“If you want something said, ask a man. If you want something done, ask a woman.”
These words spoken by Republican long-shot Nikki Haley took over TikTok the morning after the first Republican primary debate, with edits of the politician amassing hundreds of thousands of views. The underlying feminist tone from Haley is in sharp contrast to the increasingly conservative Republican Party. However, it demonstrates what Haley is doing differently from Republicans, appealing to the moderate Generation Z audience.
The Gen Z vote is becoming more influential with every election, with over 27% of people aged 18-29 participating in the last midterm election. This turnout was the second highest in almost 30 years, and political participation in young people is only set to rise in 2024.
Before and after the debates, Haley has consistently polled below 10%, struggling to beat out the more recognizable candidates like Ron DeSantis or Donald Trump. As Gen Z’s political participation rises, it’s clear that Haley’s strategy includes appealing to young Republicans who are dissatisfied with the increasingly right-wing platform that Republicans are running on.
72% of Gen Z voters identify as pro-choice, and abortion was one of the most decisive and influential issues during the 2022 midterm election. Many conservative, pro-life Republican candidates who were expected to win their elections lost to their pro-choice opponents.
These results seem to have influenced Haley’s position on the issue, and while she identifies strongly as pro-life, she set herself apart in the debate from her ultra-conservative peers, like Mike Pence.
During the debate, Haley called out many of the other candidates for promising to sign in federal abortion restrictions, saying that there are simply not enough votes in Congress for that kind of legislation to even reach the Oval Office. Haley appears to be trying to appeal to Gen Z Republicans by saying in the debate, “Don’t make women feel like they have to decide on this issue when you know we don’t have 60 Senate votes.”
By refusing to support a national protection of abortion or a national ban, she allows the topic to become a non-issue in her campaign, whereas many of her challenger’s staunch opinions on the topic might dissuade many of their potential moderate voters. Not only is Haley appealing to young Republicans who don’t believe in restrictive abortion bans, but she also makes herself more appealing as a general candidate to run against Biden.
Outside of her performance in the primary, Haley’s other qualities and past experience make her desirable to potential young voters as well. Trump still holds tremendous power in the Republican Party, and in the debate, she advertised her work under the Trump administration as ambassador to the United Nations. Her work with Trump and the admission during the debate that she would endorse him should he win the primaries may made her more likable to “Make American Great Again” enthusiasts, as opposed to candidates like Chris Christie who are vehemently anti-Trump.
However, Haley has some advantages in this race that her former boss does not, such as her age and her undefeated status in elections. While Haley is not the youngest in the race at 51 years old, she still makes her age a significant part of her campaign, even advocating for mental competency tests for politicians over a certain age.
Many Americans, especially the youth, are dissatisfied with the ages of current politicians, mainly including the front runners for 2024, Biden and Trump. Additionally, Haley has not lost any election she has run for, a fact she likes to tout whenever available. This sharply contrasts Trump’s history, as many of the individuals he endorsed for the 2022 midterms lost their elections.
Despite the fact that only 17% of Gen Z voters registered as republican in 2022, 52% identified themselves as independents, showing that Gen Z cares more about individual politicians and their stances than their party. This will be especially important during the upcoming election, since 75% of Americans said they want a president under the age of 65. Haley’s age and moderate views may convince many young voters to overlook her party identification and vote for her in order to avoid another 4 years of a Biden presidency, in which he would be the oldest president at 81 years old.
Overall, it’s clear that Haley used the primary as a way to boost her national recognition, which is one of her most significant weaknesses. By portraying herself as a young, moderate Republican, she likely hopes to gain popularity among Gen Z, which was a successful endeavor based on the number of views she could amass on TikTok shortly after the debate.
While Haley’s chances of being the republican nominee for president in the 2024 election is slim, she has a much better chance of being Trump’s vice presidential pick. Her more moderate stances would make a Trump ticket more appealing to swing voters. If the next election is as contentious and close as the last midterm was, it’s important for the republican party to appeal to swing voters and elevate moderate politicians now more than ever.