In the closing hours of 2015, when minds were focused more on parties than policy, Christopher Newport University released a report on the political views of Virginia’s millennials. Its findings should sound alarm bells throughout the Virginia Republican community.
The survey, with the exception of an article in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, got very little attention. CNU interviewed 2,004 Virginia millennials between the ages of 18 and 35, and the results indicate that Republicans in Virginia are heading for trouble.
The first and most glaring statistic is that only 24% of those surveyed consider themselves Republicans, compared to 37% who align with the Democratic Party. By region, the Southwest has the highest proportion of millennials who identify as Republican at 29%, while Hampton Roads and the Richmond area have the lowest proportion at 20%.
When asked who they supported for president in 2012, 60% responded that they backed Barack Obama compared with 30% that backed Mitt Romney. The former Massachusetts governor’s strongest support from millennials came from Southwest Virginia, where he received less than 40%.
These two figures alone should send a shiver up and down the spines of the leaders within the Virginia GOP. If we as a party fail to increase this number the Republican Party will face a continued demographic demise as 75% of Virginia millennials probably or definitely will be voting in the 2016 presidential election according to the CNU survey.
In order to reverse the trend we must look to the issues that are important to millennials and respond with compelling ideas — first, to get younger voters to see Republican views in a positive light and second, to bring them back into the Republican fold.
A top-line issue for millennials is their economic future. When asked, “Thinking about people you know who are about your age, do you think they face more economic challenges, fewer economic challenges, or about the same number of economic challenges as your parents’ generation faced when they first started out?” 46% of millennials responded that they believe that they face more economic challenges. In addition, 43% feel that they personally are behind where they thought that they would be at this stage of life.
The feeling of economic insecurity is something that we must address. In the survey, 40% of millennials say that there are too few job opportunities. It’s time for the Republican party to come up with creative ideas that can help solve the low employment rate of millennials while at the same time give millennials hope for a better tomorrow.
One idea could include tax incentives for businesses who hire individuals who are entering their first year of full employment. Employers who offer summer internships to college students could also be eligible for tax breaks. This type of solution would help millennials become employed by encouraging employers to hire millennials and would in turn allow those millennials to be contributing members of the economic cycle.
One of the largest concerns for millennials is student debt. According to the Annual Project on Student Debt report from the Institute for College Access & Success (TICAS) the national average student debt for those graduating in 2014 was $28,950. Six in ten students that graduate from a Virginia college or university had slightly less debt than average: $26,432.
Poor job prospects and debt bills have had a drastic effect. Many millennials have delayed purchasing their first home, marriage, and starting a family. They are not saving money for retirement. A recent report from Limra, an insurance research organization, concluded that a 22-year-old who begins a career with $30,000 in student loan debt could reach retirement with $325,000 less than a peer who is not burdened with an education loan.
The Republican Party as a whole, not just in Virginia, needs to think about student debt and the effect it’s having on not only our economy, but also our prospects as a party moving forward. The GOP should propose something similar to the home interest mortgage deduction, the student loan interest deduction. This deduction should be available to all that are paying off any type of student loan and regardless of what type of tax form they file. Republicans must take the lead in discussing additional ideas should be discussed and considered for loan forgiveness.
There are many other issues that are important to millennials that need to be addressed and brought to the forefront of political discussion. However, we must start somewhere.
We must engage millennials, and I’m not talking about in the gear up to an election. One group in Virginia that has started this discussion is VA NextGen GOP. I recommend you check them out.
Dialog on the issues and concerns of millennials must be an ongoing process where we seek to listen to each other and have thoughtful political discussion at all times. Out outreach efforts should especially focus on those 30% of Virginia millennials that identify as independent so that we can bring them into the party. Leaders of the Republican party in Virginia and nationally must actively take part in this discussion, but mainly they should listen.
If we fail to make a course correction soon we may lose a generation of voters. This must be a top priority since it’s impossible to win an election with 24% support.
Matt Walton is the former Republican nominee for the 74th House of Delegates and is a member of the Henrico County Republican Committee. Matt is a high school technology & engineering education teacher and is heavily involved in local, state, and national politics. You can follow Matt on Twitter @Matt4Va.?