The GOP Generational Divide

On key issues — including Donald Trump — younger Republicans differ from their elders

by Ashley Pratte – – – –

Many young Republicans are growing wary of a Donald Trump nomination due to their more moderate stance on issues,  feeling that he doesn’t represent them or the Republican Party.

Leaders in the GOP went into 2016 with eyes wide open, convinced from post-2012 analysis that to win over millennials the party needed to soften its rhetoric and be more inclusive — mirroring polling results on Republican millennials views on immigration.

Young Republicans are more moderate than their elders. The millennial generation is now the biggest demographic in America — outnumbering the baby boomer generation. The term “millennial” applies to people born between 1982 and 2000 according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Polling conducted by the Pew Research Center showed there is a generational split on conservative issues, specifically immigration and same-sex marriage. But when it comes to limited government, abortion, and fiscal conservatism — Republican millennials are staunchly conservative in their views.

Millennials on Limited Government
According to the poll, 60 percent of 18-to-33 year old Republicans think that government is almost always wasteful and inefficient. It is no secret that President Obama’s failed policies probably play a role in that. Obama promised the world to young people who were left jaded, staring up at the ceiling at faded Obama posters in their parents’ basement.

“It’s critical to understand that millennials came of age in the era of President Obama, whose presidency has been a disaster for young people,” said Emily Jashinsky of Young America’s Foundation. “We’ve been tracking this pattern for years through our ‘Youth Misery Index,’ which is at a record high thanks to increased student loan debt, youth unemployment, and national debt per capita. Given the fiscal hardships they’ve faced during Obama’s tenure, of course most young people are disillusioned by big government solutions.”

Millennials and Immigration
But where millennial Republicans differ from older Republicans is on the issue of immigration. A survey conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute shows that 51 percent of young Republicans under the age of 30 say that the increasing number of newcomers to the country strengthens American culture. Only 36 percent of young Republicans see immigrants coming into the United States as a threat. Young Republicans are more likely to support a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants already in the United States rather than deportation.

While Trump’s tough rhetoric on immigration has won him many nominating contests, his message certainly isn’t resonating with young Republicans. Older Republicans are more likely to say that immigrants are a burden on our country, and polling shows that. The same survey showed that 61 percent of Republicans age 65 and older see immigrants as a threat to the United States.

“I think the GOP runs a huge risk in the general election because of the negative rhetoric towards immigrants espoused by the frontrunners and talking heads of the party,” said Whitney Neal, vice president of communications for the Bill of Rights Institute. “Sixty-three percent of Republicans under 30 believe in reforms that will ultimately lead to a path to citizenship. That’s huge and has a lasting impact not just on 2016 but every election moving forward.”

Millennials and Abortion
What’s more, millennials in general — not just Republicans — are the most pro-life of any generation. Voters under 30 used to be the most supportive of abortion rights, but by 2010, 18-to-29-year-olds had become more pro-life than previous generations. According to Gallup polling, young adults were slightly more likely than all other age groups, including seniors, to say abortion should be illegal in all circumstances.

In addition, 60 percent of millennials oppose making abortion services available to young women without parental notification — something that Republicans have been instrumental in passing in state legislatures.

Millennials and Trump
In eight states holding nominating contests, Trump won among voters under the age of 30 in four of them and finished second in three, according to Politico. But beware, this isn’t the general election — yet.

It’s fair to say that Trump’s base doesn’t consist of young Republicans if it came down to a Clinton vs. Trump contest in the general election, voters under 35 would choose Clinton by a stunning 52-19 percent — according to a March USA Today/Rock the Vote poll. Nearly one in four Millennial Republicans would defect to the Democrats if the GOP nominated Trump.

This polling reflects the sentiments from conversations with various politically engaged young conservatives who unequivocally say that if Trump is the nominee, they would not support him in the general election. They’re not necessarily saying they would vote for Clinton, but that they would either sit out the election or write in a candidate.

Why the GOP Needs Millennials
The GOP will need millennials to turn out in November, but more importantly, will need them engaged in order to build the party down the line. This will be critical, especially if the GOP primary continues to a contested convention, which would likely draw ire and fracture the party.

“Young voters’ chief concern is finding job, and that’s been the case since 2012,” said Alex Smith, chairman of the College Republican National Committee. “The last presidential cycle, however, demonstrated that you can’t win young voters by 1) not speaking to them directly about these issues, and 2) not showing civility in areas where younger and older generations of Americans may disagree. Young voters are hungry for an alternative, and there is a way to communicate what we believe with them without compromising on principle. If we don’t, however, liberals, including Bernie Sanders and left-wing professors, will be more than happy to fill that void.”

Both young and old Republicans can probably agree on one thing: The Old Guard of the party needs to be done away with and its grip on the party loosened if Republicans want to win the White House.


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