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GOP should moderate social platform to win over fiscally conservative youth

Though President Obama won the youth vote, John Boehner and fellow Republicans' message of fiscal responsibility could appeal to younger voters. The GOP needs to recognize that its platform on social issues drastically undercuts its potential fiscal-conservative appeal with my generation.

By Jack Turnage / December 4, 2012

House Speaker John Boehner speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill Nov. 29. about negotiations with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and President Barack Obama on avoiding the 'fiscal cliff.' Op-ed contributor Jack Turnage writes: 'Like many of my friends, my vote was cast less for Obama than against Republican social policies. If the GOP were to moderate its social stances, I would think very hard about voting Republican in 2016. Many of my peers would need less persuasion.'

J. Scott Applewhite/AP/File

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Though the presidential election is now weeks past, Republicans continue to soul-search about the best path forward. With the fiscal cliff looming, some Republicans have worried publicly that their party will be perceived as protecting the wealthy if they don’t agree to raise tax rates for the top 2 percent of income-earners.

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In fact, the GOP has a timely, compelling message on fiscal responsibility that could appeal to younger voters like me who look ahead to the massive entitlement liabilities our generation will have to pay for. But one of the biggest reasons President Obama won the election was due to his overwhelming support among young voters on social issues like gay rights, women’s health, and immigration.

As the GOP looks to retool its message for 2016, it needs to recognize that its platform on social issues drastically undercuts its potential fiscal-conservative appeal with those younger voters.

The portion of the electorate made up of 18-29 year-olds has been rising since at least 2000, reaching 19 percent this year. The Millennial voting-bloc share of the electorate is estimated to continue to grow in coming years, and national exit poll data show that youth voters now outnumber seniors. The Young Democrats of America says youth liberalism is ubiquitous across demographics: “Young African-Americans, young Hispanics, and young women are particularly inclined to support Democrats…young independents, young white men, and even young evangelicals all favor Democrats.”

According to national exit polls this year, 64 percent of 18-29 year-olds supported a woman’s right to abortion. Youth voters also widely support gay marriage, the DREAM Act, access to contraception, and the actuality of climate change.

What does all this mean? The Republican Party cannot continue to espouse an extreme social platform and expect to win national elections. Mr. Obama carried youth by a 23-point margin this election. The fact that the GOP could muster only 37 percent youth support at a time when youth unemployment remains more than twice the national average and student debt has exceeded $1 trillion shows Republican social stances are likely substantially undermining the party’s popularity in this cohort.

Young adults on the whole view the GOP’s attitude on gay rights as less an attempt to protect the institution of marriage than bigotry, and its stances on women’s health and immigration more civil rights assaults than sober conservatism. I do not know a single one of my peers – Republican or Democrat – who would be willing to defend the GOP’s full social plank.

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