GOP Shouldn’t Feel It Has to Be Hush-Hush on Social Issues Around Young Adults

by Katrina Trinko

From the New York Times (the article is headlined “Young in G.O.P. Erase the Lines on Social Issues”):

Polls show that Americans under 30 are the least likely to identify as Republican, and those in the millennial generation support President Obama by a wide margin. But in an effort to win votes by capitalizing on disenchantment with the recession and its slow recovery, Republicans are placing a renewed emphasis on fiscal issues, with hopes of energizing their young people — a group that had one of the lowest turnout levels in the history of presidential elections in 2008 and did not turn out in strong numbers in this year’s primaries. . . .

A poll this year by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found that the percentage of Republicans ages 18 through 29 who favor same-sex marriage has grown to 37 percent, up from 28 percent eight years ago.

“The students I know who are conservative are far less so on social issues than our parents,” Ms. Kotzambasis, 19, said. “People are more accepting of different lifestyles.”

First point: This article doesn’t directly address abortion. That may be because on abortion, young adults are about evenly split. According to a 2012 Gallup poll, 46 percent of 18 to 34 year olds are pro-choice, while 44 percent are pro-life. And my guess would be that even some — if not a significant chunk — of those pro-choicers would be okay with some restrictions on abortion. And when it comes to intensity, young adult pro-lifers win hands down: a 2010 NARAL (NARAL!) survey “found a stark ‘intensity gap’ on abortion. Some 51 percent of the under 30 voters who are pro-life call opposing abortion a “very important” voting issue compared with just 26 percent of abortion backers,” reported LifeNews. So why is the abortion question a problem for Republicans when attracting young adults again?

Furthermore, while support for same-sex marriage may be growing among young Republicans, 63 percent of young Republicans either oppose or don’t have an opinion about gay marriage, according to the poll cited by the Times. That’s still two-thirds — hardly a tiny percentage.

I’m 24, and I’m used to being the odd one out among my peers in opposing the legalization of same-sex marriage. But I also get the impression that very few young adults have heard a good argument for why it should be opposed. It’s not that they’ve heard the argument that marriage should be tied to procreation — delivered charitably, with an awareness that many young adults have gay friends and/or family — and have rejected it so much as they simply have been emotionally moved by the case made by gay and lesbians who wish to be married. It might be worth thinking about how a better case can be made for traditional marriage before deciding that there is no way to win over more of public opinion on this point.

But it’s also worth noting the intensity of those young adults who support legalizing same-sex marriage, or as they call it, marriage equality. I don’t agree with their cause, but I admire their dedication and commitment. And they are showing that young adults do not merely vote on pocketbook issues, but that they are also very much attuned to and concerned about moral issues.  

Moral issues can cause real fervor; they can make someone who merely votes into someone who knocks on doors, makes calls, and donates. No, Republicans don’t need to — and shouldn’t — make this election all about social issues. Nor should those who see differently from the party platform on social issues be told there is no room for them in the party. But at the same time, it’s foolish to ignore the social issues — and to give up on changing anyone’s mind. Social conservativism has a compelling moral vision, one centered on human dignity and the preciousness of life.  That case deserves an airing, particularly to young adults, who may be more familiar with the routine mockery of social-conservative values than with the arguments for those values sincerely and thoughtfully delivered.

On a side note, the Times somewhat curiously throws in quotes about how young adults are okay with tattoos, and some statistics about how they are enthused about interracial marriage and the increased number of women in the workplace. Is there anything – anything – in the Republican platform that would affect tattoos or interracial marriage? And is the party of Sarah Palin, Kelly Ayotte, Susana Martinez, Jan Brewer, Cathy McMorris Rogers, etc., really not in line with women in the workplace?

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