Point of View

Young Americans: Not buying the traditional Republican message

February 12, 2014 

Chris Christie has been one of the biggest newsmakers of recent years, whether as presidential hopeful or traffic-challenged governor. He gets so much attention largely because he claims to be a nontraditional Republican, trying to move the Republican Party toward new messages that might appeal to newer attitudes and younger generations in America.

In November, Christie won in New Jersey on his nontraditional messages just as Terry McAuliffe won in Virginia with the usual Democratic messages, with both results touted as evidence that young voters do not like traditional Republican platforms. These claims might miss a larger demographic shift, so significant that it may sound an early death knell for the traditional Republican message overall.

Republican platforms have varied over time on social issues, size of government and other points, but Republicans have consistently maintained that society is improved and achieves its greatest successes through competition, where winners reach ever higher levels of excellence and others lose, with societal resources steered toward the winners – allocated to the winners for use.

It is difficult to find any American who disagrees with this message in concept, with differences instead focused on practice. Both Democratic and Republican candidates tout the benefits of competition in domestic business and international trade, especially when tied to job creation.

It can even be argued that the parties differ only on how competition is handled. Democrats seem concerned about fairness and say access to benefits from victory should be available to everyone through a variety of societal structures. In contrast, Republicans celebrate winners and accept the reality of losers, and anything that eliminates the unpleasantness of losing is not constructive. Elections might be decided by which view voters prefer, yet it was difficult to find disagreement with the concepts of competition and the benefits it generates – until recently.

Americans born after 1990 do not seem to agree that losers are an unavoidable component of excellence and tacitly disagree with this core Republican message. It’s not every American born after 1990, of course, because some are fierce competitors driven by the thrill of victory, but the overwhelming majority learned competition in ways unique in human experience, beyond mere U.S. history.

This generation is often cited as one in which everyone got a trophy regardless of actual performance, but I’m not simply griping about it. Instead, the problem is more subtle and potentially more damaging than usually discussed, especially to the traditional Republican message.

You see, everyone getting a trophy had an effect I have not heard discussed in popular media, and it’s not that everyone expects always to win – youth are not actually that delusional – but instead it is a distaste for winning at all, in the traditional sense of winning. This is a generation raised to act cooperatively, not to exclude anyone for any reason, where the objective of competition is no one losing, where scores are often not even kept and where GPAs constantly inflate to promise equal opportunities rather than differentiation among students.

It’s a generational majority that avoids participating in events if someone must lose. A majority not playing competitive sports with its minority win-at-all-cost mentality that discourages weak competitors from even trying. A vast majority that learned competition from only one consistent source – video games – where every human can win against computer programs designed to be the losers. A generation taught to help, even completing tasks for others having difficulties, not hindering people in competition against them.

More than distaste, young voters disagree with the Republican message of excellence through competition that rewards the best at the expense of the rest. Republicans seem to think that they merely aren’t communicating their message well enough, but that is not the problem.

Young voters hear the message just fine, but the majority of them don’t like it, evident in Virginia where the traditional message lost, but also in New Jersey where the traditional message was silent. So when Chris Christie says Republicans need to re-evaluate their message, he might mean more than a mere change in marketing.

Dr. Frederick Parker is a teaching assistant professor of economics at N.C. State University.

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