Frank Luntz is one of the people who gave us today’s GOP–a party that has steadily become more fixated on strategies for winning elections than on fidelity to a governing philosophy. He was the guru who coached candidates for office in “framing”–how to use language to describe policies in ways that would seem acceptable to people who probably wouldn’t find those policies very congenial otherwise.
For most of his (lucrative) career as a political strategist, you wouldn’t find Luntz among the legions of concerned party faithful warning that the party’s longterm electoral prospects are dim. But now, even he is sounding the alarm. And that alarm is not connected to the harm being done to the GOP “brand” by The Donald.
In a March article about young voters, he recited the Grand Old Party’s daunting prospects, noting that
Americans ages 18 to 29 made up 19% of the vote in 2012, and President Obama pulled about 60% of their support. This year, they’re even more engaged: Nearly six in 10 (57%) say they are following the election “extremely” or “very” closely. And it’s just the primaries! What’s more, 87% respond that they are “extremely” or “very” likely to vote in the general election.
And what does this newly engaged cohort think about the GOP?
The Republican Party doesn’t have a problem with younger voters. Younger voters have a problem with the Republican Party, and it is rapidly becoming a long-term electoral crisis.
In our recent national survey of 1,000 first- and second-time voters ages 18 to 26, Republicans weren’t just off on the wrong track. They were barely on the radar with this Snapchat generation, as it is sometimes called….
The problem, or “crisis” if you’re an active Republican, is in their political identification. Fully 44% identify themselves as Democrats, higher in my polling than any age cohort in America. By comparison, about 15% call themselves Republican, lower than any age cohort. The remaining 42% say they’re independent, but on issue after issue they lean toward the Democrats. It’s not that young people love the Democratic Party — they don’t. But they reject the Republican Party and the corporate interests it appears to represent. Democrats can live with this dynamic. Republicans might die by it.
Luntz recognizes the problem, but seems oblivious to the reasons for it. For him, it’s still just strategy–the form of the message, rather than the substance. For example, he blames rejection of the GOP by young Americans in part on the Democrats’ better use of social media, and says the GOP should follow the example of former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who endorsed a presidential candidate via Snapchat.
What Luntz and much of the Republican establishment fail to recognize is that young voters are rejecting what the GOP has become post-Reagan.
My students look at the Republican party and see theocrats. They see stupid bathroom laws and other efforts to marginalize their LGBT friends. They see corporate fat cats prospering at the expense of the hard-working poor. They see efforts to disenfranchise minority voters and cut back on school lunch programs. They see the Congressional “Party of No” rejecting and obstructing a President they admire–and they recognize that the primary motivation for that obstruction is racism and a stubborn refusal to come to terms with the fact that a black man won the White House.
Research confirms that this generation is considerably more inclusive than those that preceded it, concerned about their communities, and critical of entrenched privilege. When they look at today’s GOP, they don’t see principled defenders of liberty and markets and a level playing field–they see oligarchs fielding armies of lobbyists to protect their tax loopholes and subsidies at the expense of the Walmart greeter and the McDonald’s server.
There is no doubt in my mind that this generation will change America’s mean-spirited political culture for the better. I’m less sanguine about what it will take to uproot the entrenched systems–from gerrymandering, to provisions in the tax code, to intimidation of the judiciary, to the growth of “propaganda media”– that make political change much more difficult.
One thing I do know: mastering Snapchat will not bring young voters into the GOP.