In the election’s aftermath, conservative pundits exhaustively covered Romney’s loss. Fred Thompson explained the negative rich businessman stigma. Kevin D. Williamson despairingly credited class warfare in Ohio. Joel B. Pollak detailed the failure of Project Orca, Romney’s get-out-the-vote program.
Each of these biopsies sheds light on the Republican failure, but one organization has shown the way forward.
Since June 2011, Generation Opportunity, a non-partisan youth polling organization, has reached out to millions of young people. In 18 months, its 28-person team has contacted 250,000 people in person, generated 1.1 billion views of its content, and attracted 4 million Facebook supporters.
The issue of unemployment dominated this discussion. As Generation Opportunity President Paul T. Conway told the Hillsdale Natural Law Review, “the number one issue to them was the lack of full-time jobs.” “They blamed the President for that, not Congress,” he said.
In 2008, Senator Barack Obama won the youth vote (18-29 year olds) by 34 points – 66%-32%. This year, President Obama won the same demographic by only 23 points – 60%-37%. The youth vote swung 11 points in favor of the Republican ticket.
No other demographic changed half this much between 2008 and 2012. Voters between the ages of 30 and 44 swung 1 point closer to Obama, while 5% of those 45-64 left him, along with 4% of seniors above 65.
The youth vote swung against Obama despite the fact that more young people voted in 2012 than in 2008. In 2008, 66% of the 22 million Millennials who made it to the polls translated to 14.53 million votes. This year, 60% of 23 million Millennials voted for Obama – a total of 13.8 million.
“By 2020, 38% of the electorate will be Millennials,” Conway said. “The drop in enthusiasm among young voters…is important.”
Due – at least in part – to Generation Opportunity’s hard work, President Obama “lost six points among the most critical base he had.” Conway praised young Americans as “very smart,” and “able to connect the dots.” His group performed every political party’s primary job – to communicate with voters.
“We demonstrated how to do it with only 28 people,” Conway said.
Conway outlined three “keys to success: talent, time and technology.” While only 28 people work for Generation Opportunity, they share experience from 850 political campaigns.
They took the time “to connect with individuals” by posting a tremendous amount of linked and sourced content, all tied “to the issue of economic opportunity.” Aiming at college students and young professionals, Generation Opportunity “used time-honored grassroots technology as well as social media.”
Conway compared political campaigns to the changing tactics of warfare. “It’s like battle,” he said, listing the tactical achievements of past Presidents.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt mastered the technology of radio, while Kennedy used television and spearheaded telephone marketing. Ronald Reagan effectively used film, radio, and direct mail. Clinton reached voters through cable television.
Barack Obama, in 2008, mastered targeted social media. “In 2008, social media was laid out as a must,” Conway said. “Take tactics and new technologies and incorporate them into your strategy.”
“The way that campaigns were done changed in 2008. There’s an argument that people should change their principles. I disagree with that, as does our full team,” Conway said.
In a speech at the Colorado Springs Vanguard School, Hillsdale College economics professor and author of A Capitalist Manifeso: Understanding the Market Economy and Defending Liberty, Gary Wolfram argued for conservative hope.
Despite predicting a “plow-horse economy” growing at about 2% per year (as opposed to usual 4-5% post-recession growth) and continuing unemployment above 7%, Wolfram also predicted large Republican wins in 2014. “You’re going to get 2010 plus some more,” he said.
Wolfram looked back to 1996, when Clinton was re-elected despite the “Contract with America” in 1994. As in 2010, conservative Republicans won all across the country because they condemned the crony capitalism of liberal policies. Nevertheless, both Democrat Presidents won re-election two years later.
“30% vote for the person they like,” Wolfram explained. He pointed to the MI gubernatorial election in 2006, where Governor Jennifer Granholm – facing a bad economy and a businessman challenger – won reelection because she argued that “Dick DeVos doesn’t look like you.”
“2014 will be a key year for free markets and individual liberty,” Wolfram said.
Nevertheless, Republicans need reform to get there. In a Monday interview with Politico, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal said, “Simply being the anti-Obama party didn’t work.”
“We have to be a party of solutions and not just bumper-sticker slogans but real detailed policy solutions,” Jindal added, echoing Conway.
“We need to stop being simplistic, we need to trust the intelligence of the American people and we need to stop insulting the intelligence of the voters.”
This article originally appeared on Tyler's personal blog, Hillsdale Natural Law Review.