This summer I got married. In political terms, this means I exited one of the most left-leaning voting blocs (single women) and joined a more evenly divided group (married women). But I’ve only spent about two months being married; my other 26 years I spent as a single. During that time I noticed that free-market supporters often committed serial mistakes in marketing their ideas to my demographic.
Philip Klein wrote in his Washington Examiner column last week that conservatives can’t leave unmarried voters behind. He’s absolutely right. As Millennials delay or disregard marriage, the percentage of the public that is unmarried has increased dramatically and will continue to do so. According to the University of Virginia report, “Knot Yet,” the percent of women married by their late 20s has dropped from 90 to 50 percent since the 1970s.
While Klein makes an excellent argument for better political marketing to singles, he stops short of telling conservatives and libertarians what they can do better. That’s why I’ve compiled the following list of tips — just from my personal experience — to improve political communications with young, unmarried voters.
Take Back “Community”
One of the most important moments of the 2012 election cycle was former President Clinton, sitting on the DNC stage, saying, “If you want a you’re-on-your-own, winner-take-all society, you should support the Republican ticket. If you want a country of shared prosperity and shared responsibility — a we’re-all-in-this-together society — you should vote for Barack Obama and Joe Biden.”
Clinton presented a pretty clear choice. For singles, especially, life can often be lonely. This makes Clinton’s promise of a “together society” appealing, and now today we have “community organizer” in the White House.
As free-market supporters, we don’t talk enough about our alternative vision for communities: voluntary relationships driven by love, benevolence, and charity. We don’t often enough call the left out for their forced form of “community” — yes, “communism” comes from the same root word.
Sadly, my peers are less familiar with what it means to live in real community. Millennials, especially singles, are less likely to attend church or to be part of the local Lions’ Club, Rotary Club, Junior League or PTA. Fewer young singles can afford to buy their own homes, meaning they don’t interact with a Homeowners’ Association or even the local Welcome Wagon.
These voluntary community associations played a big role in my parents’ life, but so far they’ve been mostly absent in the life of my peers, especially since we left our parents’ households or the more structured environments of high school or college. This presents a political challenge for supporters of voluntary community; Millennials need to know that real community is a product of freedom, not force.
Careful with Language
Politicians are apt to describe how their policy agenda will affect “families.” While I’m proud to be a daughter, sister, niece, etc., I did not think of myself in a family unit during my single years. Why not use “individuals and families” or just “Americans?” Simple word-choice signals like these can be subconsciously isolating or inviting.
Also, can we avoid gratuitous bashing? I mean immigrant-bashing, union-bashing, sexual-revolution-bashing, and even Democrat-bashing? There’s a right way and a wrong way to critique public policies and cultural trends, without the unnecessary blame-laying and divisive language.
Emphasize Control over One’s Own Life
One basic philosophical difference between the left and the right is this: How much control does a person actually have over his or her life? The left would have us believe that all of life is a game of chance; some people get lucky and others don’t. Young singles, who are often focused on professional and personal goals, need to hear that their goals are achievable and their outcomesdepend on their efforts.
The left has been incredibly successful wooing singles in my generation with the message of social justice, because they’ve first convinced singles that no success is earned. (I.e., “You didn’t build that.”) We have to change this premise if we are going to combat the redistributive tendencies that naturally follow.
While it is fair and good to acknowledge that life comes with some uncertainty, the left’s message of victimhood is disempowering. Here, the right has an opportunity to offer an alternative vision and become the party of empowerment.
A Huge Missed Opportunity on Entitlement Reform and the Economy
Many of my peers do not understand how Social Security and Medicare are funded. In fact, many older Americans don’t get it either. Talking about — or better yet, doing something about — the inherent unfairness of these entitlement programs would be a big win with young, single workers. These workers, at the bottom of the income chain, shouldn’t have to fund the retirement or health insurance of baby boomers.
Like any demographic group, single Americans have their own set of priorities when it comes to the issues. Student loans and underemployment plague many of my single (and married) young peers. Free-market supporters need to spend more air-time showing that these issues matter to us, and that we have solutions.
Finally, loosen up. I know President Obama has been in the White House for six years, and he’s arguably been one of the worst presidents in history. I know the debt is $17 trillion. I know the labor force participation rate is at a 30-year-low. But being the serious, stuffy, bearer of bad news is not the way to reach young singles.
Although the 20s can be a rocky decade, full of tough choices and big changes, many young singles see this time in their life as fun and exhilarating. They don’t want to listen to nonstop bad news about the world around them, but rather, what are you going to do to fix it? What can you say to give me hope? That was what was so attractive about candidate Obama in 2008.
And, if truth be told, that’s the exciting thing about free markets: People working together to innovate and add value have already solved many problems, and we can continue to do so, bringing hope of a better life to the whole world. Millennials need to hear that message.
Being young and single was really fun. (For the record, being married is fun, too.) But in my single years, I often felt that my cohort was being ignored by conservative and libertarian messages that seemed to focus on families, faith or just plain freedom. These (of course) are vital principles to emphasize to all age groups, but sadly fall on deaf ears among many single Millennials. By including messages of community, inclusiveness, empowerment, fairness and opportunity — all with a brighter, more hopeful tone — the political right can make inroads with this group.