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The GOP Should Talk To, Involve Young Republicans in Campaigns

Data suggests that there is untapped potential for the Republican Party to resonate and engage with youth.

Note: While this analysis was first published in 2015, the historical youth vote choice chart has been updated with data from 2016 and 2018 elections.

According to 2014 Pew Research national polling, 35% of young voters nationwide– those ages 18-33–identify themselves as Republicans or lean Republican. Our own analysis also shows that the rate of contact by campaigns in presidential years closely corresponds to the rate of youth turnout. These are two of the reasons that GOP presidential candidates should make intentional and different efforts to reach out to young people.

In 2012, Former Governor Romney received 37% of youth votes nationally. Analysis by CIRCLE suggests that if Romney had received half of youth votes in four key states, he would have won the election.

Historically, during presidential election years, the youth vote has tended to be competitive between the two parties. In fact, in 1984 and 1988, a majority of young voters–ages 18-29–voted for the Republican candidate for president.  However, in recent years young voters have become increasingly supportive of Democratic candidates.

Young people can also play a role way before Election Day. According to CIRCLE’s analysis, young people had an impact on the 2008 and 2012 primaries, as hundreds of thousands of youth participated in Republican primaries by Super Tuesday in both election years.

These dynamics are not unique to the presidency. CIRCLE has analyzed the same historical trends among young voters in House elections dating back to 1992. In 2014, among youth who cast a ballot, 43% voted for a Republican House candidate.

According to national exit polling from the 2012 presidential general election (i.e. data from youth who DID cast a ballot), young Republican voters have specific issue positions that 2016 GOP presidential candidates may want to take note of as the primary campaign continues to take shape. Some of those issue positions include:

  • When given a choice between the economy, health care, immigration, or the federal budget deficit, almost two-thirds (62%) of young Republican voters in 2012 said that the economy was the biggest issue facing our country,
  • When asked about “the biggest economic problem facing people like you,” young Republican voters reported that unemployment was the biggest problem (42%), followed closely by rising prices (41%). Among Republican voters of all ages, 35% cited unemployment as the biggest issue, which indicates this was a bigger concern for young Republican voters.

Later this fall, CIRCLE will release a profile of young Republicans. Early analysis suggests that their opinions and priorities are quite different from those of older Republicans. Campaigns need to engage these voters now to understand how they can gain youth support in 2016.