It may only be early 2015, but turn on your TV or scroll through Twitter and there is already constant conversation about the 2016 election. FFL, like many of you, is eager for the GOP to emerge victorious in 2016 and wanted to know more information as to what the Republican National Committee was planning to do to succeed. We connected with James Hewitt, a GOP Deputy Press Secretary (Give him a Twitter follow!), and asked him a few questions.
What is the GOP doing to engage and motivate young voters, especially young women?
James: Well, there is quite a number of things we are doing. After the election of 2012, one of the initiatives that Chairman Reince Priebus wanted to move forward with was women and female engagement. Our co-chair Sharon Day took a leading role in recruiting women of all ages to get involved in politics. She started hosting ’14 to 14’ events across the country for women to gather, network, and participate in the political arena and encourage other women to run for public office. The goal of the ‘14 to 14’ program was to mobilize voters to commit 30 minutes a week during the 14 weeks leading up to the November 2014 election.
The result was a high participation rate and a record number of women supporting Republicans. We elected a record member of Republicans to both the Senate and House. What we saw in this last election was truly unprecedented.
To engage young voters, we have a National Youth Director Elliott Echols, who went across the country to visit a number of campuses to help mobilize young voters. We’ve made our press team available for youth outlets like FFL. My predecessor Raffi Williams was very engaged. He would go to college campuses, speak to a number of classes, talk with local campus press and give our side of what issues we believe are most important to the youth. We saw a big improvement in the youth area in November as well.
We also have the College Republicans out there, staying relevant on college campuses. Not only do they help mobilize voters, but they also raise their own money. They aired some ads on a number of digital outlets with spin offs of ‘Say Yes to the Dress’ and ‘CSI’ That was awesome and they got a lot of media attention. This helped drive the conversation and it got a lot of young people’s attention.
What do you see as the key issues for young voters as we head into the 2016 election?
James: For the young voter’s issues, it should remain relatively the same as the last couple of years. Poll after poll shows that jobs and the economy are what drives young people’s interest. That is an issue that we should have the advantage on from a Republican standpoint. In our opinion, we have the best ideas to create jobs.
As you have seen since President Obama took office, we have seen our debt increase from ten trillion to 18 trillion… that is nearly double the size of our debt. Just a few days ago, the CBO Director, Douglas Elmdorf, testified in front of the House Budget Committee and said because of our mounting debt, we are heading into a fiscal crisis.
This clearly isn’t good for young voters. With this mounting debt, our Social Security and Medicare programs are in jeopardy. We do not want that to happen. We don’t want this mounting deficits to collapse and leave us without anything.
Young voters not only want the economy to improve, they also want jobs when they graduate. Also, for those who choose not to go to college, we need all the trade jobs out there if they want to become an electrician, mechanic, etc. All in all, we need a competitive business environment. Those are the two main issues driving young voters.
In your opinion, what are some effective ways that young conservatives can reach out to other young independents/undecided voters about the GOP?
James: This is something I have a bit of experience and I am sure you do too. I served as a Campus Leader in 2012 in one of the most liberal areas in the country, Boulder, Colorado. I did work for the Romney campaign and what I learned is you have got to target those who you think might be independent and I think some of the things you need to have in order to do that is just to be kind, informative, and persistent. Understand the issues you are talking about and be willing to share those ideas with your peers at a level that goes beyond the talking point.
Another thing to do is share articles that are written by like minded conservatives, who can better articulate things that you might not be able to yourself. Stay active on social media. Facebook is a great forum for young conservatives to spread the message and engage with independent voters.
You just pressed on this a little, but many times, a quick scroll through your Twitter and Facebook timelines, you can find an article shared about current events and politics. In what ways has social media changed the game for politics?
James: It has made our news cycle a lot faster than it has ever been before. Seconds after candidates mutter a sentence, it can be made into a headline. It has also allowed politicians, journalists or other media folks to directly engage with their social media followers. For example, Newt Gingrich reaches out frequently with Q&A’s on his page in which followers can ask some questions and see what he thinks of certain policy issues.
Rand Paul just recently did an interview with CNN via Snapchat. We are experimenting with a number of different outlets and I think it’s really smart for us to explore these different outlets and the opportunities they present us. With regards to Twitter, 2012 was probably the first big Twitter election which people were able to tweet live action, and they carried the news with it. Politics is a lot different than it was in 2008 and 2010 cycle. The 2014 was just as big as 2012 and its only going to get bigger in 2016.
How is the GOP using social media to reach out to young voters?
James: Where to start on that. After 2012, we realized that we were behind on the digital front. Our chairman Reince Priebus wanted to revamp our entire digital department. We invested about 100 million dollars this last cycle to expand our reach. We didn’t just expand Facebook outreach but also targeted low propensity voters (voters that are more likely to turnout for presidential elections that don’t necessarily vote in midterm elections) that we may have not targeted in 2012. I have some statistics for you. In the 2014 cycle, we targeted 11.7 million low propensity voters. We have 8 million Facebook likes. We revamped our entire website and monitored 128 conversation topics on Facebook. We increased our reach from 225 million to 2.6 billion. We also host straw polls and this is a great way for us to collect emails whether we want to use these for fundraising purposes, promote content that we deem important or for selling merchandise.
Social media is really important and carries a lot of weight. We are taking it very seriously for this next cycle. We hired new digital staff, a former Twitter executive, a former Google executive, and someone who has worked on LinkedIn. We are trying to bring Silicon Valley to DC. In order to beat Hillary, who is the likely candidate right now, we have to keep one leg up on our digital efforts.
What can FFL and it’s audience do to help the GOP emerge victorious in 2016?
James: Maintain, if not increase, your presence on the social media. Continue the conversations with hashtags on Twitter. Encourage your friends to get out and volunteer. It is always good to involve yourselves in the primaries. Don’t show up just two months before the election in 2016. Try and maintain a presence in the political arena.
County parties hold regular meetings on a weekly basis – show up to those. Stay on college campuses. We are going to need all the help we can get.
Those were all excellent answers. I am excited for the road to 2016. Anything else you’d like to add?
James: Another thing for young voters, we are often viciously attacked by the left. Encourage other young people to never stoop to that level. We are all better than that. We have to stay persistent, but also stay kind. We need to maintain a friendly environment in politics.