GOP Youth Woes: Can Economic Conservatism Work?

It used to be fashionable, in some places, to say, "I'm socially liberal, but fiscally conservative." That was the case among some people I knew growing up in the Midwest, and some people I went to college with in the early 2000s. It was a good way to be moderate--to communicate social open-mindedness and shrewd economics, simultaneously. And it was good for young people, with liberal social views and a skepticism of government's reach.

But as Derek points out, the Millenial generation is allegedly quite liberal on the economic side. This is certainly something economic liberals want us to think, as the GOP blasts President Obama's stimulus and budget, looking for electoral gains. The economic liberals want to say that young people are immune to all that--but are they right?

According to a Gerstein Agne poll conducted for the Center for American Progress (CAP) and released yesterday, they are--mostly.

60 percent of 18-29 year olds agree that "It's time for government to take a larger and stronger role in making the economy work for the average American," according to that survey; 27 percent agree that "Turning to big government to solve our economic problems will do more harm than good"; 13 percent said "both." The poll includes results from targeted online samples (people recruited on demographic basis to complete a survey online) and phone surveys on both land lines and cell phones.

(The bar graph in Ruy Texeira's CAP blog post was mis-labeled with results from a different question, asked by the 2008 National Election Studies--so it's not actually a 78/22 split. Texeira has since corrected it.)

So that's a solid majority, 60-27, but it's not unanimous. And given the way Gerstein Agne worded its question, who doesn't think government should work hard to make the economy work for everyone?

Liberals are excited about gains they've made among the Millenial generation--some predicting that these gains will cement a majority as more and more Millenials vote and as the generation plays a larger role in national elections. Gallup released a report today parsing GOP losses in party identification since 2001, and one of its largest demographic losses came among 18-29 year olds, who have gone from 41 percent Republican to 32 percent (including independents who "lean" Republican), according to Gallup's numbers.

A big part of the Republican message is that Obama has taken the country "to the left farther and faster than I think anyone could have imagined," as RNC Chairman Michael Steele put it in an op-ed published in Politico. When he says this, he's referring to Obama's budget and stimulus.

What folks like those at CAP are hoping is that this message won't resonate with youth--who, they say, are immune to charges that "big government" and "Obama's massive spending" are disastrous.

So far, it appears they're right--it's just not a complete landslide. An April 1 Quinnipiac poll showed Obama's approval rating on the economy at 62 percent among 18-29 year olds (31 percent disapproved)--that's a pretty good majority as well.

It's almost universally agreed upon that it's too early to judge Obama's economic policies. In a few years, young people might be more receptive to what Steele and others are saying about Obama's policies--and the GOP may be laying the groundwork for an "I told you so."

For now, it looks like young people aren't buying the GOP's budget/stimulus arguments--but, then again, Obama's approval ratings are high across the board, and everyone knows that could change in a few years--we just don't know.

Republicans may have trouble winning young voters back with economic conservatism, for the time being. But Republicans are having trouble winning anyone at this point, and no one knows what young people will think about the economy in two years.