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6 Reasons Why the GOP Has Lost the Youth Vote

The popular vote in the 2020 presidential election wasn't nearly as close as it seemed in the days following November 3rd. President Joe Biden ended up winning by more than 7 million votes, about 4.5%. Biden did better than Hillary Clinton with a number of demographic groups, including Baby Boomers, but young voters were largely responsible for Biden's large popular vote advantage. Among Generation Z [18-24 YO] he won 65-31% and among the larger 18-29 YO cohort [Gen Z and younger Millennials] he won 60-36%. And the turnout among younger voters was about 10 points higher than in 2016.

There are a number of reasons that younger voters showed up at the polls in 2020 and opposed Donald Trump and they will broadly impact the Republican Party going forward. Millenials and Gen Z didn't just reject Trump; they rejected the policies and philosophies he espoused and they go to the heart of what the Party has come to represent. And contrary to what many believe, it wasn't always this way. The GOP used to own a big chunk of the youth vote, often winning it in presidential elections.

Washington Post: "Dwight D. Eisenhower twice carried the youngest voters decisively. In 1984, Ronald Reagan carried 18- to 24-year-olds, 61 to 39 percent — four points more than his overall margin of victory. And in 1988, Democrat Michael Dukakis did better with the elderly than he did with America’s youngest voters. As recently as 2000, George W. Bush won the same percentage (47) of the 18- to 24-year-old vote as he did of voters over 65."

Since 2000, Republicans have seen younger voters drift away as their priorities and platform came to reflect the combined influences of evangelical Christians, white nationalists, science-deniers, and antigovernment cranks. For a variety of reasons Gen Z and Millenials now view the GOP as out of touch with their values and the modern world.

1. Globalism: Donald Trump's anti-globalism message doesn't resonate with many younger voters who grew up in the digital age. Technology has made the world much, much smaller and they are comfortable in a globalized environment. TikTok might seem an existential threat to Boomers, but it's just another video sharing platform to younger folks. Gen Z is the "model UN" generation; they shop globally, work for multinational corporations, travel abroad, and game with folks from China, India and France. To them, globalism isn't a philosophy or a choice, it's a description of the modern world.

2. Racism, homophobia, and xenophobia: America's demographics have been changing for decades and Millenials and Gen Z inhabit a much more diverse world than their parents. I have been teaching for 31 years and the single most noticeable change over the last three decades is that college students today view race, ethnicity, gender identity, and religion [or lack of it] as largely irrelevant to a person's character. They view America's growing diversity as a strength and bigotry as a plague that afflicts the old and uneducated.

Gen Z doesn't care if two guys want to marry, or transgenders serve in the military, or a black woman wants to date a white guy, and young Americans of all races and ethnicities took to the streets last summer in support of Black Lives Matter to protest racial injustice. They won't be returning to the GOP until they have excised the bigots from the Party.

3. The Environment: The chasm between Boomers and younger Americans regarding the environment is also going to make it difficult for the GOP to attract new members. To most young people climate change denial is about as convincing as "clean coal" or Trump's piety. 70% of Americans age 18 to 34 worry about global warming and believe the federal government should address the issue. And there are a raft of other environmental concerns like biodiversity loss and plastic pollution that the GOP refuses to even discuss.

4. Religion: As we have documented often in these pages, white evangelical Christians are the GOP's most reliable voting block and 75% of them voted for Donald Trump in 2020 despite his sexual peccadillos. However, that group is shrinking as a percentage of the electorate and younger voters are less religious overall.

The Conversation: "One of the most consequential stories in American religion in recent years is the rapid and seemingly unceasing rise of “nones” – those who respond to questions about their religious affiliation by indicating that they are atheists, agnostics or “nothing in particular. According to some recent estimates, around 4 in 10 millennials and members of Gen Z ... do not identify with a religious tradition."

In the near future, the GOP is not going to be able to rely on religious conservatives to win elections as Millennials and Gen Z replace Boomers as the nation's largest voting block.

5. The Growing Gender Gap With Young Women: In 2020 less than 10% of black women voted for Donald Trump, but even more frightening for Republican leaders young white women favored Joe Biden by 13 percentage points (55 to 42 percent). Yes, Donald Trump's checkered past and misogyny played a part in that, but Republican Party policies are also to blame.

Dr. Melissa Deckman of Washington College correctly predicted that young women would abandon the GOP just prior to the November election while speaking at a roundtable at Rutgers University.

Deckman: "My research finds that among Generation Z, women are significantly more active in politics than men, which defies historical trends. Of course, not all women are as active as others; my survey of Gen Z Americans conducted last year found being liberal and leaning Democratic is positively linked to higher rates of political engagement among Gen Z women, as does holding negative emotions about the state of the country. ... My interviews with Gen Z women activists make clear that their activism is rooted in reaction to Trump's presidency, the #MeToo Movement, and the fight for gender, racial, and LGBTQ equality, as well as concerns about climate change and gun violence prevention."

6. Reproductive Choice: Opposition to abortion has been the signature GOP issue for a generation, but young voters differ substantially from Baby Boomers regarding reproductive choice. Voters aged 18 to 29 are reshaping the national conversation around abortion as they come into their own as a political force. Consider these recent findings by the nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute [PRRI]:

  • Just 44 percent of young Americans say abortion goes against their personal beliefs, compared to 60 percent of Americans over 65.

  • Nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of young people, compared to 51 percent of seniors, agree that abortion should be legal in most or all cases.

  • Nearly seven in ten (69 percent) young people, compared to 46 percent of seniors, agree that at least some health care professionals in their community should provide legal abortions.

The Bottom Line: Republicans have only garnered a greater share of the popular vote in one presidential election after George H. W. Bush's victory in 1988. Unless the GOP addresses their weakness with Millenials and Gen Z, that's unlikely to change anytime soon.


By: Don Lam & Curated Content

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