By Yunita Ong
WASHINGTON — If former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush wants to be the United States’s next president, experts say he will have to work hard to win over the growing voter bloc of millennials.
“Millennials are the future of this country – there are 93 million of us, 50 million of eligible voting age, with another 12,000 turning 18 everyday,” said Ashley Spillane, president of Rock the Vote, a non-partisan group that encourages youth to show up at the ballot box.
The youth vote played a part in Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s defeat in 2012. A post-election analysis by Tufts University argued that if half of young voters in four swing states had switched their vote, Romney could have secured the White House.
In 2016, millennials could also obstruct Bush’s path to becoming the Republican nominee.
How millennials could hurt Bush
At this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference, several young Republicans criticized Bush’s ties to his father and brother – both past presidents – and his moderate policies.
“The media has swayed young people into having a negative impression of the Bush name, which is why a lot of young people here at CPAC have swung towards Rand Paul and those with more libertarian views,” Blake Glinn, a Michigan State University freshman, observed.
A recent graduate from East Carolina University in North Carolina, Pablo Carvajal, said: “These dynastic lines of politicians that Americans are being soft towards is embarrassing due to our history against monarchies and tyrannies.”
“He’s funneled in all the lobbyists and paid young people to wear his stickers,” Daniel Rufty, a University of North Carolina law student. “He speaks to the old guard, but it’s time for us young people to rise.”
Bush came in fifth in the conference’s straw poll behind more conservative candidates like Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Gov. Ted Cruz of Texas, which may show an increasing number of youth holding conservative views.
Although millennial Republicans are more liberal than their older counterparts they are more conservative than Democrats across the same age groups, said a 2014 Pew Research report .
“About a third of all millennials are Republicans and within that group you have an increasingly diverse combination of views on social issues such as conservatism, liberalism, economic libertarianism,” said Morley Winograd, co-author of a 2011 book “Millennial Momentum: How a New Generation is Remaking America.”
Those complicated views could fragment the millennial voter base and hurt the former Florida governor during the primaries.
Betting on Bush
Bush might have it easier if he makes it past the primaries because millennials at large may support his moderate position. Another Pew Research report last year found that 41 percent of millennials are mostly or consistently liberal regarding issues like same-sex marriage and the environment.
Bush has supported a legal pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and BuzzFeed reported in February that he could be “supportive at best and agnostic at worst” about gay marriage.
Bush’s message of job growth and educational opportunities could resonate with young voters, many of whom are worried about sky-high student loan debt and unemployment post-college, said Sean Foreman, a political science professor at Barry University in Florida.
One believer in Bush is Lucas Agnew, who set up a PAC called Millennials for Jeb in January to rally support for Bush from youth across the nation.
Agnew, a senior at California’s Claremont-McKenna College, believes that if millennials can look past the former governor’s last name, they would rally behind his policy standpoints.
“Bush has a strong shot as soon has he gets to the general elections because he’s running on issues strong on his record,” Agnew said.
For now, the presumptive GOP front-runner faces a dilemma while marketing himself to millennials within his party and across party lines, Winograd said.
“If he sticks to his guns, he might fail to get the Republican nomination,” he said. “Or he may change his position – but potentially lose millennials [across the nation].”