insights on young Republicans

A couple of recent research reports have crossed my desk regarding young conservatives.  First, RK Research has a poll of 1,000 college students. As a preface, they note that young people are not always a Democratic constituency: majorities of young Americans have voted for the Republican presidential ticket three times since 1972 and came close in another three elections. But the last decade saw a generation gap, punctuated by Barack Obama’s ability to take an unprecedented two-thirds of the under-30 vote in 2008.

The RK Research poll contains some insights for conservatives who want to make inroads with college students (who are just a subset of young people). For one thing, issue priorities are interesting:

All college students:

  1. Education
  2. Economy
  3. Health Care
  4. Civil Liberties
  5. Government Ethics
  6. National Security

Republican college students:

  1. National security
  2. Education
  3. Economy
  4. Economic Freedom
  5. Government Ethics
  6. Balanced Budget

All college students rank military strength and national security as the Republican Party’s #1 and #2 strongest areas of performance. The challenge for Republicans is that their brand seems to be strongest when it comes to national security, but only Republican college students rank that as a high priority. Some of the Party’s leading national issues do not play well among college students, even the Republican ones. Economic freedom comes in at #4 for the college Republicans; abortion, at #13; and social values, at #14. Education trumps all of those at #2. I would recommend the Republicans emphasize constructive policy positions on education, including higher education.

Meanwhile, this paper by Mukand and Kaplan finds that young people who registered to vote in California right after 9/11/2001 were more likely to register as Republicans than those who registered right before 9/11/01, and they have stayed more Republican since then. This is an interesting contribution to the general literature on voting, because it suggests that formative  experiences have lasting effects. It also suggests that today’s young Republicans (a relatively small group) may be especially motivated by concerns about national security–in which case the  Republicans’ priorities of tax cuts and social issues will not play particularly well with them. After all, the RK Research poll was conducted before Osama bin Laden was killed in a mission authorized by a Democratic president.

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About Peter

Associate Dean for Research and the Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Tufts University's Tisch College of Civic Life. Concerned about civic education, civic engagement, and democratic reform in the United States and elsewhere.