Conservative Ideas Are Our Biggest Strength with Young Americans

by Kristen Soltis Anderson

It’s no secret that young Americans have it particularly rough these days. According to a survey of 800 registered voters aged 18 to 29 conducted for Crossroads Generation (a super PAC I advise) young voters are feeling the pain, and know Obama isn’t working. But that’s not the whole story; focusing solely on Obama’s failings misses an enormous opportunity to fight for the youth vote.

In the survey, only 22 percent thought their own financial situation had improved in the last year. Over a third of those with a bachelor’s degree said they were not financially independent from their parents, and a third said they’d moved home with their families to save money.

They also know that Obama hasn’t helped their situation. Only 22 percent think Obama has put policies into place that have made it easier for young people to get jobs, and only 29 percent think they are better off as a result of the stimulus package. The president’s job approval sits at 48 percent but falls to 36 percent among young independents.

We asked respondents why they approved or disapproved of Obama, and the most common word used by disapprovers was “economy.”

For young voters who approved, however, the result was surprising. The most often-used word in the responses? “Trying.” Obama is trying. He may be failing — they know it from the economic misery they face daily — but at least he’s trying.

What a low, low bar for conservatives to overcome.

Yet despite all of this — and even though Obama underperforms relative to 2008 — he still wins young voters by significant margins. They no longer think Obama is great, but the GOP needs to make a better case when it comes to getting the economy working for young people.

The good news for Republicans is that there’s a clear path to show them how they can do better: by focusing on our ideas, especially those about small business and entrepreneurship.

Some 67 percent felt that keeping taxes low on small businesses would make it easier for young people to get jobs. (Notably, only 36 percent felt the same way about lowering the corporate-tax rate, highlighting the importance of talking about “small businesses” instead of just “businesses.”)

Nearly half of the young voters we surveyed said they hope to start a business of their own some day, including 58 percent of the African American and 64 percent of the Latino respondents. We’re the party best suited to help them pursue that dream, and we need to make that case.  

Even the broad ideas that drive conservatism were well received: A majority think the government is trying to do too many things best left to the private sector and individuals, and only a quarter think the government is usually good at solving problems in our society.

Young voters know Obama hasn’t worked. Now it falls to the GOP to prove that they’d do better, and a focus on pro-small business policies is the clearest path forward.

— Kristen Soltis Anderson is a pollster with the Winston Group and communications advisor to Crossroads Generation. The Winston Group conducted the poll.

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