February 21 2017
Can Trump bring millennials into the GOP?
featuring Hadley Heath
No polling was more wrong last November than those predicting how millennials would vote. More than 2 million more millennials voted for President Trump than was forecast by millennial polling averages. He polled at 25 percent among people under 30, but won 37 percent of this demographic. That's a higher percentage than the Republican nominees in 2012 or 2008.
Despite this, however, 37 percent is still only 37 percent. With protests flaring up across the country and more young people taking to social media, Trump and the Republican Party have to wonder about their future. In 2016, millennials overtook all other generations as the biggest voting bloc in the nation.
Will young citizens get more conservative as they age? Can Trump help bring more young voters into the GOP? Or will young people be scared away from the party by Trump's controversial style?
Thought leaders and the most successful activists and organizers on the Right aren't sure what to expect in the next four years.
Bright future, or challenges ahead?
Elected in 2015 at age 19 in the swing state of New Hampshire, state Rep. Yvonne Dean-Bailey is among the country's youngest elected leaders, and she's optimistic about Trump's chances to grow the movement.
"The future is bright for young conservatives and libertarians under President Trump's administration. Through his populist and common sense message, President Trump has grown and mobilized the young conservative movement," Dean-Bailey said.
"I believe we will see these new young conservatives become involved as activists, conservative bloggers and, hopefully, even candidates for office."
Will Estrada, a Latino millennial and chairman of the Loudoun County Republican Committee, also sees opportunity. "Millennial conservatives now have the chance to shape policy in Congress, the White House and the federal agencies, something that wouldn't have been possible had Hillary Clinton won the presidency."
Charlie Kirk, founder and executive director of the nation's fastest growing conservative youth group, Turning Point USA, agrees that "the future is very bright." Under Trump's candidacy and presidency, Turning Point increased its numbers and visibility.
But even Kirk, who often personally campaigned with Donald TrumpJr., said, "The movement made incredible strides in 2016, but we have a lot of work to do."
What some call "work," others call "challenges." With a president rightly or wrongly demonized by the media and other critics for frequent politically incorrect and fact-stretching comments and tweets, it becomes difficult to defend Trump to other millennials.
"The future of the young conservative movement under President Trump will be one that faces many challenges," said Nadia Elgendy, who was recently elected chairwoman of the College Republicans in Virginia.
"I think Trump will be good for the movement in the sense that he will really test the strength of the GOP."
Hadley Heath Manning, a millennial mother who appears frequently on Fox News for the Independent Women's Forum (IWF) and is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog, said, "Trump, who is not an ideological conservative, presents both a challenge and an opportunity for our movement.
"Our peers will look to us to explain what Congress and the president are doing, and as always, we'll have to be prepared to defend what is good and denounce what is bad."
Twenty-year-old Zuri Davis, a leading libertarian activist and writer, took it a step further. She believes millennials will avoid joining political parties altogether, as is the case already.
"The future of the young conservative/libertarian movement, for at least the next four years, is looking more and more nonpartisan. Millennials in general are becoming increasingly worried that neither major party fully has their best interest in mind," Davis said.
Many polls support Davis' claim, showing a widening decline in party identification among millennials. CIRCLE's 2016 polling report shows that from 2008 to 2016, the percentage of young voters who identify as "independent" grew from 29 percent to 36 percent, while the portion that identify as "Democrat" shrank from 45 percent to 37 percent. Republicans marginally increased from 26 percent in 2008 to 27 percent in 2016.
Do millennials know what they believe?
If millennials are abandoning parties, are they loyal to certain policy issues?
Millennials are easily stereotyped as hipsters who support LGBTQ rights, drug legalization, environmental justice, criminal justice reform and no national borders. Opinion polls support elements of this stereotype, but debunk others.
According to Pew data, even millennial Republicans fit some of these stereotypes: Fifty-eight percent of young Republicans favor same-sex marriage, and 63 percent support legalizing marijuana.
A PPP poll showed 61 percent of young citizens oppose building a border wall with Mexico, a YouGov survey showed 72 percent believe climate change is caused by humans and another YouGov survey showed 86 percent support police wearing body cameras.
Before Trump's election, these numbers were one reason the Right's youth movement appeared to be heading in a more libertarian direction. Free from the perceived stigma associated with social issues such as marraige and abortion, it was thought that candidates such as Sen. Rand Paul could gain traction with millennials in 2016. That didn't pan out, but libertarian organizations have continued to thrive on campus.
Cliff Maloney Jr., president of Young Americans for Liberty, said Trump can win millennials if he "signs a balanced budget, audits the Federal Reserve, enacts a sober foreign policy of non-intervention, protects the privacy of all Americans and respects the Bill of Rights.
"We want leaders who will question the status quo, not succumb to it," he said.
Trump ran on a non-interventionist foreign policy, pledged to audit the Federal Reserve and even backed protections for the LGBT community — all policies that most libertarians and millennials support.
This could explain why Trump outperformed other Republicans with millennials. But there may be other reasons. One of them identified by some pundits is that millennials are repelled by what has been happening on college campuses in the last few years.
Will crazy campuses push college students to Trump?
For a period of months, "this is why Trump won" was one of the most frequently commented phrases on social media on stories about safe spaces, trigger warnings, protests and fake hate crimes. The phrase has become cliche and does not seem to be teaching those on the Left to tone it down. Their outbursts nevertheless continued to escalate both in intensity and in absurdity.
Conservative speakers have been banned or protested before, but never like they have since Trump's inauguration. The University of California, Berkeley made national headlines when left-wing protests turned to riots, assaults and arson. Ironically or not, the speaker they were protesting was Milo Yiannopoulos, a Jewish immigrant who is in an interracial gay relationship.
Hours after the UC Berkeley riot, protests erupted at a Gavin McInnes speech at New York University, but the event went ahead. Still, after the event, campus liberals called for NYU to ban College Republicans for having invited a conservative speaker.
Lauren McCue of Young America's Foundation, which hosts dozens of speakers on campus each year, said, "First Amendment rights need to be defended now more than ever."
Left-wing marches, protests and riots may be energizing young conservatives as much or more than they are attracting young progressives.
"Protests on campus have backfired. They expose the hostility and intolerance of the Left and embolden conservative students to be fearless advocates for free speech. We saw this first-hand at CSULA when our YAF chapter was faced with violent protests and administrative roadblocks when hosting Ben Shapiro. Now our YAF chapter there is one of the largest in the country," McCue said.
Amanda Owens, founder of Future Female Leaders, also sees potential. "In a time where it seems like much of the Left protests, boycotts and silences anyone and anything that they don't agree with, we have an opportunity to be the movement of solutions, results and positivity, rather than the movement of 'no.'"
How else can the party grow?
Trump and Republican leaders will likely need more than radical protests to gain popularity for their agenda.
Owens suggests "presenting opportunity to a path to prosperity and job creation that get millennials out of their parents' basements, addressing student loans and rising tuition costs, and a repeal and replacement plan for the Affordable Care Act."
Most young leaders agreed. Since President Obama nationalized student loans, total student loan debt increased 45 percent from $961 billion in 2011 to $1.396 trillion in 2016. Average graduating student loan debtclimbed from $25,250 in 2010 to $30,100 in 2015, a 19 percent increase. From 2010 to 2014, average tuition went up 10 percentage points more than inflation, and since 2014, early analysis shows this is only getting worse.
"President Trump must bring forth a fiscally conservative solution to high college tuition costs if he wants to continue to attract millennials to the conservative movement," State Rep. Dean-Bailey said. "We need a complete overhaul of higher education."
Healthcare costs for millennials have similarly skyrocketed. A 2016 Department of Health and Human Services report showed millennial premiums rising by as much as 116 percent. A Harris poll showed one in five young Americans cannot afford "routine healthcare expenses." A 2016 Urban Institute study showed more than 12 million millennials still do not have insurance.
"Repealing and replacing Obamacare could significantly improve pocketbooks and job opportunities for most millennials," Manning from IWF said. "The president seems opposed to broader entitlement reform, but if he wanted to do right by millennials, he'd address Medicare and Social Security, too."
These policy changes, conservatives say, will raise millennials' standard of living and help them get over the dislike of Trump's personality and/or rhetoric.
"There is also deep political division and fears on the part of some of our classmates, friends and even family members about what the next four years hold," said Patrice Lee Onwuka, spokeswoman for Generation Opportunity.
"We must turn momentum and excitement into tangible improvements in their day-to-day lives," she said.
It's up to Trump
Millennials who serve in elected office, work in Washington think tanks, talk on television and lead activist groups can try to tell the president what his millennial agenda should be for the next four years. Ultimately, it is up to his administration to listen.
So far, there is little indication that Trump will work on any of the prime millennial issues in the first 100 days, with the exceptions of acting on Obamacare and announcing the administration would keep federal LGBTQ workplace protections signed by President Obama.
During the campaign, Trump's children — his daugther Ivanka and sons Donald Jr. and Eric — led the campaign's efforts to win millennials. They rolled out a college affordability plan that capped federal student loan payments based on percentage of income and allowed for long-term forgiveness.
Before the general election, campaign adviser Sam Clovis released a widely praised plan to reform higher education by putting direct financial incentives in place for colleges to lower tuition, including having colleges assume some of the risk for students' loans.
For young Republicans, they are ready to fight for new policies. But for now, they are waiting for action from The Donald.
Ron Meyer is editor of Red Alert Politics