Republicans’ millennial problem

Paul Hazelton

Paul Hazelton
Paul Hazelton

According to research performed by PEW in April of 2015, the Grand Old Party (GOP) is aptly named.

The data explains that 47 percent of the silent generation – ages 69-86 – identify as or lean Republican, making them the largest demographic in terms of age to support the party. In contrast, only 35 percent of millennials did the same.

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Herein lies the problem for the Republican party. Many millennials and young people in general have become disillusioned with the GOP due in large part to their ignorance of fundamental scientific facts, and their often out of touch world views. This begs the question: in a decade, will the Republican Party have to update their policy positions to fit a new demographic?

To quote Sarah Palin, “You betcha’.”

Republicans routinely use Christianity–particularly Catholic and Evangelical beliefs– as an argument for battling everything from climate change to abortion. This is a problem for the party because one of the largest generational shifts attributed to millennials is a decline in church attendance and indeed Christian beliefs in general. In fact, according to another Pew study a combined 44 percent of millennials born from 1990-1996 either ascribe to a non christian belief system or state they are unaffiliated with any religion. Another study found that more than 50 percent of millennials hadn’t attended church in the past six months.  This drastic uptick in secularism is sure to make void many of the GOP’s arguments.

Another problem involves the generational difference in opinion where social issues are concerned. This is particularly true in the debate around same-sex marriage and LGBTQ equality. By a 70 percent margin, millennials favor same-sex marriage whereas baby boomers -who currently occupy most political positions – have only a 45 percent favorable view.

Renewable energy is yet another critical junction where progressive and antiquated beliefs clash. One study – again performed by PEW – explains that millennials favor “developing alternative sources of energy such as wind, solar and hydrogen technology” at a much higher rate than any other previous generation. Compared to Baby Boomers, this adds up to an 11 point jump in favorability. These massive differences in opinion threaten to cripple the party in future elections if left unaddressed.

An equally disadvantageous attribute of the GOP is their scientific illiteracy. During a Natural Resources and Environment Committee meeting in 2014, Republican Brandon Smith, Senate majority whip of Kentucky said, “I won’t get into the debate about climate change but I’ll simply point out that I think in academia we all agree that the temperature on Mars is exactly as it is here. Nobody will dispute that.” He went on to argue that because there are no coal mines or factories on Mars there couldn’t be a correlation between human activity and climate change. In reality, the average temperature on Mars is -81 degrees Fahrenheit which is about 138 degrees colder than Earth’s average, and there is strong evidence indicating that climate change is due to human activity. 

Our generation is more educated than any other, and arguments like these not only turn off conservative Millennials but also serve as incredibly embarrassing ammunition for Democrats and political pundits alike.

Millennials aren’t just the most educated generation in U.S. history, we’re also the most racially diverse – 43 percent are non-white – and we arguably host one of the most robust feminism movements on Earth. This, again, spells disaster for Republicans who are almost universally seen as representing white, middle class males. This is a connotation the GOP has rightly earned with their fierce opposition to immigration reform, their talk of defunding Planned Parenthood, and their other discriminatory practices and beliefs.

While there will always be conservative voters, it comes down to this: at some point the Republicans will heed the relentless tug of public opinion and social change, or face crushing election cycles. As I’ve heard it said, “progress happens one funeral at a time. ” 

Collegian Columnist Paul Hazelton can be reached at hmcgill@collegian.com, or on Twitter @HazeltonPaul.

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