Do young voters matter?

The short answer? Yes.

Did they vote for Obama? Yes.

Can Republicans win many of them back? Absolutely.

A piece from Kristen Soltis drew my interest recently:

For those who are focused on the short-term fortunes of the Republican Party, young voters seem an irrelevant distraction. It’s also easy to dismiss these margins as inevitable. But 18% of the electorate breaking 2 to 1 for your opponent creates a steep uphill climb to victory no matter how you slice it.

Remember, while the conventional wisdom is that young voters are “always” more Democratic, that’s definitely not the case; take a look at Patrick Fisher’s excellent work on the age gap. He notes that young voters were the strongest supporters of Reagan:

“Dividing the electorate by age into 18-34, 35-64, and 65 and older age groups demonstrates that younger voters tend to vote differently from the rest of the population, but not necessarily more Democratic. In every presidential election from 1960-1976 the 18-34 age group was the most Democratic age group, but in the presidential elections from 1980-1992 the 18-34 age group was the most Republican age group.”

But how do we win them back?

By focusing on fiscal responsibiliy, low taxes and smaller government.

Take a look at the economy and jobs, where 60% of Republican voters 18-34, 61% of Republican voters 35-64, and 59% of Republican voters 65 and up all say the Republican Party should focus more on the economy. How about federal spending? With 57% of young Republicans saying the GOP focuses too little on spending (60% overall), it seems to me that the fiscal and economic issues are really where the heart of the potential is for the Republican Party to win these voters back without getting tripped up in the GOP’s generation gap.

And this is why the Tea Party movement has done a great service to the conservative cause. Their focus on smaller government, rather than social issues, have provided an opportunity to reach out to those wanting less government control of their lives. As evidenced above, that’s how we win back at least a good portion of the younger electorate. And that could be just enough to turn the tide.

And that tide is ready to turn. Just this morning, Rasmussen came out with new numbers highlighting an ever-shrinking gap in Party ID – down to just 2.9%, with Democrats down to 36% and Republicans up to 33.1%. For reference, this gap was nearly three times as large during and after the 2008 election.

The message is resonating. And young people want to hear it.