Young Republicans Say 'Grand Old Party' Needs To Win Youth Votes

Feb 16, 2013
Originally published on February 16, 2013 11:16 am
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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

A number of Republicans have looked at the results of the last two presidential elections and concluded they've got to get more voters under the age of 30 into the tent. Twenty-somethings are much more likely than their elders to identify as Democrats, to have positive views of government and to favor same-sex marriage.

NPR's national political correspondent Don Gonyea watched this week's State of the Union address with a group of young Republican voters in Ohio, and has this report.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Fourteen members of the College Republicans at Ohio State University gathered in a meeting room on campus for the State of the Union address in this week. The giant flat-screen TV on the wall was tuned to C-SPAN.

SENATOR JOHN BOEHNER: Members of Congress, I have the high privilege and the distinct honor of presenting to you, the president of the United States.



GONYEA: Seated around a long table, they punctuated President Obama's speech with groans, rebuttals, criticisms and sarcasm. These students worked hard to no avail to deliver this much-prized battleground of Ohio for Mitt Romney last year. As for the state of their own party in 2013, and its connection to young voters, I asked them this. Is there anybody here who thinks the Republican Party needs to do something serious to change.

Define serious.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Well, that's where you guys define it, I guess.

GONYEA: That's how our conversation started.

DREW STROEMPLE: I don't want us to panic. We do need serious changes in terms of the way we reach out to different demographics, and in terms of the way we message.

GONYEA: Drew Stroemple is a political science and economics major.

STROEMPLE: But we had a tough environment in 2008. And in 2012, I think we forgot just how difficult it is to beat an incumbent because the Democrats learned that lesson in 2004. And sometimes you're going to have to have losses but it doesn't mean you change your views.

GONYEA: It's worth noting that this club is called College Republicans, not the College Conservatives or the College Tea Party. They are proud Republicans who identify with their party as an institution. And as such, they often echoed what you hear from the Republican National Committee. But as the conversation continued, generational differences give reveal themselves.

Take Sam Zeidema, a 20-year-old poli-sci and history major.

SAM ZEIDEMA: I consider myself a real conservative.

GONYEA: But on social issues he's out of sync with some of the GOP's official positions.

ZEIDEMA: There are some issues out there that I don't feel so strongly about either way, that I'm going to go advocate for or against it.

GONYEA: Can you mean example?

ZEIDEMA: I'll use gay marriage as an example. I am not one that's going to go out and advocate for or against the issue because I hear both sides, I understand both sides. And I guess this is hard because it doesn't affect me personally.

GONYEA: There was no dissent on this point among this group of young Republicans.

There was also a strong sense in this room that the Republican Party can revive itself by attracting new, youthful leadership. They say that's what Democrats did with Barack Obama. One prime candidate is Senator Marco Rubio who delivered the official GOP response to the president this week. On the matter of Rubio's awkward, live on-camera drink from a water bottle, there was forgiveness here. They laughed, yes, but also cheered as Rubio finished his speech.


GONYEA: And immediately the talk turned to Rubio's potential. Here's sophomore Miranda Onnen.

MIRANDA ONNEN: Marco Rubio is on the cover of Time magazine pretty much looking majestic.


ONNEN: Yeah.

GONYEA: Is he the Republican savior?

SHANEA BROWN: I wouldn't say savior. But he's definitely sending the party in the right direction.

GONYEA: That second voice is senior Shanea Brown. Others stressed the depth of the GOP bench when it comes to new young leaders.

The area where these College Republicans showed the most frustration with their party was in messaging. Here's 21-year-old Lucas Denney.

LUCAS DENNEY: We don't know how to brand our message. We are getting out-worked on that and I think that's a major issue.

GONYEA: And that is especially true when it comes to social media, a critical tool for reaching voters.

Dan Morgano.

DAN MORGANO: That was the biggest problem is I would go on Twitter and I'd see Obama promoted. I go on YouTube and there'd be an Obama ad. I'd go on Pandora and there's an Obama ad. I never heard anything from Romney when I was online.

GONYEA: There is another big thing these College Republicans seem to be banking on when it comes to the GOP and their generation: when they do get out of school and get jobs and mortgages, that taxes and government spending will suddenly become greater worries. They say that's when the Republicans will have a chance at winning over a generation that has been very elusive for the party of late.

Don Gonyea, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.