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Turning Point: Is the Youth Vote Really All That Liberal?

04-28-2016
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Youth vote, Charlie Kirk, millennials

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- While the Grand Old Party isn't known for reaching the young, there's a conservative youth movement that's alive and growing.

Turning Point USA is just four years old and already has started chapters on more than 1,000 college campuses across the country.

A Real 'Turning Point'

At the recent Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, hundreds of college students rallied around the Turning Point stage and nearby tables, waving political signs and passing out "Big Government Sucks" buttons and stickers.

"The thing we're trying to do is get out there, be that ground game that Obama was doing in 2008 and 2012 and getting out there, being on campuses and hitting the liberals where it hurts," Creighton University student Justin Carrizales told CBN News.

Entrepreneur Charlie Kirk founded Turning Point in 2012. As a high school senior he found himself disappointed when he asked national conservative leaders about resources for youth outreach.

"I asked, 'What do we have to collect data to start chapters, train activists, persuade young high school and college students?'" he said. "And they really didn't have a very good answer."

Kirk was also concerned about the effective youth outreach organized by liberals.

"We're up against unparalleled opposition, a well-oiled machine that George Soros and the Left have pumped in hundreds of millions of dollars over the last 10 years," he said.

Targeting the Young Mind

Turning Point's strategy is laborious but effective. It centers on conversations with college students, many of whom have never been exposed to the intellectual rigor behind conservative principles.

Kirk estimates that Turning Point staff and volunteers engage in hundreds of thousands of such conversations every day as they set up tables in student centers on campuses.  

He said that despite the outpouring of support for socialist candidate Bernie Sanders, many youth are independent and open to a variety of ideas.

"It's by no means a majority of the youth vote is going to the left," he said. "Nor do they endorse those ideas whole-heartedly."

CBN News visited Turning Point at Ohio State University in Columbus.

"It's a lot of young people who are liberal, who identify as liberal, but what you'll find is that most of these people when you ask them why they believe certain things, what they really want is less government in their lives," Turning Point Field Director Matt Masucci explained.

The Winning Points

Kirk has shrewdly assessed that small government is a winning point for conservatives trying to influence young minds. He's also decided to leave the social issues for his liberal opponents.

"They come in and talk about gay marriage, abortion, and drug legalization. That's what they can win on," he said. "Well, let's talk about corruption in government, taxes being too high, and government being too big."

Kirk's 2016 plan is focused on influencing higher education. He wants to double his full-time field staff to 100 by this summer and start a chapter on every major campus in key voting states like Florida, Ohio, and Virginia.

His strategy includes selling conservative values through non-stop social media and a heavy use of pop culture. At Cedarville University, Turning Point volunteer Carly Conley uses different themes every week, including "The Healthcare Games," "Game of Loans," and "iCapitalism."

Students want to know what the theme of the week is, she said.

"People just love it, using what Millennials know and what Millennials love to get them engaged," she said. "It's so fun to watch."

Facing Powerful Forces

But Turning Point is up against powerful forces, like the media, Hollywood, and what Kirk considers his chief opponent: academia.

"The vast majority of them {professors} will teach leftist dogma as facts, will use their position of influence, using grade point leveraging, through ostracizing students, isolating them, making them feel alone, making them feel stupid, not taking their facts or opinions seriously," he said.

At the least, research shows that liberal professors dominate college campuses. A recent UCLA Higher Education Research Institute study indicated that professors who identity as liberal outnumber those who identity as conservative by a ratio of 5 to 1.

Election experts and political leaders agree -- the youth vote is key to political survival.

"If you're not always training the next generation, how do you ever pass on the legacy?" Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., told CBN News.

Reclaiming the Youth Vote

In 2012, President Barack Obama captured two-thirds of the youth vote. Analysts believe Mitt Romney would have won if he had only split that vote with Obama.

Kirk says today's young people want a presidential candidate who is authentic, likeable, and can relate to their world.

"So when a candidate is trying to communicate with a young audience and they don't know the basic terms of vocabulary--Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Kanye West, the Kardashians, Taylor Swift -- that doesn't make you very likeable," Kirk said.

Turning Point doesn't campaign for or promote candidates. But its ability to win over young minds to a conservative worldview could affect this election and many more in the years to come.

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