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Young Republicans warn the party to promote issues that young voters care about

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

One of the takeaways from the midterm elections last month - a majority of young voters, millennials and members of Generation Z, cast their ballots for Democratic candidates. Now young Republicans are demanding change from their party in order to keep up with their generation. Here to tell us all about it is NPR's Elena Moore. So what are young Republicans telling their party?

ELENA MOORE, BYLINE: First and foremost, they're paying attention to this exit polling. Nationally, over 60% of voters under 30 cast their ballots for Democrats this midterms, which is the second-highest youth turnout for Democrats after the 2018 midterms. And that's pretty notable. One of the conservatives I talked to about this was former congressional candidate Karoline Leavitt, who's 25. Leavitt lost her race in November. But as a member of Gen Z herself, she takes this all very seriously, calling it, you know, the greatest challenge for the Republican Party today.

KAROLINE LEAVITT: It's more than one candidate or one campaign can handle. It needs to be a colossal shift in the messaging in the mediums utilized by the GOP and the establishment. And it's discouraging to see, you know, the Republican establishment not even acknowledge that this problem exists.

MOORE: Leavitt's arguing that Republicans need to both improve their online outreach strategy and actively highlight issues that young people care about, like protecting the environment and reducing the cost of housing and even going to college.

MARTÍNEZ: Couldn't help notice that abortion was not on that list. That was a big issue, a big one for Democrats in the midterms. How does that play into young Republicans' strategy here?

MOORE: Right. Right. A., it's a big challenge. Pollsters and voter data experts tell me that protecting abortion access is key to maintaining support among these younger voters, since it was such a big issue this past election. So I asked another young conservative about this, 25-year-old Iowa House Representative Joe Mitchell. And he told me Republicans really can't shy away from discussing divisive issues like abortion. And Mitchell himself, by the way, voted to restrict abortion access in the state legislature. But he made a similar point on addressing climate change and gun violence, too.

JOE MITCHELL: Coming front and center on these issues to say, no, we believe in, you know, reasonable exceptions for these sorts of things. We believe in having a more renewable energy future when that works and when that's appropriate. And, obviously, we want to make sure that kids are safe in school. And we just have different ideas of how to protect them.

MOORE: And Mitchell went on to tell me that taking these social issues head on is important when they're asked about, instead of having Republican stances oversimplified by Democrats, opponents, the like.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, the thing is, though, the political parties are drenched and entrenched in tradition. They wear it like a coat of molasses. All right, so how can younger conservative influencers shake up institutions that maybe aren't easily changed?

MOORE: Well, that's what they're trying to figure out. We did reach out to the Republican National Committee. They did not respond to NPR's request for comment on this story. But, you know, long story short, A., it's going to be a difficult balance. You see from Leavitt and Mitchell that social issues seem to, you know, at least be part of the way into getting this younger generation engaged. But as one Republican pollster put to me, social issues don't hand victories to Republican candidates the same way economic issues do. And that means it's a limited pool of resources. It's about where the money gets spent. Why spend money on engaging with a new age group, young voters, who aren't reliably conservative and historically aren't even reliable voters when older voters consistently vote Republican and turn out at higher rates?

MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR's Elena Moore. Elena, thanks.

MOORE: Thanks, A.

(SOUNDBITE OF ROHNE'S "TWELVE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Elena Moore is a production assistant for the NPR Politics Podcast. She also fills in as a reporter for the NewsDesk. Moore previously worked as a production assistant for Morning Edition. During the 2020 presidential campaign, she worked for the Washington Desk as an editorial assistant, doing both research and reporting. Before coming to NPR, Moore worked at NBC News. She is a graduate of The George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and is originally and proudly from Brooklyn, N.Y.