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It’s getting a little tough for Republicans to bring millennials into the Grand Old Party using Ronald Reagan as the lure, since most of that trendy audience wasn’t, you know, alive during the Gipper’s White House years.

So what’s a Republican to do?

That was the first question raised Saturday morning at the Northeast Republican Leadership Conference during a workshop with more than 100 attendees. The issue? How to reach millennial voters and get them engaged in not just politics (clearly a problem in itself) but in Republican politics.

Four established young GOP women discussed at the Sheraton Downtown Philadelphia how Republican candidates can meet millennials on their terms, and change the language they use when reaching out to young people without relying on social media advertising as their only crutch. On the panel were:

  • Martina White, of Northeast Philly, who recently won a seat in the House of Representatives and became the first Republican to represent her district in more than 20 years
  • Alex Smith, chairwoman of the National College Republicans
  • Marilinda Garcia, a New Hampshire politician who won her first seat in state politics in her mid-20s
  • Saira Blair, an 18-year-old West Virginia University student who just became the youngest lawmaker in the country

Here are five ways the panel discussed that the GOP can better reach millennial voters, especially with the 2016 presidential race looming:

1. Stop talking about figures and pick issues

The panel led off with a question about the best ways to communicate with young voters without dating the party by talking about conservative figureheads like Reagan, who is “more of an idea” for young people who weren’t alive when he was leading the country.

Blair said one of her biggest tips for the room is to look away from particular figures as a whole, avoid generalities and get their message across through showing voters — not telling them. She said she was able to convert friends by showing them the ever-rising National Debt Clock. 

“When you watch how fast that’s growing, they can see the debt piling up and you get into their mind that this is the debt that’s on your back and will be on your children’s backs,” she said. “It’s relatable, it’s the future and it’s also right now.”

2. Like Uber, but for Republicans

Garcia said the best way to engage with young voters is to tell them that things they depend on could change with increase federal and state regulations that come along with big government.

“It takes something that’s relevant to their lives, something they incorporate and that they want immediately,” she said. “We’re a generation of action. We want it at our fingertips. You shouldn’t allow them to put you in a box immediately.”

3. Open your checkbooks to young candidates

Smith, the chairwoman of College Republicans, said something none of the politicians on stage would: We need your money.

“Show up with your dollars for these candidates,” she said. “Women candidates, especially young women candidates, are perennially underfunded. Support them while they’re in office, because it’s a really hard road to get there.”

4. Meet millennials where they are

Dear Republicans: No young people are going to come to your spaghetti dinner to learn more about the party. Garcia said instead of holding traditional dinners and events that put the onus on young people to show up, meet them where they are.

One of the most successful events she used to get her message out to young voters happened at a 5K. Her staff sponsored the race, wore their campaign T-shirts, ran the race, collected donations for the charity that the race benefitted and then pushed their values and messaging to voters who’d already engaged with them at the 5K itself.

“It’s also very important to understand what motivates them and what makes them tick,” she said. “They’re very inspired by causes they really want to make a difference in their communities and the world at large… You have to find them where they’re at. Find something with a cause.”

5. Make more commercials like this

YouTube video

Remember this? It’s the Say Yes to Tom Corbett ad created by College Republicans that was aimed at mobilizing young voters in Pennsylvania through spoofing a TLC show about wedding dresses. The group launched a number of commercials on YouTube in order to reach young voters in ways not including network TV ads and direct mail.

“We are obsessed with finding new and relevant ways to communicate with millennials after 2012,” she said. “It’s not that all millennials are liberal or have left-leanings. As a group, I think they’re more conservative than you might think. They’re very much in favor of more limited or smaller government… the disconnect comes when we try to connect that with the Republican party.”

(FWIW, a spokeswoman for Gov. Wolf’s campaign called the above ad “insulting, patronizing and a good example of why young people, especially women, don’t support Republicans.”)

Photo by Bobby Chen

Anna Orso was a reporter/curator at Billy Penn from 2014 to 2017.