The Rayburn Building room hosting the House Republican Policy Committee hearing Tuesday on “Millennials and the GOP” was fittingly filled with a young audience that documented the event with Snapchat and iPhone photos — though one used a BlackBerry.
Chaired by New York Rep. Elise Stefanik, who turns 31 next week and heads the RPC’s new Millennial Task Force, the hearing was the first in a series aimed at understanding, communicating with and proposing policies for the newest generation of workers (and voters). Members of the task force, as well as other representatives in attendance and a few staffers, queried a panel of four experts on who millennials are, what they care about and how best to connect with them. In true millennial fashion, members of the audience and those watching via livestream were able to tweet their questions to the panel using #GOPFuture.
The members kept things lighthearted, while also recognizing the topic's seriousness. Nevada Rep. Cresent Hardy, one of the most vulnerable members in Congress, acknowledged his lack of social media skills before asking if that could cost him an election. Panelist John Della Volpe, the director of polling at the Harvard Institute of Politics who conducted a 15-year study on millennials, warned that it could.
Rep. Gary Palmer, R-Ala., and others compared their ages to the hearing’s audience. “I know you won’t believe this, but I was at one point 18 years old," Palmer said, garnering some laughs, before asking about the consistency of millennial voter ideologies over time.
Texas GOP Rep. Will Hurd took a picture of the audience to post on Twitter, then went on to ask about data on young Republicans' disapproval of Republicans in Congress.
Despite the jokes, Republicans know they have work to do with young voters, particularly after the past two elections. President Barack Obama won at least 60 percent of voters age 18 to 29 in the 2008 and 2012 elections, according to exit polls. This hearing is part of their commitment to bridge that gap.
After the hearing, panelist Kristen Soltis Anderson, a pollster and co-founder of Echelon Insights, told Roll Call that harnessing the power of the millennial generation for Republicans is not going to be easy, but she believes it can be done.
“[Democrats] have the wind at their back and Republicans have the wind at their face," said Anderson, who authored “The Selfie Vote,” a book focused on millennials. "But I think that because young people are looking for what’s new and what’s different, and the fact that the party in power right now in the White House is the Democratic Party creates this window of opportunity that they’ve absolutely got to seize and to really change these perceptions that people have of what it means to be Republican.”
Along with Della Volpe and Anderson, the panel included Scott Keeter, director of survey research for the Pew Research Center, and Jared Meyer, a fellow at Economics 21, part of the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research.
Additional congressional attendees included RPC Chairman Luke Messer, R-Ind.; Susan W. Brooks, R-Ind.; Jason Smith, R-Mo.; Ryan Costello, R-Pa.; Mimi Walters, R-Calif.; and Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla.
“The very fact that you’re doing this is a signal to young people across America,” Della Volpe said in response to a question by Brooks.
Republicans have much to think about before the next hearing, which Stefanik said will take place in her Upstate New York district in August. Subsequent hearings will take place back on Capitol Hill.
Stefanik, the youngest woman ever elected to Congress, seemed pleased with the dialogue and level of engagement as she left the hearing.
“As was pointed out today, millennials are looking for policies of economic empowerment, they have a distrust in government solutions, they want more efficient government,” Stefanik told Roll Call. “I think it's important for our party to recognize not only the importance of the millennial vote broadly, but also how to communicate our policies of limited government, of accountable, efficient government, and of breaking down barriers to start businesses for entrepreneurs.”
How Elise Stefanik Became the Youngest Woman Ever Elected to Congress Democrats Losing Youth Vote: Millenials Turning to the GOP in Midterms Poll: Majority of Younger Voters Not Planning to Turn Up for Midterms See photos, follies, HOH Hits and Misses and more at Roll Call's new video site. Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.