If conservatives hope for a new generation of activists and voters, go where the youth are, a panel of young conservatives told the Western Conservative Summit Saturday afternoon. Charlie Kirk, a 19-year-old executive director of Turning Point USA, Francesca Chambers of Red Alert Politics, and Jesse Blumenthal of Engage DC agreed that much of recent efforts to engage young voters and activists fall far too short of their intended goals, are to little too late, or even worse, aren’t even where the folks they hope to inform even hang out.
“Why did the candidates for the Republican party, why do they not go on stations like MTV, VH1, and Comedy Central?” Kirk asked.
According to Kirk, most conservatives and Republican candidates actively avoid pop media outlets and popular television shows like The Daily Show or The Colbert Report and, as a result, miss a superb opportunity to talk about concrete examples that crystallize abstract issues in a way that would appeal to young people.
Kirk pointed to issues like National Security Administration surveillance and Edward Snowden. The recent news surrounding the ongoing NSA revelations have affected young people in a profound way, he said.
“What he [Snowden] did was, every single time a young person picked up a phone, sent a Tweet, sent an email, he or she totally changed the way they did it, because they thought they were being watched,” Kirk said.
Kirk rejected the need to only run younger candidates, arguing that candidates with engaging ideas appeal to young voters, citing the following enjoyed by former Congressman Ron Paul.
Chambers described www.RedAlertPolitics.com as a way to reach out to young people that was “funny, sometimes edgy” that might be more acceptable to less-ideologically inclined young people.
“One of the things we’re most proud of is annual “30 Under 30” list,” Chambers said, because it demonstrated to progressive critics that young conservatives not only existed but were successful and effective members of the movement.
The failure to show up, Blumenthal argued, reflected repeated missed opportunities to engage on a personal level.
“The perception problem is that the conservative movement is broadly seen as pro-big business,” Blumenthal offered, arguing that messaging mattered. He suggested articulating “entrepreneurship” over capitalism, as young people see entrepreneurship as a positive, creative force.
But even good messaging won’t work if the effort appears too little, too late, Chambers said, reserving specific attention for election year outreach programs that expect to ramp up in six months or less. This contrasts sharply with what Chambers described as the “long game” played by progressives and Democrats, who never stop campaigning.
Kirk and Blumenthal both agreed that advocating for Internet freedom–against SOPA or the Internet sales tax–is a winning issues with young people, noting some of the social media efforts that brought together strange bedfellows from left and right when it came to preventing increased Internet regulation.
Kirk said that conservatives and Republicans who advocate for increased Internet censorship, for example, only add credence to the perception that both groups are interested only in taking away something, whether that was Internet freedom or any other right.
Chambers conceded that the uphill climb could only begin with a realization that programs like The Daily Show dominate young people’s news consumption.
The panel unanimously agreed that part of the current difficulty in communication, especially between generations of older and younger conservatives, comes from social issues and particularly from the way those issues are discussed.