Younger voters are suspicious of the GOP

  • Article by: WY SPANO
  • Updated: September 1, 2008 - 8:19 PM

They look at the party and they see a lack of integrity -- even for politics.

The Republican Party needs some serious changing. You might not agree with me that Republicans are going to lose huge in the upcoming election -- though trust me, they are -- but you do have to agree, if you read the polls, that young people are trending overwhelmingly toward Democrats. That trend will eventually do Republicans in, even if it doesn't happen this election. So for the long-term health of the Republican Party, change is needed.

Long ago, I was a Republican. These days I'm identified as a Democratic partisan and analyst. But I began my civic and political career as an endorsed Republican candidate for the Legislature and as an every-time delegate to the state conventions during the '60s. I switched parties in 1972 because I was uncomfortable as a Republican but unwilling to choose independence or quietude. Despite the switch, I continued to admire many Republicans with whom I had worked -- people like former Minnesota Gov. Arne Carlson, former Gov. Al Quie and particularly former Gov. Elmer L. Andersen, who died in 2004 at the age of 95. A feature of all three of these men -- and many other Republican officeholders and operatives of the time -- was staunch integrity.

Today many of the young people I meet think of the Republican Party as lacking in integrity.

For example, they see the Republican Party as holding positions that make no sense to them, like being antigay and opposing stem-cell research and supporting creationism. They conclude that the party supports these things because a small but powerful group in the party insists on them, not because most people would, or could, agree with them. An antigay party is particularly troublesome to the young. Most of them have a friend, family member, coworker or colleague who's gay, none of whom has ever threatened their own marriages or sexuality.

The young are also troubled about what they hear from Republican officeholders. In truth, they, like most people, seem to think both sides wander from the truth, but they're beginning to believe Republicans do it more. They have ample evidence.

Consider global warming: We now know this administration altered scientific reports to bolster the idea that global warming is bogus. Most young people I talk to find the very idea of politicized science anathema. And they do believe, and worry about, the threat of global warming.

How about the Department of Justice? Turns out justice was also a politicized concept, and most young people don't think that's right, either.

In campaigning, Republicans seem, to the more interested young I encounter, incredibly better at and more willing to use dirty tricks. Indeed, the Republican ethic seems to be to win at any cost, that the end indeed does justify the means, and that fair play is for sissies.

I fully understand that Democrats have their share of people who lack integrity. Democrats are not without moats in their eyes. But the Republican Party has the more serious integrity problem and, in this election, is going to suffer because of it.

In the minds of many young people, the Republican Party and its candidates and officeholders have been the hands-down leaders in leaching the honor from public service. I hope Republican delegates can begin to insist on greater integrity from their campaigns and representatives in government. We need two parties that give us morally upright leadership, and, in our system, the Republican Party has to be one of them.

Wy Spano, St. Paul, is a political analyst and director of the Masters Program in Advocacy and Political Leadership at the University of Minnesota, Duluth.

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