There’s a glimmer of hope in an otherwise disappointing poll published by Harvard last week. Young people don’t trust government, it says — to a greater degree than ever.
The glimmer of hope is that the mood plays into the most fundamental conservative message: Don’t trust government — trust yourselves.
“A new poll surveying young Americans’ political attitudes released by Harvard University’s Institute of Politics Tuesday found millennials have less trust in government than ever before,” Business Insider reported. “Harvard’s poll showed millennials, which the pollsters defined as people aged 18 to 29, have lost trust in a variety of different major public institutions including the President, the military, Congress, the Supreme Court, and the federal government as a whole. Of all the institutions tracked by the poll, the President and the military lost the most trust among young Americans with a seven point drop.”
There are clear political implications to the poll, and Harvard recognizes those.
“The historically low levels of trust in the White House and the government at large weren’t the only bits of bad news in the poll for President Barack Obama and other Democrats,” the magazine reported. “In general, the poll showed millennials aren’t excited about this year’s midterm elections. ‘Currently, less than one-in-four (24 percent) young Americans under the age of 30 say that they will ‘definitely be voting,’ in the upcoming midterm elections for Congress, a sharp decrease of 10 percentage points since the Fall,’ the pollsters said. ‘During a similar time of the year in 2010, 31 percent of 18- to 29- year olds reported that they would definitely vote.’ However, the poll found young conservatives are more likely to vote this year than liberal millennials.”
That’s good news for conservatives, but it shouldn’t ever be just about getting out the vote. Winning elections includes winning hearts.
And these are clearly hearts ready to be won by a conservative message. But the Republican Party is having trouble framing such a message.
“After steep losses in the 2012 election, there was broad agreement within the Republican Party that its biggest challenge was bridging the divide with key voter groups — minorities, women and young voters — who threw their support behind President Obama, giving him the crucial margin in battleground states,” the L.A. Times observed recently. “But a year after the GOP’s so-called autopsy report, the speeches from the party’s leading voices at the Conservative Political Action Conference, known as CPAC, reflected a complex reality: Republicans are still searching for a unified message to reach those groups.”
It needn’t be an exhaustive search, because the answer for young people is simple: You may not trust government, but you can trust yourselves. Conservatism offers the freedom to try, rather than a guaranteed result.
The young will find such a message appealing. They grew up in an “everyone gets a trophy” world. They’re ready for trophies to mean something now.
The term “self-reliance” lost cachet during the Obama era. But it’s a term that young voters indicate they’re ready to hear — and respond to.