No matter their opinions on the party, Americans are watching the Republican primary debates -- and that includes many young Americans. The September 16 GOP debate averaged 23 million viewers, making it the most watched event in CNN's history, and that audience included 2.74 million viewers between the ages of 18 and 34. But that does not mean that those viewers will support Republicans next November. In order to capture hearts and minds, and not just spectators, tonight's GOP economic debate will need to make a sharp pivot from the last two.
Despite the record number of viewers, the last GOP debate did not offer substance. The bickering, ad hominem attacks and all-around political theatre is great entertainment but not sufficient to inspire voters to support a platform. When they did get into policy, the Republican candidates spent their (lengthy) time discussing border walls and controlling women's health decisions. The most apt response to this came from one of the candidates, Ohio Governor John Kasich, who stated, "If I were sitting at home and watching this back and forth, I would be inclined to turn it off."
Too many serious issues went unaddressed. Syrian refugees are seeking safety in other nations, including our own -- prompting an international conversation on the changing nature of refugees. The continued threat of climate change will affect the livelihood of current and future generations. Many young Americans are facing unequal access to opportunity in a society plagued by runaway economic inequality. None of these issues were even brought up in the last debate.
Theses candidates are missing the issues and policies that matter to young people -- the largest potential voting bloc in the American electorate. At the Roosevelt Network, we're crowdsourcing a new agenda from more than 1,000 young people across the country. Our blueprint -- to be released in the coming months -- will give insight into what the largest generation of Americans really wants in this election.
From our survey, we know that young people have a set of policy priorities they want candidates to cover in an economic debate. Young people are concerned about economic inequality and the ever-increasing role of the financial sector in our economy. They want to hear concrete plans to reform the tax code to promote opportunity for all. Being on the frontlines of technology and the economy, they want to hear candidates discuss the role that companies like Uber and Airbnb should be playing in a recovering economy. In addition, their views of a more prosperous economic future are intersectional: The candidates would be sorely mistaken if they left out racial justice and education when creating a platform for a stronger economy.
Above all, the GOP candidates need to prove that they are serious about governing. The party's track record is weak when it comes to what young people care about the most: the ability to get things done. The GOP must prove that it can move past threatening government shutdowns, denial of humans' role in climate change, and unwillingness to compromise to gain more support.
A word of advice to the candidates before the upcoming debate: Drop the antics and step up on policy.