People listen to Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney speak during a campaign rally at Shawnee State University in Portsmouth, Ohio October 13, 2012.
Shannon Stapleton / Reuters

Shutdown hurts GOP efforts to woo younger voters

After the GOP got crushed at the polls in 2012, Republican Party leaders realized they needed to broaden their base, especially among younger voters.

The Republican National Committee even released an autopsy report declaring that the GOP had become an entity at which “young voters are increasingly rolling their eyes,” and admitting “we have lost our way with younger ones. We sound increasingly out of touch.”

A majority of 18- to 29-year-olds—60%–helped propel President Obama back into the White House in 2012, compared to just 37% for Mitt Romney.

Fast forward to today, and the RNC’s much ballyhooed autopsy report looks forgotten. Republicans are being blamed for a massively unpopular government shutdown, with many lawmakers refusing to pass a spending bill unless it includes defunding or delaying Obamacare. Some strategists and pollsters say the standoff could hurt the GOP’s attempt to make inroads with young voters.

According to a pre-shutdown survey by Harvard University’s Institute of Politics, 56% of 18- to 29-year-olds said they believed that ensuring affordable access to healthcare is a bigger priority than reducing the deficit.

And according to an ABC-Washington Post poll, among 18- to 39-year-olds, 44% approve of how Obama is handling debt negotiations. Meanwhile, 39% approve of how Democrats in Congress are handling it, and only 30% support the GOP.

“There’s a real risk for Republicans that they’ll shoulder more of the blame with this section of the electorate,” said Republican pollster Kristen Soltis Anderson.

“Young voters tend to be less ideological and more interested in the idea of compromise,” she said. “At the start of this week, the polls showed Republicans would shoulder slightly more of the blame among young voters. … At this point, your average young voter is not being dramatically affected by shutdown. But if the shutdown continues for a while, or if heaven forbid we default and there’s economic carnage, this could be a whole new ballgame, and I’d expect polls that look very different–and not in a good way for Republicans.”

John Della Volpe, the director of polling at Harvard’s Institute of politics, said the shutdown will “make an already difficult task even more difficult” in recruiting younger voters. Younger Americans are likely to see “Obama standing for what he believes in and that Republicans are holding Obama and health care hostage for short term political gain.”

Several young voters, from independents to Democrats and Republicans expressed that same sentiment.

Mark Secada, a 19-year-old sophomore at New York University and self-described Independent, said the shutdown “makes me feel less favorable to the party, and they’re not doing too good of a job with young people in the first place.” Secada, a member of the NYU Politics society, added, “Defunding Obamacare is ultimately making their party less legitimate in the eyes of my generation.”

Jason Russell, 22, of Arlington, Virginia, said he blames both parties. Russell, a Republican, said he’s frustrated with Obama, and while he isn’t a fan of Obamacare,  he said Tea Party senators like Ted Cruz have given his party a bad name. Ted Cruz’s faux-filibuster, Russell said, was not well thought out. “It was destined to fail and unreasonable thing to think that Obama was going to sign a law to defund his legislative achievement.”

Veronica Barger, an 18-year-old freshman at American University, said the Republicans were to blame for the shutdown. She noted that her mom works for a government research company and she’s worried she may get furloughed.  “It could have a very negative impact on my family.”

Barger, an intern at Rock the Vote, was not able to vote in the last election but considers herself a Democrat.  She said the government shutdown and the GOP tying spending to Obamacare certainly “doesn’t help the Republicans’ case” in reaching out to young voters.

“It doesn’t make sense to me and I know it doesn’t make sense to a lot of young voters here in Washington. They all agree the GOP isn’t going about this in the right way. Young people are concerned about the well-being of the country, not the individual. By the Republicans doing this, they aren’t focusing on the country as a whole. They’re just in it for themselves and the people they care about, not the people that really need the government,” said Barger.

Whether the dissatisfaction shapes future elections is yet to be seen. There are a number of factors, including  how long the shutdown lasts, what a compromise (if any) entails, and if Obamacare is deemed a success.

Republican strategist Ford O’Connell acknowledged the GOP’s biggest problem is “we’ve done nothing to enlarge the tent,” especially among single women, minorities, and young voters. “The clock’s ticking with respect to 2016,”  O’Connell said. The GOP needs to realize that “continuing to pound sand on Obamacare is not really going to work. The only way to get rid of it is to win elections. They need to be focused on that.”

Shutdown hurts GOP efforts to woo younger voters