Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, a GOP hopeful for president, may be trailing in the polls, but he still fairs well on college campuses.
In fact, Paul announced Friday that his “Students for Rand” initiative – which sought to organize chapters on 300 campuses in 30 days – finished ahead of schedule with 339 chapters nationwide. It’s clearly a useful campaign tactic, especially in states with large student populations like Iowa. But it’s also critically important for 18-24 year olds – a demographic usually assumed to be predominantly liberal – to have a fresh voice actually engage them on ideas.
The fact is – despite whatever talking points or assumptions about youngins that exist – millennials are ideological free agents growing up in an age of hyper-partisan politics.
The Harvard University Institute of Politics last year found a shrinking number from 2010-14 of self-identifying Democrats aged 18-24 (down three points, 38-35 percent), while the gap between Democrats and Republicans remained steady for those aged 25-29.
I have a bold theory that this might be because those aged 18-24 aged to 25-29 over the four years in the study, but I won’t jump to conclusions. Nonetheless, it shows a small but noticeable ideological shift among college-aged voters.
But liberals are not making small losses with millennials because conservatives are overwhelmingly winning the war on ideas. The right still struggles to articulate its message with a younger crowd, notably with a tone deafness on gay marriage and the war on drugs as well as a failure to provide clarity on skyrocketing higher education costs. The right isn’t stealing millennials from the left, but the left is losing millennials because of its infatuation with stupid ideas.
The reason some youngsters are giving up on the left has little to nothing to do with the right, and everything to do with the left. While the right is bad at articulating a message that works for millennials, the left is bad at having one.
Take, for example, the two front runners for the Democratic nomination for president–67 year-old Hillary Clinton and 74 year-old Bernie Sanders–who have both gone out of their way to attack the sharing economy, which includes Uber, Lyft, Airbnb and other neat things threatening the status quo. They were recently backed up by comedian and unofficial Democratic Party spokesperson Bill Maher in an illogical monologue on his HBO show. But what exactly is the gripe?
In July Clinton said the sharing economy raised “hard questions about workplace protections and what a good job will look like in the future.” Just a month later, Sanders said he had “serious problems” with Uber because it was “unregulated.” Never mind the numerous regulations and legal battles Uber already faces throughout the country. Reality can be disruptive in Sanders’s world of anger-incited empty rhetoric.
College campuses hold a surplus of Sanders fans, but maybe students “feeling the Bern” should consider his backwards views on innovation the next time they open their Uber apps.
But if the views from the top of the Democrat polls for president weren’t cringe-worthy and bass-ackward enough, the city of Chicago – which already taxes cigarettes, bottled water, soft drinks, and fun – started taxing online streaming services such as Netflix, Sportify, Xbox Live, and others.
The tax is an expansion of the city’s “amusement tax.” The city believes it will raise $12 million annually – which is not even a dent in the city’s massively unfunded liabilities – but never mind its effectives. Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his progressive allies in City Council are quick to jump to regressive taxes, this time with the thing (Netflix) that becomes college students’ best friend when they don’t want to crack open their books to study (though I’m sure the books will be taxed soon).
Maybe the left got arrogant with its perceived stranglehold of younger voters. Or maybe its damaging, progressive agenda is just seeping into bad public policy becoming increasingly visible across demographics.
With bad, regressive public policy, the right should be fairing much better with millennials. And maybe groups like “Students for Rand,” tapping into a libertarian streak eager to break the partisan mold, can be the start of an ideological shift among the next generation.
Paul’s success on college campuses is in large part due to the fact that he is not tone deaf, and has an ability to articulate liberty principles and offer new perspectives on foreign policy, drug policy, and helping the poor and middle class. But his success is also obviously due to the fact that he tries: he reaches out and puts effort into crafting a constitutional conservative message for younger audiences.
Regardless of any preconceived notions about the politics of millennials, it’s easier for conservatives and libertarians to win over the next generation than many might think. All they have to do is put a little effort into crafting and messaging their ideas.
Looking at the developing state of the Democratic establishment and the progressive agenda, the left sure isn’t winning at that. But that’s also hard to do with bad ideas.