Nate Cohn considers Rand Paul’s chances at appealing to younger voters. He thinks Paul is a bad fit with Millennials, but he cites some interesting information about their foreign policy views:
Paul also advocates a less aggressive, less costly foreign policy. Millennial voters, having come of age during the Iraq War and without memory of the Cold War, tend to agree: Just 44 percent of 18-29 year olds think the best way to ensure peace is through military strength, compared to 63 percent of voters over age 50. The age gap on foreign policy is even more evident when considering specific policies. Only 28 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds want to “get tough” with China, while twice as many—55 percent—of voters over age 30 support getting tougher with China. Similarly, while 30 percent of voters over age 30 would prioritize avoiding a conflict with Iran over taking a “firm stand” against the country, 49 percent of young voters would prioritize avoiding war.
That confirms my impression that most younger voters are significantly less hawkish overall. As these results suggest, Millennials have much less interest in confrontational and aggressive foreign policy as such. Because of this, most Millennials will likely continue to be repelled by a party that makes hard-line foreign policy one of its chief defining traits. Millennials mostly don’t remember any other Republican president other than George W. Bush. All of the many different failings of his administration have soured most of them on the GOP, and the Iraq war was among the most significant and disastrous of those failings. While older generations can remember an era when Republicans were mostly competent stewards of national security and the economy, Millennials have no personal experience of Republican competence at the national level, and many of them may have a hard time believing that such a thing is possible.
It’s possible that Millennials are liberal and secular enough that Democratic candidates will continue have a natural advantage with this cohort no matter what Republicans try to offer. It’s also possible that this cohort has become a reliably Democratic voting bloc and won’t change its voting habits now they have been reinforced over three or four elections. The question isn’t whether a Republican candidate could win the Millennial vote, which seems unrealistic at this point, but whether there is someone in the party who stands a good chance of reducing the gap from 20+ points to something closer to 5 or 10. Would someone like Paul be able to reduce the gap? Maybe. Paul seems to be the only one who is interested in making the effort, and none of his possible 2016 rivals seems to have the first clue what Millennials prefer. For instance, Rubio is younger than Paul, but he doesn’t seem to understand most younger voters at all. It’s true that Millennials are more liberal than older voters, and they are more inclined to favor a more activist government on domestic issues. That makes it hard to see how most of them will be drawn to Paul’s “libertarian populism.” On the other hand, other national Republicans have even less to offer these voters, and on foreign policy they promise to return to the policies that contributed to Millennials’ alienation from the GOP in the first place.