WASHINGTON – Republicans are on the losing side of one of the biggest demographic shifts of the past 20 years: A growing generation of young people – Millennials and Gen Z voters – have turned to the left and have set its sights on the Democratic Party.
Swimming against the grain, Republicans are wooing conservative youth in hopes of closing the gaping gap between the parties, even though they have little hope of eliminating it.
“There is no doubt that this will be an uphill battle with young people,” said Andrew Kolvet, spokesperson for Turning Point USA, a conservative student-focused group that has just launched its own live streaming platform. . “But there is emerging optimism on the conservative side. We are finally starting to fight. “
Republicans are at a sharp disadvantage among younger voters – Democrats in 2020 won their support by around 25 percentage points – in part because a majority believe progressive policies best meet their economic needs. The anti-immigrant rhetoric of top GOP leaders, coupled with support for white nationalists, has not helped the most racially diverse generation in U.S. history: roughly 45% of millennials (those born between 1981 and 1996 ) and nearly half of Gen Z (born after 1996) are people of color, compared to 30% of baby boomers.
Hostility to Donald Trump has been a powerful political motivator that has led to an increase in participation and political activism among young progressives. But he also helped bring new conservative voters into politics, including young people who responded to Trump’s anti-establishment message.
“Trump certainly has an influence on Republican politics, more positive than negative,” said Elora Moolenaar, 22, from San Diego and Charlottesville youth coordinator for GOP candidate for Virginia GOP governor Glenn Youngkin. “He created a lot of enthusiasm. Prior to 2015-16, young people weren’t interested in politics – until Trump came along.
Turning Point USA, founded in 2012, experienced a boom during the Trump era. Some of its events now attract thousands of high school and college students from across the country, compared to hundreds before Trump.
But not all young people drawn to the GOP are Trump loyalists. In fact, polls suggest that Millennials and Gen Z Republicans identify less with Trump and are more moderate than older Republicans on many issues.
The Republican National Committee is building on a campus organizing program put in place during the 2020 campaign, which it said was the largest college program the party has hosted in recent years.
“The RNC remains committed to expanding our forays to the next generation of voters and reminding them that Republicans are fighting for their future,” said RNC spokeswoman Emma Vaughn.
The party is recruiting middle school and high school students for an organizing program on the ground to prepare them for the task at mid-term 2022.
Republicans were encouraged when Trump in 2020 won a surprisingly large share of the Latino vote, including young people – many drawn to his culturally conservative message, such as his opposition to abortion.
Enrique Govea Jr., a 26-year-old student at San Jose State University who is active in Young Americans for Liberty and Turning Point USA, grew up in the liberal Bay Area and was surprised to find himself around the Tories. when he went to University. He began to take more interest in politics after Trump’s election, although he had mixed feelings and did not initially support Trump as a candidate.
“I love that he’s bold and says what he thinks,” said Govea, who majored in political science and plans to work at the California assembly after graduating. “He says the quiet part out loud. “
Some Republicans are hoping the passage of time will improve their reputations with Millennials and Gen Z voters, based on the common assumption that voters tend to become more conservative as they age. However, polls indicate that millennials are not drifting to the right. A poll by the non-partisan Pew Research Center found that the share of millennials who said they held “mostly liberal” or “consistently liberal” views rose to 57% in 2017, from 41% in 2004.
In the 2020 presidential election, as youth turnout increased, Trump won 36% of the under-30s vote. It was 24 percentage points lower than Biden, who was almost 78 and no teen idol. Republicans in Congress did even worse: House GOP candidates garnered 31% of the Under-30 vote.
Republicans haven’t always been so disadvantaged with younger voters. In 1994, the GOP’s share of the youth vote for House candidates peaked at 51%. In 2000, parties were essentially tied among voters under 30 in the presidential election between Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore.
The youth vote began to tilt decisively in favor of Democrats in the 2004 presidential election, when young people tended to be against the war in Iraq; John Kerry won 54% of the Under 30 vote. Then came the Great Recession, which was a formative economic experience for millennial voters and also made many Republican economic policies worse.
David Winston, a Republican pollster, said his party was increasingly at a disadvantage among millennials because it failed to come up with clear solutions to their economic problems. Instead, he said, his party has focused too much on demonizing the solutions proposed by Democrats.
His advice to fellow Republicans: “Don’t tell young voters why the other side is horrible; define what would be your value to them.
What’s more, a post-election poll by Tufts University’s Civic Engagement Center suggests the GOP has failed to get its message out to young voters: it found 48% of young people had been contacted. by the Biden campaign or the Democratic Party. Party, compared to 31% who have heard of the Trump campaign or the GOP.
Like all generations, today’s young Republicans are not monolithic. GOP activists tend to be avid Trump fans, with many embracing some of the more controversial currents of Trumpism. Republicans at California College sparked controversy this summer when they invited Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Arizona, a Trump supporter who had partnered with a Holocaust denier and white supremacists, to take the lead. speech at a convention.
But a large part of young Republicans are less linked to Trumpism.
To track Trump’s influence on the GOP, Wall Street Journal-NBC News polls in recent years have asked Republicans whether they identify more with Trump or the Republican Party. In a September 2020 poll, more than half of all Republicans said they identified more with Trump than with the party, but among Republicans under 35, only 36% identified more with Trump.
Younger Republicans tend to be more moderate on politics than their elders on key issues. A 2020 Pew Research Center poll found that younger Republicans were more likely to believe that human activity plays a significant role in climate change: 29% of Millennials and Gen Z Republicans believe that, against 16% of baby boom Republicans. group and more.
And in another 2020 report, Pew said younger Republicans see more racial injustice than their elders: 43% of Gen Z Republicans think black people are treated less fairly than whites, compared to 20% of babies. – Republican boomers.
GOP pollster Whit Ayres said any perception that Republicans are intolerant is a big obstacle to reaching millennials. “Any post that appears intolerant of diversity and intolerant of people who are not white is a non-starter with the vast majority “of young people, he said.
Ayres, a 70-year-old lifelong Republican, is at the forefront of the partisan generation gap against the GOP. He has five Millennials, aged 28 to 38, four of whom are married. None of them identify as Republican.
“The fact that so few millennials are ready to identify as Republicans is of great concern to the long-term health of the party,” Ayres said.
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