by Mike Connery, Fri Jan 11, 2008 at 09:59:25 AM EST
I've got two, semi-connected threads in my head at the moment that I'm mulling over that have to do with how younger voters are/might influence the Republican Party. The first has to do with what we normally think of as "moral values," and how young evangelicals might reshape the debate.
Of all the people who say moral values are very important in deciding how to vote, less than a third (30%) are referring to the candidates' positions on issues, with by far the largest number (14%) referring to abortion. In addition, they mention gay rights (3%), that marriage is between a man and woman (3%) and gay marriage (3%). A few, but only a very few, mention homosexuality (1%), and stem cell research (1%).
The greatest majority (78%) of these voters mentions personal characteristics of the candidates including their honesty (28%), integrity (11%), ethical values (8%), and someone who does the right thing (8%), is trustworthy (7%), truthful (6%) or keeps his/her word (6%).
So there's that - a clear opening to recapture the meaning of "values" in our public debate. I don't have statistics, but I'm willing to bet that this is reframing of values tends to play especially well among younger evangelicals, whose support for Bush, and the Republican Party, has dropped significantly in recent years, even as Bush has been very supportive of Christian Right culture-war issues like gay marriage, stem cells, and abortion.
Instead, of supporting that agenda, what we've seen so far is young evangelicals supporting Mike Huckabee, a candidate who preaches something of an anti-poverty agenda, and wants us to be "good stewards of the earth," by 2 - 1 among young Republican voters. Huckabee may have some hard-core christian conservative values, but he's also talking about faith and issues in a way that speaks to concerns beyond the culture wars. These young, conservative evangelicals don't seem to care about culture war issues the same war their parents/elders in the church do. Rather, they are much more interested in a different conception of faith in public life, particularly what it means in a social justice context. So Huckabee's message resonates with them more than someone like, say, Fred Thompson.
The second strand is that this leftward movement on some issues isn't limited in scope to young evangelicals. The 2006 American Freshman survey (pdf) revealed that there is considerable support among young conservatives for traditionally liberal positions on a number of issues, particularly the environment and health care reform (see the chart below).
This has tended to manifest itself in two ways, I think. First, in the support of young people for the candidacy of John McCain in New Hampshire, where 27%, a plurality of young voters chose his candidacy, and in the creation of new organizations like the Republican Youth Majority, a newish GOP youth group supporting a pro-choice, pro-environment, fiscal conservative platform.
It's important to note that prior to Huckabee's surge in December and McCain's resurgence post-Iowa, Rudy Giuliani was consistently the favorite choice among young conservative voters (pdf). Probably because all anyone knew about him was "9/11." Now that Huckabee has gained some traction and media attention, and is actively courting younger voters, and John McCain is perceived to be back in the race, Giuliani's support among younger voters seems to have dried up.
So here's a thought - could the Millennial Generation conservatives move the Republican Party to the center/left? Probably not anytime soon; with young voters choosing Democrats by a 2 - 1 margin, there are far too few of them to be all that influential right now. But it will be interesting to see how they shape the GOP as they grow into power.
Thoughts? I don't have this worked out yet - not by a long shot - and this is probably an oversimplification of a number of trends among conservative youth and evangelical youth. I'm interested in seeing/hearing people reinforce or tear down this idea.