GOP Challenges and Opportunities on the Issues Among Younger Voters

In the NBC/Wall Street Journal survey from February (conducted jointly by POS partner Bill McInturff and Fred Yang of Hart Research Associates), respondents were asked an extensive series of questions on what party does a better job of handling certain issues. Republicans came out ahead on issues where they are traditionally strong (national defense, government spending), but Democrats had the advantage on the majority of the issues tested.

Ranked by GOP Advantage

Issue GOP Dem D/S
Ensuring a strong national defense 45% 19% 26%
Controlling government spending 37% 21% 16%
Reducing the federal deficit 31% 25% 6%
Dealing with the economy 30% 32% -2%
Dealing with taxes 32% 35% -3%
Dealing with immigration 27% 33% -6%
Dealing with energy policy 26% 36% -10%
Dealing with Social Security 22% 36% -14%
Reducing gun violence 19% 34% -15%
Dealing with health care 25% 41% -16%
Dealing with Medicare 22% 40% -18%
Looking out for the middle-class 24% 46% -22%

In looking at this data, there are two things that jumped out immediately. First, the Republicans’ deficit on “looking out for the middle-class” is staggering. Any attempts at Republican re-branding must focus on closing that substantial gap.

Second (and more encouragingly), it is important to note that, despite media narratives to the contrary, immigration is not yet an issue on which Democrats have a stranglehold. With a Dem advantage of just six points, immigration, along with the economy, taxes, and the federal deficit, is an issue that is very much up for grabs.

The data among only younger (age 18-34) respondents is also important, and reveals some opportunities for Republicans with this key group, as well as some significant challenges.

Ranked by GOP Advantage – Data Among 18-34 Year Olds

Issue GOP Dem D/S
Ensuring a strong national defense 44% 20% 24%
Reducing the federal deficit 32% 22% 10%
Controlling government spending 36% 28% 8%
Dealing with taxes 36% 32% 4%
Dealing with the economy 31% 28% 3%
Dealing with Social Security 23% 30% -7%
Reducing gun violence 22% 32% -10%
Dealing with immigration 27% 38% -11%
Dealing with health care 28% 41% -13%
Looking out for the middle-class 26% 44% -18%
Dealing with Medicare 22% 41% -19%
Dealing with energy policy 19% 43% -24%

Despite Republicans’ well-chronicled struggles with younger voters, the GOP actually has the advantage on more issues with younger voters (five) than with the population as a whole (three). Among younger voters, Republicans have small leads on taxes and the economy and continue to lead on the federal deficit and government spending. Clearly, when it comes to fiscal issues, younger voters prefer the Republican Party.

Republican issue challenges with younger voters are, to be blunt, everything else. The smallest Democrat advantage on the remaining issues is 7%, and they lead by double digits on the other six issues.

Dealing with energy policy is an especially tough issue for Republicans with younger voters, as Dems lead on that issue by 24 points, compared to ten points with the overall sample. Republican problems with the middle class also persist with younger voters, as Dems have an 18 point advantage on that issue.

The data with the overall sample as well as with younger respondents makes it clear that while the Republican messaging on fiscal issues has some traction, the party’s re-branding effort needs to also focus on issues such as energy policy, health care, and, most importantly, reaching out to the middle-class.

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