Charlie Harper: Something to believe in

December 10, 2013 

Republicans last week were celebrating a Harvard survey of "Millennial" voters -- those Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 -- showing that they have quite sharply turned their backs on both President Obama and his signature Affordable Care Act. The poll went so far as to showing that a majority of those under 25 go so far as preferring the president be removed from office.

The results please Republicans even though the reliability of younger voters has proven unreliable at best. The age group had previously represented the strongest core of support for the president and Democrats. In addition, those looking at demographic trends have been predicting that these voters would remain loyal to the Democratic Party as their age wave replaces voters who are older and currently lean Republican.

A word or two of caution is in order before Republicans pop the corks on their champagne. Just because these younger voters are displeased with Democrats doesn't mean they believe their only alternative is to embrace the GOP. The poll shows a genuine amount of disillusionment with the youngest voters. It is possible that decades of partisan bickering with each side seeking to show the other as illegitimate may have these voters placing a pox on all political houses.

After all, Congressional approval ratings in the poll were equally abysmal. Forty-five percent of the group would vote against their own member of Congress, with an even higher 52 percent saying all members of Congress should go.

It's relatively easy to see why this age group would be disenchanted with the president. The healthcare for all promise has become another bureaucratic mess. Not only is the price significantly higher than promised, but this generation that has only known a world with personal computers and finds it hard to remember a world without an Internet can't seem to understand why three years wasn't enough time to build a website that might actually work.

The most idealistic of this generation are wondering how promises to close Guantanamo Bay and leave Afghanistan have turned into expanding Guantanamo and negotiating to stay another decade or so in a war zone most thought we would have left during Obama's first term. Others may just be concerned that six years after the financial collapse, they have loaded up on student loans only to find few jobs waiting at even lower wages than they were expecting.

Clearly there is opportunity for Republicans to make their case. But they should not expect millennials to reflexively join the GOP merely because they are disillusioned with the Democrats. Their support will have to be earned.

Republican messaging has been less than welcoming to the youngest generation of voters. While honest differences between GOP and Democratic solutions to environmental issues exists, it does not help drawing younger voters who do place environmental concerns significantly above others to see GOP politicians and pundits talking about leaving all their lights on and driving their SUVs around the block a few extra times in "honor" of Earth Day.

Likewise, an honest look at messaging is in order if social conservatives wish to attract millennials to the GOP brand. Those within the movement could use some honest self-reflection to determine if their message represents one of limited government and freedom of religion, rather than an imposition of a specific religious preference. It's a fine line, but one that definitely deserves some attention.

This is dissolution among younger voters -- and frankly, too many Americans of all ages. The solution to attract these voters back into the fold can start with a relatively simple premise: Under-promise and over-deliver.

Both parties have taken campaigning to a level where anyone paying attention can easily see that rhetoric does not match reality. Large comprehensive government programs cannot give everyone more while reducing the costs. Likewise, taxes cannot continue to be cut while promising no substantial cuts to entitlements or discretionary spending without borrowing more money and increasing the related debt ceiling.

Voters of all ages have become keenly aware that their votes are being bought with lies and empty promises. It undermines our entire system of government. If we know we are electing our leaders based on who gives us the best campaign lie, we have no reason to believe when our elected officials then try to govern.

There is only one substantial way to turn around the race to the bottom our two-party system is currently giving us. Our leaders, whether campaigning or governing, must provide honest talk and real solutions. Ones not based on what we want to hear, but what must happen to solve actual problems.

The current system breeds too much cynicism. The party that wishes to fix this will be the one that gives us something to believe in.

Charlie Harper, author and editor of the Peach Pundit blog, writes on Georgia politics and government; www.peachpundit.com.

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