While Republicans can take some comfort in the fact that – while turnout for Generation Y did not significantly decrease in 2012 – Obama didn’t snag as much of the youth vote as he did in 2008, this small shift just isn’t enough.
As Margaret Hoover points out, Obama is still on top historically. He beat the Republican Party with youth voters by 4 more points than Clinton and Reagan won the youth in their reelections – both of whom won by 19 percentage points.
The youth vote makes up 19 percent of overall voters – and without that 19 percent, Obama may not have won at all. It is clear that the Republican party needs to do a better job connecting to the youth population, and they need to do it fast: By 2020, the entire Millennial generation will be eligible to vote.
So where does the GOP need to start? We argue that their first step should be to move closer to the center on issues that concern women and the LGBT population.
Instead of moving forward on the issues of women, the GOP has begun race to see who can become more conservative. As a result, many of these candidates lost their race for public office.
Incumbent Senator Scott Brown, who proposed the Blunt Amendment, lost his seat to Elizabeth Warren and Representative Todd Akin lost his battle for Claire McCaskill’s senate seat after making comments about “legitimate rape,” and incumbent Republican Joe Walsh lost his seat in Illinois after saying abortion was never necessary to save the life of the mother.
As surprising as it is, women would like to have a say as to what is done with their bodies and what medicine they can and can’t take. Contraceptive access is something that should be common sense: It makes social and economic sense, but politicians like to make it into a complicated issue, and Generation Y isn’t having it.
Advocates for Youth report that three quarters of Millennials believe insurance companies should be required to cover birth control. Sixty percent say abortion should be legal to all people, and 69 percent say the pill is “one of the most important medical breakthroughs of the last Century that has had a positive impact on women’s day-to-day lives.”
Several studies have documented increasing acceptance of gays and lesbians and increasing support for gay marriage within all major demographic groups. Young people especially are known for their consensus in favor of expanding gay rights.
Sixty two percent of Millennials are in favor of gay marriage, in contrast to only 31 percent of seniors. This generational difference persists along partisan and religious lines, a strong indication that Millennials will continue to support gay rights as they get older. Even among the general population, support for gay marriage has registered double-digit increases over the last five years. Seventy five percent of this increase in support is due to people changing their mind on the issue. President-elect Obama became the first president to endorse gay marriage and discussed his own “evolution” on the issue, a narrative that mirrors that of much of the American public.
Organizations that oppose gay marriage such as the National Organization for Marriage and the Family Research Council are increasingly considered to have extremist views, or are even labeled as “hate groups.” It has become clear that Republicans need to distance themselves from this rhetoric in order to appeal to the young electorate — Perhaps this is why Mitt Romney rarely mentioned the issue of gay marriage during his campaign. However, the Republican Party platform still expresses support for the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which is widely viewed as discriminatory and may soon be considered by the Supreme Court.
It is clear after last week’s election results that Republicans need to reconsider their strategy. Young voters are turning out at record rates, and older voters who oppose gay rights and stay conservative on women’s issues will soon cease to be significant voting bloc. Without moving more to the center on these issues, the GOP will almost certainly see more and more results like those seen last Tuesday.