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The Republican Party and Young Voters Are at a Crossroads

Remember the late 1980s’ hit song “Parents Just Don’t Understand” by D.J. Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince (aka Will Smith)? Well, it seems that the elders of the Republic Party just don’t understand the changing demographics of our country. If the report released by the College Republic National Committee earlier this month is any indication, then the ideological divide between older, more established Republican voters and its younger, under-35-year-old constituents is as wide as the Grand Canyon.

The 95-page report, “Grand Old Party for a New Generation,” used extensive polling and focus groups to explore what went wrong for the Republican Party since Republicans lost badly among 18- to 29-year-old voters in the 2012 presidential election. The report is based on two national surveys of 800 registered voters between the ages of 18 and 29 that examined the party’s views on social and economic issues, and included a highly critical account about how the party handled and delivered its messaging and outreach. The report focused on the opinions of several groups: Hispanics, Asian-Americans, single women, economically struggling men and aspiring entrepreneurs.

The results of the CRNC report eerily reconfirmed those that were presented earlier this year by current Republican Party chairman Reince Priebus. For those of you not familiar with Priebus’ report, his findings presented a devastating critique of the party’s current state of affairs. While that report was primarily targeted to the party’s 50-year-old-plus demographic, this latest report is even more alarming, perhaps even potentially chilling given that the GOP’s younger, future generation base of voters views the party as largely racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, elitist and insensitive.

According to a recent article written by Katie Glueck, a reporter for Politico, the issues that seemed to be most problematic for young GOP’ers were:

  • Gay marriage
  • Hispanics
  • Perception of the party’s economic stance
  • Party image and perception

Young people interviewed made it clear to pollsters that the GOP would face serious difficulty as long as it is seen as hostile to gay and lesbians. Others argued that the harsh anti-immigration rhetoric espoused by many Republican politicians demonstrates to Latino voters that the party is anti-Hispanic and not interested in forging any sort of alliance with them. This sort of exclusionist, Darwinian mindset also contributed to the perception that the party is all too willing to praise and promote those who are economically well off and not those who are still trying to climb the economic ladder. Such an image leads many people, in particular, non-Republicans and even some Republicans themselves, to believe that the party is closed-minded, racist, largely sexist, rigid and old-fashioned.

There is no doubt that anyone who follows politics could understand why such traits have been associated with the party given its recent behavior. That being said, I found it interesting that, while the party supposedly made a conscientious effort to assemble a number of focus groups—women, Hispanics, Asians, economically disadvantaged men, single women, etc.—that Black Americans seemed to be excluded from the discussion. This fact, if true, is troubling on many levels since Blacks would certainly fall into a number of the aforementioned categories.

For a party supposedly interested in becoming more racially inclusive, neglecting young Blacks is certainly hypocritical or, at the very least, a selective form of inclusion or, perhaps, exclusion. It is well known that, since the mid-1960s, the Republican Party has had a tormented relationship with the Black electorate. Reaching out and embracing younger Black voters would have been a golden opportunity to begin to repair the damage.

As party operatives know, 18- to 29-year-old voters are the most anti-Republican segment of the voting population, largely for the very reasons that were espoused by those in attendance at the Republican National Convention. Ignoring an entire ethnic group (Black Americans) whose population is sizeable and will have a notable number of voting age citizens in the next two decades does not bode well for the future of the GOP. Hopefully, the young people of the groups that were in attendance reminded them of this fact.

Dr. Elwood Watson is a professor of history and African-American studies at East Tennessee State University.

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