GOP Needs Pop Culture to Attract Youth Vote
Two things keep Jason Mattera up at night. One is the fear that Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano could be on the next season of Dancing With the Stars. The other is the thought that President Obama could be re-elected in 2012.
Mattera says he’ll reconcile with the former. But the latter, he says, is serious -- dead, dead serious.
At the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on Feb. 10, Mattera and a panel of conservatives met to discuss how Republicans can engage America’s youth through pop culture, stating that if the GOP doesn’t start using Hollywood to its advantage, Obama’s re-election will become more likely.
The panel consisted of Mattera, author of the New York Times bestseller Obama Zombies: How the Liberal Machine Brainwashed My Generation, actor Stephen Baldwin, and Kevin McCullough, host of the Kevin McCullough Show.
Millennials, the generation consisting of 18- to 29-year-olds, make up the single-largest voting cohort, with more than 41.9 million eligible to vote in November. And while young voters had a substantial impact on Obama’s election four years ago, conservatives are looking to swing them toward the right this year.
“President Obama is the first American Idol president,” Mattera said. “What actually got him and hoisted him onto the American public, if we go back and look, it wasn’t because he had these great policy ideas. If we look back, what really got Barack Obama thrusted into stardom is he was a pop-cultural icon.”
Politics, Mattera said, is influenced by culture, and Hollywood has been an agent for change in Washington since before Ronald Reagan combined acting with politics.
“Robert Downey, Jr., with one tweet, would have more of an influence than Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich or Mitt Romney combined,” said Steven Crowder, a Fox News contributor and actor. And it was the liberals who created that as a machine, he said.
Traditionally, the panelists said, Hollywood has had a reputation for pursuing a liberal agenda. So if conservatives hope to win in 2012, they need to begin working toward more of an emotional appeal and less of a logical one.
A key way conservatives can use pop culture to their advantage is to make conservatism relevant to those under 30, Mattera said.
“We don’t have to talk about the Constitution and George Washington and the Federalist Papers,” he said. “We just talk about Apple products and say because of capitalism you have your iPhone today.”
There are many voters who don’t identify with either the left or the right, and it is up to conservatives to reach those who are not convinced, McCullough said.
In the 2008 presidential election, Baldwin said, a vast amount of people were convinced of something that wasn’t true.
In addition to reaching out through pop culture, McCullough said conservatives need to recognize whom they are talking to and whether they are helping them to understand what they’re saying. In 2008, he said, Barack Obama did just that.
“He wasn’t talking about policies or introducing programs,” Mattera said. “He was on the couch with Oprah Winfrey, he was dancing on stage with Ellen DeGeneres. He was hosting concerts with LeBron James and Jay-Z. The reason he beat Clinton in a lot of these important primary states is because he was having free Dave Matthews Band concerts.”
The left, Mattera said, has always understood that the way to a person’s vote is through celebrities and Hollywood. But, he said, there aren’t many people in Hollywood who are “out” as conservative supporters. Some actors, including Gary Sinise and Jon Voight, have voiced their positions as strong conservatives, but there are many more who remain in the closet, he and Crowder said.
“Conservative politicians have to identify those who are already out or are willing to take a message of freedom and mass popularize it in a general election and then use them -- whether they’re artists, whether they’re actors, whether they’re screen writers. And they should be maximized,” Mattera said.
With the presidential election only nine months away, the panel agreed that there is no Republican candidate who appears to be conversing with pop culture.
Kathryn DeLong, a senior at SUNY Buffalo, attended the panel and agreed that conservatives need to use Hollywood to their advantage. But she said she believes social media will make the biggest impact.
Mattera, however, disagrees, saying that satire and humor will make the biggest impact on young voters. He believes that one of the biggest spokesmen for the left today is Jon Stewart.
“To get in the hearts and minds of especially young people, you’ve got to do it through comedy, you’ve got to do it through satire, you’ve got to be engaging,” he said. “They’re not going to read a 25-page policy paper on why a particular issue they should take.”
Baldwin, Mattera and McCullough agreed that engaging in pop culture and Hollywood will have a positive impact on the results of the presidential election.
“While we were steamrolled in 2008 by the Hollywood crowd and just completely put aside pop culture, we can’t let that happen again,” Mattera said. “America can’t survive if we have another four years of Barack Obama.”