Republicans have a millennial problem. According to a recent poll by NBC News, only 26 percent of millennials have a favorable opinion of the Republican Party, and only 21 percent of millennials approve of President Donald Trump’s job performance.
These numbers are not good, but millennials aren’t thrilled about Democrats either, with only a plurality holding a positive opinion of them.
For many Republicans, their failure to connect with millennials is not a big deal. They assume that young people are always more liberal and will eventually support Conservatives as they grow older, but I don’t think that is the case.
Republicans and Conservatives are not failing among millennials because millennials are liberal, but because they haven’t come up with any big ideas.
Think about it. What is different from the Republican agenda now than 30 years ago? It is still the same arguments and same solutions: lower taxes and less spending. While these are the backbone of conservative policy, they are not solutions in and of themselves.
Even worse, where Republican policy is different, such as in the newfound opposition to free trade, it is a stance millennials don’t like; according to a YouGov poll, only 12 percent of millennials think free trade deals are a bad thing.
The Trump administration is not known for innovative, cutting-edge ideas. If someone is not a protectionist and does not think immigration is bad, then there really is not a whole lot to excite them at this point.
Republicans are not appealing to millennials because their message has not changed to adjust to the information age. Republicans have been content to cede entire states and cities rather than craft innovative, free market policy solutions to help their problems. This has to end.
So how can Republicans and Conservatives change course and present bold, optimistic ideas for the future? Look back on their long legacy of innovation and ideas. The great thing about free markets is that they are always changing and evolving, and so society’s ideas should follow.
To start, Conservatives should abandon protectionism and adapt their message fully for the modern age. That does not mean abandoning communities harmed by changes in the economy, but it does mean not harming the millions more who benefit from the innovation and lower prices of the modern global economy.
Republicans should embrace cities and present plans for how to improve them. Cities are the economic engine of this country, and Conservatives should want a seat at the table in governing them. Become the party not just of small government, but good government.
Conservatives should present a plan to reform and preserve Social Security for the future. According to a 2015 Gallup poll, only 34 percent of people under the age of 49 expect Social Security will pay them a benefit. This is unacceptable.
Conservatives should present a radical overhaul of the tax code, one aimed primarily at middle and low-class families, as well as an overhaul of the corporate tax code.
That being said, few people care about marginal tax rates for high-income groups. What they do care about is how it affects them personally and as a result, House Speaker Paul Ryan has advocated simplifying the tax form to one that fits on a postcard.
To go even further, look at ideas like return-free filing, where the government fills out and sends one’s return to them. Aside from TurboTax, who is going to say no to that?
These are not particularly challenging ideas. They are bigger and bolder than what Conservatives are promoting today, but they won’t start a debate. What ideas would?
Well to start, Conservatives need to look to areas they have ceded to Liberals for years: the environment is one of them. Some conservatives have made the mistake of assuming any environmental policy is liberal and because of that have allowed Liberals to dominate such an important issue.
A start might be to consider a revenue-neutral carbon tax, with all additional revenue funding tax cuts in other areas. Conservatives aren’t close to being sold on this idea, and it has problems, but it’s gained traction among some conservative intellectuals and warrants debate.
Another area Conservatives could look to is more sustainable power. Coal is not the only way to make power, or even the best one – nuclear plants, hydroelectric and even solar should all be cornerstones of a conservative energy policy.
Conservatives do not have to abandon these issues to Liberals. By making it clear we care about these issues, we can influence policy in those directions in a conservative way.
The conservative solution to problems is not just ignoring things, it is in finding bold, market-oriented solutions that keep government small, but also make it better.
Eric Cunningham is a senior journalism major from Hickory, North Carolina. You can follow him on Twitter at @DEricCunningham.