GOP Dilemma: Youth v. Evangelicals

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Age Coalitions2“Can the Republicans Be Saved From Obsolescence?,” Robert Draper’s cover story in yesterday’s New York Times Magazine, focuses on the GOP’s digital backwardness, but the point of the piece is not technological but demographic. What’s making the GOP obsolescent is the weakness of its appeal to young voters, who voted for Obama over Romney by 60 percent to 37 percent. And that weakness has less to do with a shortage of Twitter feeds from high-ranking campaign officials than with social issues.

Again and again, Draper quotes conservative twenty-somethings as gung-ho for libertarian economics but wanting no part of GOP moral crusades. As he remarks in a “behind-the-story” interview, “[N]early all of them believe that the party is fighting a losing battle on gay marriage and should adopt a kinder, gentler approach to other incendiary social issues like abortion.” Being anti-science doesn’t help either.

The problem is that dialing back on your moral agenda is not an easy thing to do when your base is composed of white evangelicals. In 2012, 78 percent of them voted for Romney, constituting fully 40 percent of his electoral coalition. Anyone who doesn’t think they haven’t locked the agenda into place should try coming up with names of libertarian Republican politicians who support abortion rights and/or same-sex marriage.

It’s possible that the Supreme Court will do the GOP a favor this year and find a constitutional right for Americans to marry a person of their choosing regardless of gender. That would take SSM off the electoral table. But so long as red states continue to push the envelope on abortion restrictions, it’s going to be hard for the party to pretend that it doesn’t want to do away with a woman’s right to choose. National Republicans can run from that one, but they can’t hide it from young voters.

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