Editor's note: This piece was co-authored by Ron Meyer.
It’s been more than a week since the election, and everyone is still Monday-morning-quarterbacking Governor Romney’s campaign. It’s annoying. Romney ran an honest and positive campaign, and we wish him the best.
From the beginning of this race, we said the Conservative Movement and our candidates needed to speak directly to young Americans.
We didn’t, and we lost the White House largely because of this lack of effort.
Romney would’ve won the election had he won the same percentage of the youth vote--45 percent--that George Bush had won against Kerry in 2004 in the swing states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. He didn’t even come close.
Obama won the youth vote 63 to 34 percent in Ohio, 61 to 36 percent in Virginia, and 63 to 35 percent in Pennsylvania—nearly matching his 2008 blowout.
President Obama spent nearly one out of every nine days of his first term on college campuses, and he made student loan debt and other youth issues centerfold is his campaign. Mitt Romney largely ignored college campuses and refused to champion youth issues. On student loans and youth health care, Romney actually said he agreed with Obama which gave young people little reason to vote for him over Obama.
President Obama actively organized year-round voter registration drives and other campus events that included celebrity idols such as Scarlett Johansson and Pitbull. The Obama campaign set-up campaign offices on campuses in swing states and offered students free food and a ride to vote.
Because Romney didn’t force President Obama to run on his youth economic record, Obama won them over with pop culture and free food. It worked.
Why didn’t Romney combat these messages on campus? Why didn’t Romney bring conservative celebrities like Kid Rock, Chuck Norris, and Trace Adkins to college campuses?
The Romney campaign failed to reach out to young people and show the cause and effect relationship between the President’s economic policies and the economic misery of young Americans.
The Romney campaign was happy to use college students and thousands of young Americans as campaign volunteers—but had them spend all their time off-campus. He had no get-out-the-vote plan on college campuses whatsoever.
The path to a youth vote victory existed for conservatives. Youth unemployment and underemployment were off the chart, tuition had risen 25 percent, and Obamacare were set to spike youth health insurance prices 45 percent. Why didn’t Romney or any of the major PACs focus on tying these stats to Obama?
Speaking of super PACs, American Crossroads created a youth PAC, “Generation Crossroads,” but did anyone see them on campus? Where did the $750,000 seed money for that group go? Flashy graphics and videos didn’t turn out the youth vote.
Simply put, we need candidates and organizations on campus talking directly to students. Just like with the election as a whole, money spent on ads and social media didn’t work. What works is the person-to-person voter contact methods used by the Obama campaign.
The left organizes their get-out-the-vote efforts years in advance, and their election turnout efforts are a well-practiced machine. Conservatives need to plan ahead for up-and-coming elections by organizing effective get-out-the-vote efforts on college campuses. They need to understand that boring, conservative talking points won’t win them over--they must be reached through pop culture.
The GOP will never win the presidency again or solve the nation’s debt problem if they refuse to engage young Americans. Conservatives can win young voters, especially those who naturally lean libertarian. But, we need to appeal to them in person using the moral case for free enterprise and explaining why freer markets create more economic opportunity for everyone.
Young Americans are idealistic and appreciate principled consistency. If the Conservative Movement gets back to that--while doing direct youth outreach--we have a shot at both winning elections and solving our biggest challenges.