Why the Tea Party Loses Young Voters (and what we can do about it)

via the Minnesota Tea Party Alliance magazine.

“Free markets, fiscal responsibility, and constitutionally limited government. Which one of those is the problem for young voters?

Too often, we on the Tea Party side of things allow the conversation with young people (or millennials) to start from the wrong direction. The media and the left want to focus on certain areas where some young voters face cultural differences with conservatives, often times social issues. But this straw man ignores the heart of the Tea Party message.

The heart of the Tea Party message is anti-authoritarian. Conservatism has always been in favor of strong institutions such as the family, the market, and the church. However, the Tea Party diverges from past conservative thought by more consciously setting itself against the inherent abuse of power that comes with the state.

This disposition against state power fits with the priorities of younger voters. Millennials are skeptical of intervention in Syria, pissed off by wiretapping and drone striking of American citizens, and flabbergasted by the inability of the government to build a simple website for Obamacare, let alone making sure we are not suffocated under a mountain of debt. We have grown up online, and as digital natives we know that regulating the Internet is a bad idea. The idea that the state is at the heart of many of the greatest problems facing our society is not very groundbreaking to us.

When this message breaks through, the Tea Party can win young voters. Last November in Virginia, Tea Party aligned gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli lost his race by three points. However, in that same election he won voters aged 18-24, 45%-39%. His opponent was a corrupt businessman whose projects were financed by his political connections rather than real investment, and college-aged voters rejected him in favor of the Tea Party candidate.

The lesson is simple: the core message of the Tea Party is not the problem. Our challenge is to get our core message in front of young people instead of the straw man that the left and the media use to describe our values to millennials.

I am not interested in rehashing the gay marriage debate for the thousandth time. I want to talk about free markets, fiscal responsibility, and constitutionally limited government. Young people are ready to talk about those issues:  Internet freedom, the national debt, Obamacare, foreign intervention, and the NSA, among others.

It is our fault we do not have that conversation. We assume that the youth are a lost cause and that they are liberal and Democrat, so we let the media and the left tell their story instead of ours. But if we never reach out, millennials will never hear our side of the story.

We should take a page from the Cuccinelli campaign instead. His campaign, with the help of the national Conservative Leadership PAC, hired three youth coordinators to work on the ground sharing the campaign’s message to young people. They identified students on campus who already agreed with our message and got them to the polls while working to persuade those who were undecided to support Cuccinelli. The results speak for themselves.

In general, we have not done this in Minnesota. We just let the left do it instead.  Groups like MPIRG (the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group) hire canvassers to crisscross the state every summer and fall to knock on doors and share their liberal talking points. In 2012, the “No” campaign on the marriage amendment went door to door on campuses across the state to identify and mobilize young people, and those of us on the right were completely outgunned. We never got to talk about our core message of free markets, fiscal responsibility and constitutionally limited government.

We cannot continue to let that happen. It is time to stop ceding the intellectual high ground to the left and start engaging young people. If we bother to have a conversation with young voters, they might just listen.”

Danny Surman is the founder and Chairman of the Youth Leadership PAC.

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