The College Republican National Committee has done their own postmortem for the 2012 election among young voters and the data is not good for Republicans. The GOP has a serious image problem among young people, and on several key issues the party is out of line with the Millennial generation.

The part that really stood out to me, though, was the conclusion that opposition to same-sex marriage is a deal breaker for many young voters.

Surveys have consistently shown that gay marriage is not as important an issue as jobs and the economy to young voters. Yet it was unmistakable in the focus groups that gay marriage was a reason many of these young voters disliked the GOP. [...]

The answer should concern Republicans, but not completely discourage them from reaching out to young voters. Among those respondents who said that same-sex marriage should be legal (a full 44% of young voters), half said that they would probably or definitely not vote for a candidate with whom they disagreed on same-sex marriage, even if they were in agreement on taxes, defense, immigration, and spending. But among those young voters who took the “let states decide” approach to marriage (some 26% of those surveyed), only 12% viewed opposition to same-sex marriage as a reason they probably or definitely would not vote for a candidate.

Taking the sample as a whole, about a quarter (26%) of young people say they’d probably or definitely not vote for a candidate who opposes gay marriage even if they were in agreement on many other issues. That opposition to gay marriage is a “deal breaker” to one out of four young voters represents neither a hopeless situation for the GOP nor a great one.

This shows that polls asking what issues are “most important” or the “biggest problems” can be misleading.

For an extreme example, think of slavery. If asked, I suspect no one would say opposing slavery is one of the most important problems facing the country right now, but I suspect the vast majority would immediately disqualify any candidate who took a pro-slavery stance. There are many settled political issues that are no longer “important,” but that being on the wrong side of would be political suicide.

Support for marriage equality is not technically a “top issue” for many young voters, it is actually something far more significant. It is now a basic prerequisite for being acceptable.

Given the trend line on support for marriage equality, this is going to a huge problem for the GOP moving forward if they don’t change their position quickly.

Photo by darcyandkat under Creative Commons license