Last week’s polling data released by FreedomWorks indicates that voters – especially young voters – have become far less supportive of a powerful federal government since President Obama assumed office. The 23-page report summarizing the information is a cogent guide to messaging for Republicans looking to win elections, but don’t expect party leaders to be very enthusiastic about the situation.
After five years of living under President Obama’s administration, FreedomWorks found that the young people who once voted for him no longer supported his vision of government. Asked whether they would "favor a smaller government with few services but lower taxes, or a larger government which provides more services but has higher taxes," voters aged 18-24 preferred a smaller government by 51 to 45 percent. Millennials aged 25-32 were lopsided in their response; they preferred a smaller government by 64 to 24 percent. They disapproved of Obama’s job performance by 47-45 percent.
Young voters realized that “hope and change” in Obama’s world translated into economic devastation in their lives. Yet in 2012, Mitt Romney won individuals older than 30 by 1.8 million votes while losing voters younger than 30 by 5 million votes. Why?
FreedomWorks’ data suggests it was because voters didn’t believe Republicans would do anything differently than Obama.
Of all voters, FreedomWorks discovered that only 52 percent believe the Republican Party is more concerned than the Democratic Party with “putting an end to overspending by the federal government.”
In contrast to FreedomWorks’ substantive findings, the Republican National Committee’s longwinded 97-page report earlier this year couldn’t figure out what happened. Instead of focusing on economic issues in order to win young voters, it suggested that Republicans should, for instance, “Establish an RNC Celebrity Task Force of personalities in the entertainment industry to host events… as a way to attract younger voters.”
In other words, the RNC’s plan for winning consists of getting Miley Cyrus and your favorite stars from MTV’s Teen Mom to advertise for them. FreedomWorks discovered more substantive solutions.
In spite of FreedomWorks’ contribution to figuring out what the electorate is looking for, don’t expect anyone to thank them. In fact, the RNC’s report actually blamed grassroots conservative groups for losing elections with this assessment:
Outside groups now play an expanded role affecting federal races... As a result, this environment has caused a splintered Congress with little party cohesion so that gridlock and polarization grow as the political parties lose their ability to rally their elected officeholders around a set of coherent governing policies.
The report went on to say that organizations other than the party should be silenced by Congress:
This is not healthy. A lot of centralized authority in the hands of a few people at these outside organizations is dangerous for our Party. This report pushes hard for campaign finance reform that would help the RNC return to its rightful position as the national Party leader.
What outside organizations was the report referencing? The report didn’t list them, but if we listen to people who get invited to the same social engagements as the report’s authors, we can figure it out. Speaking on PBS on Friday, New York Times columnist David Brooks lamented that conservatives were taking over the Republican Party because of organizations like the Heritage Foundation:
The House Republican Tea Party types are running against the Republican establishment. That’s how they’re raising money… One little straw in the wind, the Heritage Foundation, a very prominent conservative think tank, is running against Republicans. And that’s part of the change that is going on here.
Earlier this month, Republican Congresswoman Renee Ellmers – who supports funding ObamaCare – echoed Brooks’ complaint while responding to a question about why conservative organizations ranked her voting record so poorly:
"My score with Heritage Action isn't that great, 57 percent, it's above 50 percent, but you're putting all of your weight into an organization that… raises money, and has to continue to raise money to stay relevant.
Continuing, Ellmers attacked FreedomWorks for going after Republicans who want to fund ObamaCare:
This is [for] FreedomWorks, why did you go to [Sen.] Richard Burr's (R-NC) office and protest about Obamacare but you didn't go to [Sen.] Kay Hagan's (D-NC)?
Based on their comments, it seems that establishment Republicans believe the path to getting elected includes taking out nonprofit organizations like the Heritage Foundation and FreedomWorks, and outsourcing their messaging to pop stars like Justin Bieber. FreedomWorks’ data suggests it would be as simple as supporting a limited government agenda. Republicans should reconsider which strategy is more likely to succeed.