Youth Vote

New Jersey’s Republican governor won re-election, partly because he dramatically improved his performance among young voters on Tuesday.

Gov. Chris Christie improved his performance among voters age 18-29 this election cycle, winning 48% this time around vs. 36% during his previous campaign in 2009.


Nathan Harden is editor of The College Fix and author of the book SEX & GOD AT YALE: Porn, Political Correctness, and a Good Education Gone Bad.

Like The College Fix on Facebook. / Follow Nathan on Twitter @NathanHarden


When Republican activist Caleb Bonham wanted to spread the news about an upcoming conservative conference in Colorado, he headed to CU Boulder with a pen, poster board and video camera and convinced many students to sign a big (and fake) thank you card to President Obama for targeting conservatives through the IRS.

The video of that undertaking – which included references to the Western Conservative Summit conference he aimed to promote – quickly went viral, garnering tens of thousands of views online within a few short days.

What Bonham understood was that reaching the hearts and minds of young people isn’t about talking at them, it’s about making them chuckle – and think – all at the same time.

Enter the Internet meme, the way many twenty-somethings spread messages and debate politics nowadays. Whether memes change hearts and minds, however, is up for debate.

Internet memes can be videos, pictures, cartoons, hashtags or similar platforms. They begin small and grow through social media networks, blogs, emails and news sites, and can ultimately go viral, reaching a large and diverse audience.

Bonham emphasized their usefulness as agents of reinforcement.

“I do believe memes are effective in reaffirming the beliefs of those on either side of the isle,” Bonham said. “If one is prone to change their ideology based on some snarky comment placed on a grumpy cat photo, then that person really needs to explore their political stance further.”

Chris Telfer, executive director of the California College Republicans, said he believes the medium can be useful in bringing younger audiences into the political public square.

“Memes or cartoons have the potential to draw people into the political process that might not be attracted to traditional political media,” he said. “They provide a humorous side to a political process that can sometimes be very rigid and uninteresting to some individuals.”

The best part about a meme is – anyone can create one. All they need is photoshop and a witty or snarky comment. The hope is that viewers would look up the issue the meme aims to tackle and become more informed. It’s a sneaky, guerilla method of teaching the general public: no one wants to be left out of a joke.

According to an NPR report, the memes are working.

While both Governor Romney and President Obama spent millions on ads in their respective campaigns, the explosion of memes created by viewers during speeches or debates stole most of the campaigns’ thunder with cheaper and better messaging, the article noted.meme2

Bonham said he sees the branding power behind the political humor.

“I believe political cartoons do have the power to advance a narrative,” he said. “For instance, when late night comedians used one-liners to advance the myth that the Ivy League graduate, George W. Bush, was a buffoon, it connected.”

Thus, the saying could go: Meme or be meme’d.

The rise of political memes are increasing the possibility for a candidate’s misspeak to shape his or his campaign. Think of Big Bird, binders and bayonets. If memes have the power to brand the candidate, then those on social media sites must be listening.

If this medium works, the question now is how parties and organizations will respond.

Telfer suggests an adapt-or-die approach: “Parties need to embrace these not only to increase their potential to attract younger voters, but also because these are not going away any time soon. That being said, it’s also important that people take them for what they are – satire – and not underestimate the importance that these issues hold.”

Raffi Williams, deputy press secretary for the Republican National Committee, agrees.

“We want to get our message out to voters through every medium possible–if a lolcat can tell people that this administration’s spending has spun out of control, then we’ll have a graphic out there saying ‘icanhazlowertaxes?’” he said.

Bonham said he believes “memes must be done right, or not at all.”

The temptation for either party is to overly embrace the medium and overshoot its effectiveness, he said.

“Republicans should avoid memes in mass,” he said. “If the GOP finds a witty and compelling meme, absolutely use it. But don’t become the party of stupidity, we don’t need another one of those on the ballot.”

As Churchill once said, “a joke is a very serious thing.”

Fix contributor Haley Littleton is a student at Colorado Christian University.

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Is the GOP losing the youth? Maybe, but there are signs of hope, writes Katrina Trinko for National Review Online:

Talk different.

That’s the essential message of the College Republican National Committee’s new report on how young adults view the GOP, a document that offers a serious look at how Republicans talk about policy and why they’ve been so unsuccessful in reaching Millennial voters.

“What the GOP needs to understand is that young adults are open to voting for them, but want to know concretely how Republicans plan to solve the problems that they’re facing in their day-to-day lives,” says Kristen Soltis Anderson, a GOP pollster who conducted focus groups for the report and was its principal writer…

Read the full story at National Review Online.

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Rob Long points out an intriguing new study by the College Republicans in a post over at Ricochet.

He senses “room to win” somewhere in the study’s results.

Are the young more open to the GOP message in this age of general disenchantment with Obama and the Democrats? Or this this Rob Long’s famous optimism talking? Check the link and decide for yourself.

Nathan Harden is editor of The College Fix and author of SEX & GOD AT YALE: Porn, Political Correctness, and a Good Education Gone Bad.

Follow Nathan on Facebook /  Twitter:@NathanHarden


My liberal friends are always posting clever, politically related pictures, quotes and memes on social media.

For example, they were among the tens of thousands of people across the nation who changed their Facebook profile picture to red-colored equal signs when the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on same-sex marriage in late March.

Where were College Republicans with an official and clever little icon to post in support of traditional marriage? Nowhere to be found.

So I changed my profile picture to that of a man and a woman, which sparked quite a dialogue. How cool would it have been if that were more widespread?

This week, the College Republican National Committee released a postmortem on what went wrong with the youth vote in the November election, during which “President Barack Obama won 5 million more votes than Gov. Mitt Romney among voters under the age of 30 … enough to ensure his re-election.”

To earn more youth votes to the Republican ticket come 2016, the 95-page report cites numerous ideas and strategies, among them improved social media campaigns.

Gee, you think?!

I know that people my age use their smartphones much more than “at least once a week,” and nearly everybody uses various apps/texting “multiple times per day,” as the report stated.

It seemed odd the notion was startling to College Republican leaders.

I’m no College Republican crusader. I’m a 21-year-old English and theater major at San Diego State University who may or may not still be listed on the College Republican’s membership roster.

But I’m on their side, and while some of the report’s advice is obvious and should already have been undertaken with earnest, on the positive side – it’s a good start.

The strategies show at least College Republicans are doing something, instead of just giving up and accepting labels put on us by Democrats.

The report used focus groups, surveys, and looked at studies to gather its intel and advise students how to address such hot-topics as abortion, immigration, health care and the military.

But the larger issue is image, the rhetoric used by Republicans. Neither resonates with young people, the report said.

We cannot be content to concede labels like “caring” or “open-minded” to the Democrats just because they want us to.

“It is not that young voters are enamored of the Democratic Party,” according to the report. “They simply dislike the Republican Party more. . … Young ‘winnable’ Obama voters were asked to say what words came to mind when they heard ‘Republican Party.’ The responses were brutal: closed-minded, racist, rigid, old-fashioned.”

In my opinion, we have to work based off of our own brand. Meaning, we shouldn’t argue why we aren’t racist or homophobic, because that essentially validates Democratic posturing.

Instead, we have to explain why we are intelligent, helpful, hardworking.

Definitely making better use of Facebook and Twitter is a good idea. The report also suggested identifying younger, hip candidates. Sure, why not?

Ultimately, however, we need to articulate our positions better, and not just College Republicans – all Republicans, politicians included.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Obama’s oratory skills are largely what got him elected.

On our side, people like Dennis Prager and Michael Medved have ways of clearly explaining issues. Everything is brought down to simple, intelligent discussions. Why can’t our politicians speak more like that, instead of talking down to people?

Take the health care issue. At San Diego State, it is not required to take an economics class to earn a bachelor’s degree. I assume that is similar elsewhere. So the idea that a small business owner would have to cut employees in order to stay afloat in the face of Obamacare is not inherently understood.

We heard some of that during the Obamacare debate, but not enough. The national conversation centered on Obamacare’s unconstitutionality.

Like the report says, a bad message doesn’t earn votes or support.

“Economic growth, tackling long-term challenges, and focusing on opportunity trumped narratives around the constitution, liberty, and American values,” it stated. “While those things are not unimportant, this generation is looking for outcomes – particularly economic outcomes – that are going to make them better off.”

In the end, the report essentially offered five basic ideas, stating: focus on the economic issues that affect young people  today: education, the cost of health care, unemployment; capture the brand attributes of intelligence, hard work, and responsibility; don’t concede “caring” and “open-minded” to the left; fix the debt and cut spending, but recognize that messages about “big government” are the least effective  way to win this battle of ideas with young voters; and go where young voters are and give them something to share.

It’s a good start.

Fix contributor Emily Yavitch is a student at San Diego State University.

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Scary idea of the day:

A London-based think tank argues that young people should be forced to vote, or fined if they don’t. The idea aims to create a lifelong habit, the Institute for Public Policy Research stated.

This trial balloon, by the way, is floated in the name of tackling “political inequality” and “empowering young voters.”

The think tank report recommends compelling first-time voters to turn out to vote, that is those who recently became old enough to vote.

“Young voters would be required go to the polling station to vote and fined if they didn’t,” the think tank states. “But they would be given a ‘none of the above’ option so they were not forced to vote for a party.”

Oh, well, in that case … NOT!

The think tank, which describes itself as aiming to “assist all those who want to create a society where every citizen lives a decent and fulfilled life, in reciprocal relationships with the people they care about,” (insert violins playing in the background here) is quite insistent this strategy is a winner.

“Unequal turnout matters because it gives well-off and older voters disproportionate influence at the ballot box and reduces the incentives for governments to respond to the interests of non-voting groups,” bemoaned Guy Lodge, the group’s associate director.

“There are many other things that young people are required to do, not the least of which is go to school. Adding just one more small task to this list would not represent an undue burden, and it could well help to reinvigorate democracy. It would make politicians target first-time voters like never before and give young voters the potential for far greater political power.”

There are so many problems with this argument.

For one, nothing is stopping these little buggers from voting once they are of legal age. If they are so worried about political inequity, let them do something about it themselves, let’s not hand-walk them to the ballot box. But if we do, maybe we can spoon-feed them some applesauce while we’re at it.

Besides, do we really want politicians pandering to 18-year-olds? Oh wait, scratch that – the November 2012 presidential election proved that out to be quite effective.

But the notion that forcing students to do something will empower them actually contradicts itself.

Nevertheless, this idea could pick up steam on our side of the pond considering that young people can take a heap of credit for electing President Barack Obama last November. We can see that whole “we force them to go to school, why not force them to vote” mentality fitting in quite well among the segment of the population here who also believe that the government should pretty much do everything for Americans (legal or not), God forbid they actually are in want of anything.

Let’s hope this idea dies a quick and silent death. Things are bad enough for thinking people at the ballot box right now as it is.

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