By Melissa Daniels | PA Independent
HARRISBURG — Those darn kids.
In the Republican Party, it’s the young crowd that’s pushing for diversity, a hot topic after last year’s elections.
Pew Research found a majority of Republican voters of all ages think the party could be more successful in national elections with more women and minority candidates, a view held by a larger share of voters 18 to 39.
About 64 percent of voters in that age group think more women nominees would help the GOP fare better in national elections, compared to 46 percent of voters 40 or older who share that view.
And about 68 percent of younger Republican voters think more racial and ethnic minorities would help the party, versus 49 percent of those 40 and older.
Young voters with an open mind about the types of candidates they’d like to see means parties may adjust their selections to win over this ever-growing demographic. But as a report from the College Republicans, “Grand Old Party for a Brand New Generation,” concludes, it’s about more than just fitting the mold.
“To shed the brand of being old-fashioned, the GOP need not just find young candidates who can make pop culture references with ease,” the report said. “Instead, candidates need to be able to show that they understand the problems young people face when it comes to economic opportunity and have a plan to break down the barriers that are standing in their way.”
As Republicans look to 2014 as an opportunity to take control of the U.S. Senate, candidate choices could become crucial in whether the party is successful. Recent history shows voters are increasingly open to supporting congressional candidates who don’t fit political stereotypes: In 2011, Rep. Allen West, R-Fla., became the first Republican to join the Congressional Black Caucus since 1997, and the current Congress has 20 female senators, the most in the nation’s history,
In Pennsylvania, the Republican Party has no female representatives at the national level. Inside the state House, the House Republican caucus has slightly more women than the Democrat caucus – about 19 percent compared to 17 percent, accounting for the 19-seat edge held by the GOP.
In the Senate, three female senators in the Republican Party compare with five across the aisle, making up 11 percent of the caucus versus about 22 percent.
In total, 17. 8 percent of the General Assembly are women, per the Center for Women and Politics at Chatham University.
Dovetailing with this diversity are active, young voters.
Whether the Republican Party listens to its younger iteration, though, may depend on how much they think those voters will turn out. According to Pew, about a third of the party’s voters are younger than 40.
Those voters, though, appear to want to see the tent open up to more nontraditional Republicans. About 45 percent of younger Republicans say the party is not “tolerant and open to all groups of people,” compared to 32 percent of older Republicans who share that view.
Pew’s research drew from a study conducted July 17-21, among 1,480 adults, including 497 Republican and Republican-leaning registered voters.
Dana Brown, executive director of the Pennsylvania Center for Women and Politics at Chatham University, said the Pew results are good news, because state parties may eventually choose more diverse candidates in response to voters’ desires.
In the past, parties, or even prospective female candidates themselves, may have held off out of fear of the “sexist voter” bias. But Brown’s research and others in the field show that’s not true, she said.
“When women do run for seats,” she said, “they tend to win or lose as t the same rates as men.”
They also prove to fundraise just as well as men, she said.
Despite this, picking non-traditional candidates may still be a slow change. The GOP, just like the Democrats, have to contend with closed primaries in Pennsylvania that typically see higher turnout from older, more traditional wings of the party – and the candidate selection process typically keeps that in mind, Brown said.
“Right now, as parties control a number of the nominating and gatekeeping aspects for candidate selection, it’ll still be a challenge to see some major changes quickly,” Brown said.
So while Republicans may continue to look to the party to break the mold, it still likely to take some time – at least until these young Republicans, and young Democrats, for that matter, can call their own shots.
Contact Melissa Daniels at [email protected]