by Alex Smith

(CNN) — The Republican Party brand has become tarnished among young adults.

Once the party of Reagan, who won the youth vote by 19 points in his reelection campaign, we’ve slowly lost our connection with the young. The GOP, which was once a proud reference to the “Grand Old Party,” has certainly lost some of its grandeur.

If recent elections are any indication, then perception has become reality. President Barack Obama won 5 million more votes than Gov. Mitt Romney among voters under the age of 30 in the 2012 presidential election. Despite Romney’s significant edge in other age groups, the youth vote proved decisive. Moreover, this was actually an improvement from 2008, when Obama won the youth vote by a 2-to-1 margin.

The Republican Party has won the youth vote before and can absolutely win it again. But it will take significant work to refine our message, and improve how and where we communicate.

To that end, the College Republican National Committee on Monday released a detailed report — based on data collected from numerous focus groups and polls — to find out what went wrong in 2012. But, more importantly, we are more interested in how to win in the future.

The report reveals that Republicans have a lot of work to do to repair their image among young adults. Our focus groups revealed that young, “winnable” Obama voters tended to associate the GOP with words like “close-minded,” “old-fashioned” and even “racist.”

Yet despite the admittedly dismal present situation, the report also highlights incredible opportunities for improvement. In no way is this a eulogy for the GOP; rather, this is a loud and clear wake-up call for change. Fortunately for us, the timing couldn’t be better; while Republicans face a daunting brand problem, young voters still aren’t enamored of Democrats in general or President Obama in particular.

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