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What millennials want to hear from politicians

By S.E. Cupp
updated 9:15 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • S.E. Cupp says the enormous millennial generation wants change and big ideas
  • She interviews one of the millennial Congress members, Aaron Schock of Illinois
  • Schock says GOP should emulate the sunny tone adopted by Ronald Reagan
  • He says Republicans can't just be anti-Democrats, they have to talk about what they're for

Editor's note: In the above video and the text below, Crossfire co-host S.E. Cupp sits down with a millennial congressman to ask how Republicans can win young voters. Rep. Aaron Schock, a Republican representing Illinois' 18th District, was elected to Congress at age 27. At 33, he's the second-youngest member of the House of Representatives, and the first born in the 1980s. This is part of a new series of interviews by Cupp called "Looking Ahead," for CNN.com. Follow her on Twitter: @secupp

(CNN) -- Millennials will represent nearly 40% of the voting population by the year 2020, and the race is on to win this crucial voting demographic.

To my eye, neither party has worked particularly hard to woo young people in the past. Democrats have pandered to them and Republicans have barely even acknowledged them.

But now, with so many up for grabs, and millennials shaping our lives in such important ways, pandering and avoidance won't cut it.

They aren't very impressed by government solutions to problems they've watched their idols in Silicon Valley solve, some without even a college degree. And they don't take kindly to being cut out of the political process or treated like children when it's their parents' generation that has created many of the problems (and debt) they will have to carry.

Over the past couple of years I've been looking at millennial trend lines and policies that may appeal to millennial values.

For Republicans, it won't just be about pushing a softer, kinder GOP. These young, hard-working, entrepreneurial go-getters want big ideas, and they want their big ideas empowered, not impeded. So I thought, who better to discuss this important demographic with than a millennial in Congress?

S.E. Cupp
S.E. Cupp

There aren't many -- but Rep. Aaron Schock, at 33, may just be the key to unlocking millennial votes for the GOP. After showing up early and crashing his office in the Cannon House Office Building while he was out, we got down to business.

S.E. Cupp: How does the GOP talk about the future in a way that attracts more millennial voters?

Aaron Schock: So, I think having candidates, conservative Republicans who talk about it in a positive way, in a Reagan-esque way, about there's a brighter day, this is our path to get there and much more optimistic view of the world is key. So not only the substance, but also tone I think is important. And the messenger is important.

Obviously being younger helps you with young people, they're more open to hear your message. But I don't think everybody in Congress or that runs for office has to be young to get the youth vote. But I do think a younger person has an advantage when they walk onto a college campus or an employer with young people in the office.

Cupp: And let's remind people, Reagan won the youth vote.

Schock: Reagan was a pretty cool guy. He came from Hollywood, he was a former actor. He was funny. He was very personable, even in his speeches he wasn't stoic. He wasn't mean. He was very positive, even about a tough time in the late '70s when he was running for president. So I think we need to keep that in mind as we go forward—not only do the issues matter but also the tone and the messenger matter.

Cupp: Let's talk about some of the issues and trend lines. Millennials are waiting longer to get married, and they are renting instead of buying houses that they can't afford -- probably good lessons learned from the mistakes of my generation and our parents.'

Should Republicans maybe work on tax reform that doesn't punish single renters, but rewards them for making fiscally responsible decisions?

Schock: Well I definitely think our policies here in Washington under Republican and Democrat administrations have always favored incentivizing families, people with young children.

Whether it be the child tax credit, whether it be tax incentives for you to be able to have day care for young children and I don't necessarily think that we have to do away with those policies, but I also think your view of the world changes your view on policy.

In other words, obviously like you, right now, we don't have children so we look at the world and say, 'Hey, why am I paying a higher effective tax rate? Because I don't have kids.' I live in a rural area, where most people own their homes. We don't have a very large percentage of renters.

When I serve with somebody like Charlie Rangel, who serves in New York City where the large percentage of his constituents are renters, he looks at me and says, 'Why should we have such a great incentive for people to own their own homes, when most of my constituents are never going to be able to own their own home? So your view of the world kind of shapes your view on policies.

I think what's important is that we as Republicans talk to young people about how we want them to have the choice to buy a home and want them to have the choice to save for their retirement.

In large part, people aren't buying a home, not 'cause they don't want one, but because they can't afford one right now.

Two reasons why: One, incomes are down and number two, because of the mortgage collapse, the bank regulations on what it takes to get a loan have been heightened.

You can't get a 0% or zero down mortgage, you've got to put 10 or 20% down. Well for a $200K starter home or a $100K starter home, that's 10 or 20,000 dollars. That's some serious money. And so it creates a bit of an obstacle for some people getting that starter home.

Cupp: Liberals like to point out the issues that drive conservatives apart, whether that's gay marriage, immigration or foreign policy. How do we respond in ways that show millennials we're intellectually diverse, but still cohesive?

Schock: The one thing that we are united on as a party is economic growth, and we're about reducing the size and scope of the federal government and the debt which we are accumulating. That is something that sets us apart from the Democratic Party.

Right now within the Democratic Party there is a huge war about what kind of reality we are in.

The Elizabeth Warrens (Democratic senator from Massachusetts) of the world are advocating for expanded benefits in Social Security, expanded benefits in Medicare even though those programs are going broke, and you have more moderate Democrats within the party that are saying, 'Wait a minute, a trillion dollars a year is too much. Social Security, Medicare are going broke, we need to make reforms.'

And so I point to the fact that even though there's division within the Republican Party we are far more together, moderates and conservatives, than the Democratic Party is on some of the biggest issues facing the country.

Cupp: Do you think that conservatives can win millennials by 2016?

Schock: Well I think we have to try. Obviously the goal is to get 100% of them. I don't go into an election with a defeatist mentality. The idea that any demographic isn't going to vote for me for Congress is pretty depressing. I think I'm going to get every vote. And I go everywhere.

So I think that's the vision our party has to have, that's the vision that our presidential nominee, I hope, has -- that every voter is a potential voter for him or her. And if we do that and we're inspirational about it and we're honest about why our positions are better than our Democratic colleagues then I think people will say, 'Ya know what, that's something I can vote for.' Not just vote against something but that's something I can vote for, and I think in the last couple of years our party has struggled a little bit with having a for-agenda.

Obviously we disagree heartily with the headlong rush that the President has made in advancing the size and scope of the government, in the spending authority that he's done and now with these executive orders that too often we spend our time just beating up on him and talking about what we don't like about what he's done. And that's important, we are the counterweight to him, with the legislative branch.

1984: Reagan jokes about Mondale's youth

We also have to spend time talking about what we're for. What our alternative agenda is so that people have something to vote for.

Cupp: Was the Republican National Committee smart to put the convention in Ohio?

Schock: Ohio's obviously a swing state, which is good. We're going to have a lot of young people there. The average age of a Republican congressman to a Democratic congressman is six years younger, so our delegation of congressmen that are there will be young.

Our leadership is young—John Boehner is 10 years younger than Nancy Pelosi, Kevin McCarthy is like 30 years younger than Steny Hoyer. We've got a young party, we need to remind people that.

Democrats have done a good job of saying that we're the old party, we're for rich people, this and that. Nonsense. Look at the House. We've increased our percentage of not only young people but also women and other minorities and that's good for both sides of the aisle.

Cupp: So for a time, you were the youngest member in the House. You have been unseated, though.

Schock: Patrick Murphy from Palm Beach area is the youngest member now, yes. Four years, I've passed the torch.

Cupp: To the kid. Why do you think so few millennials are in Congress now?

Schock: Well, I think first to be a good candidate you've got to be able to raise money, you've got to be able to have community support and so you don't have the Rolodex of people that are 10-20-30 years older.

You're not as well known in the community, you don't have the platform to launch from. But, six years ago there were four of us under the age of 40. I was 27.

This January, in the last cycle, we swore in 40 members under the age of 40—20 Republicans and 20 Democrats, so that is a marked improvement. It's still only 10% of the Congress but that has helped change the conversation here on the Hill at least looking at things longer-term.

So much of the frustration is that we're fighting over what's going to happen in six months, what's going to happen next year. And so many of our problems are 10 and 20, 30 years out. We need to be thinking about how strategically we're going to fix (them).

Cupp: What would you tell a millennial who is thinking of public service?

Schock: What happens in Washington, what happens in local government absolutely impacts you immediately.

This is not some philanthropic cause that you get involved in after you've had a career and a family, this is something that you need to get involved in and pay attention to now because these policies will impact not only what kind of retirement you have, but what kind of job environment you're going to have when you get out of high school or college.

So pay attention to who's representing you, pay attention to their votes and their position on issues. Second, your involvement can absolutely make a difference. My first state rep race vote, 40,000 voters, I won by 235 votes. Elections can be very, very close. We saw that in the Bush versus Gore race. We've seen it in congressional race after congressional race that get decided by a few hundred votes.

So young people can influence the process, not just by their own vote, but oftentimes they have parents or aunts or uncles that have become complacent. If you vote and if you get others to vote you're having a significant difference in the outcome.

Read S.E. Cupp's interview with Scott Walker

Read CNNOpinion's new Flipboard magazine

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

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