Throughout this article, I’m going to ask you to follow me on two basic assumptions: firstly, the Obama campaign won (in both elections, but more so in 2012) largely through an ability to capture the youth vote, utilizing social media, musicians, and other key influencers in popular culture, and second that market saturation or multiple candidates with the same basic platform in a political race results in poor outcomes in voting for the party they represent.
The first point seems pretty obvious, and was discussed at great length after the last two elections. Many on the conservative side of the house still feel the sting of the DNC so successfully rallying the popular culture with a multitude of celebrities and musicians (who also fight for the youth demographic, so it’s natural for them to throw their support behind anything that will help them capture more followers).
So why didn’t the GOP learn from this mistake?
There are a multitude of ways to energize the youth and get them in your corner: social media, music, celebrities, catchy sound bites…essentially flashy objects, as the younger generations these days aren’t hard to impress.
But the most important factor in getting the youth to rally around a political party today? The candidate.
In the days of Twitter & Facebook giving a voice to the youth as well as a news source outside of the main stream media, and the ability for people to communicate globally and catch the main stream media (and politicians) in the act of lying time after time, they have both become a laughing stock, devoid of any trust from the youth and seen as a visage of the past that they don’t have much use for.
The youth no longer trusts the mainstream media to make their decisions for them; we understand they are for-profit organizations who will say what their biggest sponsors want, and that newscasters and on-screen journalists are paid more today for their looks and ability to feign disgust or shock at the most miniscule and stretched non-events possible than actual news or true events.
Instead the youth take to social media to give their own opinions, see what their friends think and make their decisions. A simple and well-known fact of marketing today: 80% of millennials will take advice from a friend before even considering any type of purchase. Yes, that “purchase” will apply to trusting and voting for a political candidate as well. This is why influencers are more crucial today than ever.
It seems the marketing team for the GOP has either been asleep at the wheel for the past two (and this upcoming) elections, or just don’t care. Are they winning the social media war? Nope. Have they won critical influencers in popular culture to help spread their message? Nope.
Next we’ll move to the second assumption I asked you to follow at the beginning of this article, the idea of “market saturation.” There are currently 25 declared and exploratory Republican candidates for the 2016 election, many with views not too far from each other on most major issues.
Do you see a problem with this? Apparently the GOP still doesn’t get it.
So let’s move to the actual candidates, and if we follow the blueprint that won the last two elections with grassroots campaigns and the youth vote, which candidates do you think will be able to polarize the youth and influencers in popular culture this time around?
Jeb Bush? Don’t make me laugh. The only thing he’ll gain with the youth is a constant need to re-hash questions of the Iraq war (if you don’t believe me, read Paul Krugman’s latest op-ed in the NY Times “Errors and Lies” from May 18: http://nyti.ms/1ES4sC3)
Dr. Ben Carson? There’s no good way to say this, but just because he’s black doesn’t mean he’ll get the youth vote. I know the GOP figured it worked in the last election, but Obama wasn’t voted in because of his smarts or pedigree, but because of his youthful charisma. A sad sign of the times, the “Dr” in front of Dr. Carson’s name doesn’t hold much sway with the youth (although Dr. Ron Paul had a huge following in the youth movement…but the GOP screwed that up, too).
Chris Christie? I don’t think I even have to explain why that’s a big negative.
I’ll save the time and space of explaining the obvious reasons the youth wouldn’t support most of the other candidates, and focus on those who I feel they would: Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio.
But in an age when the youth has lost most of their trust in the government and feels “Big Brother” already has too close an eye on them (which would have been viciously apposed in true Republican ideals), Rubio’s recent support of the NSA and Freedom Act pretty much disqualifies him from youth support immediately, along with Jeb Bush and others above.
And while the RINO’s and old guard of the GOP don’t like Paul and Cruz because of their views on many of the current GOP stances (which contradict many of the original conservative and Republican ideals), that’s precisely what the youth love about them.
So why is the GOP fighting so hard to discredit and keep them off the ticket? Even the “fair and balanced” Fox news lists Rand Paul at the bottom of poll lists when he has the highest response, a crude parlor trick of marketing that may work on other generations, but not on the youth that the GOP needs to rally in the upcoming election.
For the second point, I think it’s more obvious here in Los Angeles than most parts of the nation. Do you remember the last election for LA mayor? Neither does anyone else. The last mayoral election here in the City of Angels had the lowest voter turnout in history.
Why? It’s actually quite simple to understand: the two major contenders had platforms so similar that voters didn’t see the point in voting, and couldn’t tell one apart from the other based on their views.
You may say that it’s still too early for that to make much of a difference and that the field will be cleared out soon enough, but I disagree. In business strategy there are the terms “first to market” and “first movers advantage” that allude to decades of studies showing that the first product (or candidate) to begin making impressions with and winning customers (or votes) has a distinct advantage.
Currently there are 25 candidates fighting for the GOP nomination, doing everything they can to sway voters to their cause, win them over and put them on their political “team.” And for every potential voter a candidate convinces and wins over, that voter becomes much more unlikely to change their decision at a later point and vote for another candidate once the candidate they sided with and learned to trust is off the ticket.
The idea of voting blindly for a party rather than a candidate has been dismissed by the youth, who prefer to vote with their friends, emotions, connections, and trust of a candidate, not just by party affiliation.
The GOP needs to learn that and clear the field quickly, before whatever youth voters the GOP has left find their way to the DNC, who still have the playbook from the last two elections (and seem to be using it well). Or they can continue to follow the same old RNC playbook and see what happens.
What is the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and expecting different results.
Robert Patrick Lewis was a Green Beret OIF/OEF combat veteran with 10th SFG(A), is an award winning author of “The Pact” and “Love Me When I’m Gone: the true story of life, love and loss for a Green Beret in post-9/11 war” and the host of “The Green Beret MBA” and “Center Mass with Rob and Silent J” programs on Vets on Media.