A reader writes:
I’m a college freshman to whom your line “socially liberal hawkish supporter of the flat tax” applies perfectly. However, I have no animosity towards my fellow conservatives who place a great deal of importance on social issues. My concern, however, is what the social issues are doing to the GOP and conservative brands among young people, particularly high school and college students. Much has been made of the alarming leftward tilt of young people; in talking to those of my peers who lean left, I have come to believe that social issues are the defining factor in their ideological alignment. The thing you must understand about young people today is that politics is not about issues; it is about a general sense of the two parties or of a particular ideology. To a generation that has been inculcated with constant rigamarole about diversity, tolerance, acceptance of different cultures, etc. the idea of restricting a woman’s reproductive choices or (even worse) a homosexual person’s lifestyle simply rubs them the wrong way. I would have trouble finding anyone on my campus who can debate the various merits of the Defense of Marriage Act or intelligently discuss partial birth abortion; however, the very sense that the Republican Party and conservatives want to restrict someone’s choice (especially a minority group like gays) turns them immediately against us, perhaps for good.
I’m not saying that our movement should give in to lowest-common-denominator thinking and abandon the beliefs held by many social conservatives just to appease some barely informed college kids. However, there must be a way to better explain social conservatism that doesn’t immediately repel young people who like to consider themselves erudite and tolerant. If social conservatism is to remain a key plank of the GOP, and if we are to have any hope of winning the youth vote, some serious rebranding is order.
Thanks for your thoughtful note. I would only point out, first, that young people do not appear to be more pro-choice than voters, particularly when you consider the longstanding married-vs.-single gap in attitudes toward abortion; and second, that even in relatively liberal California, young people were more likely (according to the exit polls) to vote for Proposition 8 (the same-sex marriage ban) than for Senator McCain. The ban, that is, was more popular than the party among young people.