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What Republicans are missing about millennial voters

Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson (R) takes a selfie with a supporters during a campaign rally at the Anaheim Convention Center September 9, 2015 in Anaheim, California.
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Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson (R) takes a selfie with a supporters during a campaign rally at the Anaheim Convention Center September 9, 2015 in Anaheim, California.

There's a huge voting block that experts say Republicans are not leveraging — and if they can get them on board, it could mean the election. It's the 90 million millennials, who, according to the Center for American Progress, make up just shy of 40 percent of eligible voters.

Republicans should care about millennials. A Pew Research Center survey discovered about 51 percent of white millennials and 47 percent of nonwhite millennials consider themselves independent, meaning the potential to find swing voters in the group exists. That's not to mention that they are now a larger workforce presence in the country than Generation X.

If the GOP wants these votes, they're going to have to fix a glaring problem, say experts. The word Republican is just leaving a bad taste in many millennials' mouths, according to advertising and marketing entrepreneur Bobby Campbell.

"The GOP and Republicans have a brand problem," said Campbell, who founded AdKarma and Division-D. "There's a negative connotation when you say the word Republican. I think a lot of people who aren't Republican agree with their stances, but they don't want to be called Republican."


While it seems like the majority skew more liberal than conservative, there are some core Republican issues that millennials do align with. For one thing, millennials tend to be more fiscally conservative than other generations due to pressing issues like student loan debt and finding quality jobs that match their education levels, said Lenny Alcivar, client strategy director for Targeted Victory. He was the communications director for Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., during 2014.

"This generation is not tied to the political or cultural biases of previous generations," he said via email. "They don't care about the old political fights. Most millennials want leaders in Washington who understand the culture of entrepreneurship and innovation. They share our healthy skepticism against government intervention, and want more accountability for our governmental institutions. Those are Republican ideas. We should be excited about the opportunity to engage them."

Will Alford, senior director for content and audience at the Cox Media Group website Rare, pointed out that there are millennials who are interested in Republican ideals. The website, which leans conservative, gets more than 40 million visits monthly.

"There are an awfully lot of people who are slightly right leaning," Alford said. "They may say Democrats, but only because of the social issues."

Alford believes if Republican candidates want these votes, they're going to have to speak up in favor of some issues that millennials strongly believe in. While Rare's readers are in favor of the military, smaller government and lower taxes, they tend to take a more accepting view on things like gay marriage and decriminalization of minor drug offenses.

"The GOP as an entity established those views, but they're not going to win (millennial votes) without these two key issues," he said.


Campbell argued that a lot of Republicans forget who the majority voters are, millennial or not. He said that whether or not you agree with Donald Trump, it's clear his support is coming from his more mainstream American focus. For example, his tax code clearly labels the benefits for the middle-class American.

"The people who elect Republicans to office aren't all business people," he said. "They aren't all doing well. They're middle Americans who sometimes need help. Some Republicans talk about tax cuts, tax cuts, tax cuts, but middle Americans are seeing that as tax cuts for business owners and not for them."

Moving more into populist stances could help win Republican votes, Campbell said, especially considering that millennials tend to be more optimistic and have a desire to help everyone across the board succeed.

"They want to be heard and they want to be listened to," he said. "They want to be heard if they don't have $5,000 to give to a candidate or $20,000 to give to a Super PAC."

Politics aside, experts across the board agree that Republicans aren't utilizing social media the right way to reach this group. Sixty-one percent of millennials get their news from Facebook; just 37 percent use local TV, according to Pew Research Center.

"Campaigns need to take a screen-agnostic approach to media buying," Targeted Victory's Alcivar said. "As the media landscape continues to fragment, it's important for campaigns to leverage data and technology to target voters wherever they are consuming content."

It's also important to make sure that these candidates are using the right content for the right audiences, he added.

"We have the data and technology to reach niche groups such as millennial moms, but campaigns need to deliver content to them that they care about and want to see," Alcivar said.

Another problem is that while candidates are online tweeting and posting, most aren't engaging their followers or showing their "human side," said Engagement Labs CEO Bryan Segal. While every voter appreciates being able to access candidates, millennials expect it because of the way they grew up with social media. He said they're used to following people and getting responses.

"Now it's instant access all time," Segal said. "On an ongoing basis, you're seeing instantaneous reactions in your feeds that are being broadcast to you."

According to Engagement Labs analytics, the candidate that is excelling in engagement is Ben Carson, meaning he's most likely to interact with potential voters. For example, his #AskBen prompt on his website encourages people to ask him questions, and he answers both political and personal prompts. He also leverages his Facebook page to interact with his followers.

"(Republicans) need to continue our commitment to authentic engagement on every platform," Alcivar said. "This generation built the Uber economy. They're problem solvers who want to feel engaged. Let's show them we're the party of solving problems and of new ideas. We're asking them to join us."