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Tough Love! College Students Instruct the GOP on How to Capture Their Support

Tough Love! College Students Instruct the GOP on How to Capture Their Support

“If you are twenty and conservative, you don’t have a heart. If you are 40 and liberal, you don’t have a brain!” "The philosophy of the classroom today will be the philosophy of the government tomorrow." ~ Abraham Lincoln Since the results of last month's presidential election, the predominant political question has been: What is wrong with the GOP? From here we ask why do you rarely see young GOP voters, especially on college campuses? Here, we answer these questions with first hand insight and analysis.

“If you are twenty and conservative, you don’t have a heart. If you are 40 and liberal, you don’t have a brain!”

This quote is tied to Winston Churchill and raises debate on both sides of the aisle regarding its validity and accuracy. Many on the left are offended by their views being conveyed as juvenile and underdeveloped, whereas the right would argue that it should not be so uncommon to see young conservatives. No matter what your perspective is on this opinion, it shines light on a great truth in our modern society: it is less likely to find young people that are conservatives--especially on college campuses. This is not because these young people do not exist, but due to small numbers, remain hidden in small clubs like the College Republicans, or in Student Government cliques where they find a sort of safe haven from the scourging of college liberals. Since the results of last month's presidential election, the predominant political question has been: What is wrong with the GOP?

A good place to begin to answer that question may be by looking at why the GOP lacks any presence on college campuses. A reason for this has to do with the failure of the party and conservative movement to message their ideas clearly and open up lines of communication with college-aged Americans. 

Mitt Romney and Barack Obama at Hofstra Debate in October (AP Photo)

Personally I have had great liberal colleagues, acquaintances, and friends from my university, The College of Charleston (Charleston, SC) with whom I have had healthy discussions, debates, and co-opt projects. Even as a staunch conservative, I have had great experiences and learned a lot from my liberal colleagues. That being said, we have also had many Facebook arguments with some harsh language directed both ways. Through this all though, we have come back to important “come to Jesus moments,” in which we reaffirm our respect for one another and look to find the common ground, an example our politicians could learn from. Many of colleagues their views are shared here.

It has been generally accepted since the 1960s that the majority of university students and professors are liberal, and outnumber their moderate and conservative colleagues by a large margin. A study by the Students For Academic Freedom shows that margin to be 5 to 1. During my time at the College of Charleston, conservative professors, unlike their liberal colleagues, hid their views out of concern for repercussions from students and other faculty. When those views ever came out, they were met by progressives in abrasive and aggressive manners. As a student, it would be impossible to count all the times I was scourged for bringing up my conservative views and defending Christianity as secularists pounded against the religion out of ignorance and a sort of unsolicited offense. For observations like these, many college conservatives sit back, reserve their views, and refuse to fan any flame of disagreement, knowing it quickly bursts into a blaze.


Looking at how Christianity is viewed among non-christian 16-29 year olds can also be used to help understand how ollege conservatives may believe they are viewed by their peers, and in turn why they often keep quiet about their political leanings. Gabe Lyons, founder of “Q: Ideas for the Common Good” and coauthor of UnChristian, has authored a new book entitled The Next Christians: Seven Ways You Can Live The Gospel and Restore The World. His social polling produced quite alarming results at how the young adult unchristian world views Christians:

91% Anti-homosexual

87% Judgmental

85 % Hypocritical

75% Too Political

72% Out of Touch with Reality

78% Old Fashioned

70% Insensitive to Others

68% Boring

What’s amazing is that these are some of the same judgments you hear made about young conservatives and their politics. Of course these are not true for the  majority of humble, pious, loving Christians, just as they are not so for most down-to-earth, caring and compassionate conservatives. Yet it is undeniable that these are the perceptions which exist, regardless of their validity.

My experience shows some conservatives may truly be homophobic, judgmental, insular, sheltered, and insensitive. But many are quite humble, compromising and respectful, and are only categorized as ill-minded and out of touch because of a few bad apples. Seeing how they are unfairly perceived, many college conservatives react by cowering away; they write their research papers, have conversations with other conservatives and hunker down at their local chapter of the College Republicans or Federalist Society. While this goes on, liberal students are engaging in social justice affairs, helping advise on university policies, assisting their liberal professors, and campaigning against qood-quality fast food restaurants. Advocacy for green initiatives flourish while pro-life campaigns struggle to get off the ground.

Why is there so much more momentum behind Democrats and progressives on college campuses?

Lets look through the eyes of those who are in the know on this subject. Not only have I just graduated from the College of Charleston, but I was integrally involved in various areas of political involvement around the campus, including majoring in Political Science and focusing on Faith in Politics- as well as contributing heavily to the Student Government Association, forums on politics, and many discussions between college students regarding issues facing our nation and our generation specifically. To contribute to this analysis I have also brought together the perspectives of my former colleagues from the College of Charleston who represent a wide range of political and social thought.

1)      Why do college students align themselves with the Democratic Party over the GOP?

Cara Brock, a self-described “conservative republican” and Junior studying Political Science at the University of South Carolina, answers this way:

“The college life is its own unique universe, wherein students have heightened freedom with fewer consequences. They have no dependents and are typically only financially responsible for themselves. College-aged students are idealistic about the changing world, yet they are too focused on fairness as end goal. Students want to help those less-fortunate, yet they don’t have the means to do it on their own, so they are willing to allow others to do it ‘for them’. They haven’t lived in the career world to see how capitalism truly works, so they don’t see the burden placed on citizens who are forced to support others beyond their own familial unit.

Socially, they argue that if an issue doesn’t directly affect them, then they might as well support it, so that others may do what they want. This applies to topics such as gay marriage, abortion, gun control, and marijuana legalization. It has now become the idea that an apathetic opinion leads to a supportive vote, rather than voting based on actual research.”

Sean Bath, a personal friend with who I have won team debates with and done research alongside, describes himself as “somewhere between leaning liberal and liberal” and is quite partial to environmental issues, seeing as he is working to complete his Master of Science in Environmental Studies, sees this issue like so:

“In regards issue alignment, the actual substance of academic study aligns more with liberal positions than conservative positions. So if students ranked issues by importance and disregarded actual conclusions or solutions, it would match better with a ranking created by liberal politicians than one done by conservative politicians. Students might be learning about the environment, science, the arts, and global culture. Then they encounter a Republican Party that disregards these issues in the public discourse and cuts federal and state funding for pertinent legislation.”

David Lappin, another friend and fellow conservative who believes in fiscal responsibility answers quite concisely, something we all appreciate, by simply stating:

“College students align with the Democratic party due to a lack of understanding of economics, and the liberal stance on social issues.”

Colin Kerr, a passionate campus minister at the College of Charleston, purveyor of philosophy and politics, and “liberal independent with libertarian sympathies, believes:

“College students align themselves with Democratic Party primarily out of their distaste for the Republican Party. I see very little loyalty to Democratic Party, but rather an identification with particular liberal causes and a rejection of Republican Party. I believe this explains why so many college students I know also vote or support Libertarian candidates.”

There is much truth in all of these statements regarding how students think, truth that the Republican Party leadership needs to come to terms with. One, conservatives firm in their beliefs hold strong to all the values of Republicanism, namely fiscal responsibility, the capacity and need of a human being to make it without government assistance, and a firm adherence to ideas of free enterprise (arguably more a libertarian value than republican). Two, in these responses, and those not included, liberally inclined students express an outright distaste with Republican views.

Is this because those views are outright horrid and anti-human? NO! It is because Republicans in power lack the capacity and intelligence to communicate their messages effectively. Democrats get away with banning foods because they spin an argument effectively. Abortion, for example, is now seen as an issue of choice rather than one of life and death because Republicans are not adequate enough to even formulate a logical, emotionally gripping argument to support the idea that a baby should live. How incredibly ridiculous!

2)   What are some reasons, from your experience, the Republican Party suffers from not being able to grasp the youth vote? Is the approach wrong? Is it the message? Is it just cool to be Liberal, or at least is it perceived that way?

Dan Mackin, a Catholic young man sharing my love for history and politics, and a Republican flirting with Libertarianism, acknowledges:

“There's certainly a disconnect between those people who are 'cool,' and those who are ‘conservative.’ There aren't many conservatives out there in the public arena, other than politicians and cranky old men (Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity)... so when Cory Booker and Barack Obama curst onto the stage, they can't help but draw a crowd of supporters and admirers. The Republican Party certainly has an image problem... all the cool, hip, young people (Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio) still appear so old-fashioned and stodgy. Ron Paul certainly tried to tap into something vibrant, but got naysayed and poo-poo'ed every time by the mainline GOP. As much as they claim they aren't our grandfather's GOP... the GOP is very much still stuck in the 1950s...”

Colin Kerr,a liberal sympathizer to libertarianism, shares similar thoughts:

“The Republican party suffers from some huge image issues. It's the party of old, intolerant, white guys with the token woman or minority thrown up on stage--which feels akin to putting lipstick on a corpse. There also tends to be an obsession with flag-waving ('Merika!), fear-based arguments and policies on gays, Mexicans or socialists, and warmongering mixed with American exceptionalism (when it's politically expedient). As someone who once worked for both Republican and conservative causes as a college student, I came to see the whole conservative Republican complex as intellectually bankrupt and purely ideologically driven. This did not drive me to Democratic party in the least bit, since any party is susceptible to similar tunnel-vision and specious arguments, but I don't think I could ever be a Republican given how the Republican Party looks, talks, and votes.”

David Lappin, in his concise form hits his party strong stating:

“The reason is the message. The Republican party conveys that it us the party of rich white men and this needs to change. The Republican party must convey the message that it is inclusive.”

Sean Bath also acknowledges “it is primarily the message” yet also shows that “young adults also tend to have a higher acceptance of diversity…” and that the youth as a whole, regardless of political identification “want individual social liberty…


What we see is ultimately a realignment of ideologies among the youth. Many are classifying themselves as independents under the realization that party politics really do not coincide with their views. Moreover, as students like Sean and Dan mentioned, there are those who identify as liberal or conservatice who really admit to being libertarians who lean left or right. And even that leaning is simplybased on how the two parties communicate. Democrats have captured this movement in strong ways by speaking directly to the increased liberalization of college students and young adults whereas the Republicans have simply failed to capture the hearts and minds of those with immense energy and passion. Democrats have learned to speak to the social concerns young adults are only beginning to realize exist. This does not make the Democratic way correct, but a young, ignorant, unformed, malleable mind will certainly call it truth because…well, the Republicans are too stupid,  to even put forth a logical, reasonable argument for their stands on abortion, immigration, welfare, etc.

Republicans, like the statistics regarding Christians seen earlier, come across as homophobic, insensitive, and ignorant. Todd Akin said the most ignorant statement on record regarding rape, the female anatomy, and abortion. Conservatives agree it was dumb, but now Republicans are roped into the Akin category of insanity. So what can Republicans and conservatives do to counter all of this? Find better messengers.

Archbishop Fulton Sheen (AP Photo)

Painting of Nathan Hale at the moment he uttered his famous quote: "I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country." (Facebook Photo)

Thomas Paine, author of Common Sense and American Crisis (Photo credit of Wikipedia).

Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, Billy Graham, Ronald Reagan, Samuel Adams, Nathan Hale, Paul Revere, and Thomas Paine were all men who shared values of republicanism and deeply cared about various social issues. What do they have in common? Well, they all knew how to communicate.

Samuel Adams was revered by Thomas Jefferson as the most informed and passionate about liberty. Thomas Paine rallied the troops in December of 1776 when all seemed lost amidst a dreary winter of hopelessness and dread. These messengers are unfortunately quite rare today. To college-age Americans, Republicans today lack voices of reason, passion, humor, and love. Romney is an extremely intelligent and talented man and communicated great amounts of facts and statistics, as did his colleague Paul Ryan, in this past election, but there was no gusto; not even his followers were convinced of his conviction. In this case the GOP must understand that how you speak is often much more important than what you say.

Nobody recognizes that more than the Democrats, who took wisdom straight from Benjamin Franklin’s wisdom ( From Franklin’s letter “Rules for Making Oneself a Disagreeable Companion”). One, they talked a lot, especially about themselves. Two, if they could find nothing else to hang their opponents on they would deny its validity, then criticize little things like one’s grammar. Three, if all else fails, simply interrupt your opponent profusely.

Republicans need passionate, young conservatives with a sense of ferocity who can communicate complicated messages in simple ways. And those people are there, thus the GOP must support and form them. There are many routes to fix this problem, but none is more important than communication.

Is There Hope?

Republicans today are not too fargone from our founding views of Republicanism. Yet they fail day in and out to stand for the timeless principles of liberty, civic duty, the vilification of corruption, unalienable rights, and sovereignty - all based on the understanding that humans are made in the image of God and are thus highly capable. These values and principles were the foundation of thought for the American Revolution and educated our heroes like George Washington, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and Thomas Paine, who almost single-handedly saved the Revolution December 23rd, 1776 when many of the troops and colonists were ready to surrender out of a weary spirit and need for inspiration.

House Speaker John Boehner (AP Photo)

Let’s take a look at what the college students and recent graduates we talked to had to say, on if the Republican Party  willsurvive and win back the next generation:

Sean Bath: “The party can promote its own solutions to the problems students care about. Issues are not mutually exclusive. Issues can be solved by many different tools. The party should use palatable market-based tools (such as cap and trade) to address issues like climate change. For example, the party could write comprehensive market-based climate change policy in a package with economic deregulation where regulations aren't needed.

To reap the benefits, the Republican Party needs to make this compromise legislation legitimate. Students need to know they can trust what the party gives. This was not true during the Bush Administration, when legislation like the "Clear Skies Initiative" superficially disguised a pro-coal purpose. If the party consistently reaches out, it will definitely win supporters.”

Cara Brock: “Students have a heightened radar for post-graduation life. They want financial security and the promise of a job. Though these are already key platforms of the Republican message, conservative political figures are still not breaking through. A large-scale take back of the media might just be required in order reach new supporters. The media bombards college students throughout each day. Students are always tuned in. If the conservatives could find a way to appeal to the young people in a way that doesn’t portray all of them as ‘rich, middle-aged, white men,’ perhaps they may gain some leverage. Moreover, encouraging students to think for themselves rather than falling under the shield of conformity should be the key goal of the broadening conservative media base.”

David Lappin: “The Republican party, if it wants to survive, needs to take the pro-life and gay rights issues out of the platform. Not only college aged women, but most women will not vote for a candidate who does not support their right to choose. Roe v. Wade is never going to be overturned and the Republicans need to understand that. Secondly, the Republican party needs to be inclusive of everyone, including gays, and should make gay-right a non-issue.”

Colin Kerr: “The Republican Party's only hope on college campuses is to embrace the more libertarian wing of the party, not just in occasional rhetoric, but in actual practice. And it needs to be on the two big social issues first--gay marriage and the drug war. That will win the trust of college students and open them up to other liberty-minded and market-driven policies.”

So John Boehner, Paul Ryan, Eric Cantor, Kevin McCarthy and Tom Price, there you have it. Conservatives and liberals have given you a path to save your butts, to put it nicely. Work on your image, not by changing who you are, but by listening and communicating effectively the goodness of your economic plans, pro-life stances, and respect for the capacity of the human being. Gather the youth by supporting them. Run them in local and state races. Show that you care about the issues they face and advocate for, and they will come to you. Promote higher education and help intelligent conservatives get into teaching positions. Make a new name for yourself. Don’t let the negative perceptions determine your destiny. Stop being offended, but instead be provoked to do good with your deeds and words. Focus on local and State issues, for it is truly where all the change happens. Humble yourselves, be nice rather than rude, garish, and insensitive, and take the advice of those who see these issues in front of them, first hand, every day.

And do not forget the wisdom of Abraham Lincoln: "The philosophy of the classroom today will be the philosophy of the government tomorrow."

Statistics on Exit Polls from the 2012 Presidential election to keep in mind:

Youth: The youngest age group supported Obama over Romney by 60 to 37%. Young people were not quite as enthusiastic as they were in 2008, when two-thirds of them voted for Obama.

Some college/associate degree is one of the education categories on the exit poll ballot. This group has an excellent track record of voting for the winner in presidential contests. The group is large (29% of the electorate in 2012). This year, they voted 49% for Obama and 48% for Romney.

Those with less than a high school degree (a declining share of all voters, 3% in 2012) usually vote for Democratic presidential candidates, while those with a post-graduate degree (18%) have voted for Democratic candidates by substantial margins in recent contests. In 2012, they voted 55% for Obama and 42% for Romney. College grads (29% of all voters) split 51% for Romney, 47% for Obama.

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