Why Even Republican Millennials Hate Trump
The problem for Trump isn't just that he's losing young undecideds, but that he can't even win the young people in his own party.
All photos by Jason Bergman
It's not hard to hate Donald Trump. He's loud, he lies all the time, he's casually bigoted and prone to attacking people of color—he's like that fictional "racist uncle" trope trotted out for articles about surviving Thanksgiving, only breathtakingly real in his angry orangeness. Dislike for Trump cuts across many lines, but one group of voters he's doing particularly bad with are young people—even young Republicans.
A survey by Public Policy Polling released last week shows the depth and breadth of Trump's millennial problem. That poll showed Hillary Clinton leading Trump by 5 points among respondents overall—but that gap grew to 15 points—45 percent to 30 percent—among voters under age 30, with 35 percent of that group still undecided or opting for a third-party candidate.
The results echo those of a poll on millennial attitudes released by Harvard's Institute of Politics this spring, in which just over half of young Republican respondents—57 percent—said they planned to vote for Trump, compared to a full 83 percent of young Democrats who said they planned to vote for Clinton. More damningly, for Trump, the survey found that the Republican nominee is so toxic among 20-somethings that more than one in ten of those who identify with his own party admit that they would cast a ballot for an Establishment Democrat than Trump.
You could blame this trend partly on the banner Trump is running under. For years, Republicans have catered to a base of older, conservative white voters, while mostly ignoring millennials; in 2012, Mitt Romney got just 30 percent of the under-30 vote. But that was against Barack Obama, whose powerful speeches about the American Dream and general with-it-ness were political aphrodisiacs for younger voters. In 2000, George W. Bush split the youth vote with Democratic candidate Al Gore, your dad's most boring friend, and Ronald Reagan was actually pretty beloved by younger voters. The GOP isn't inherently unhip; it's just refused to modify its positions as the younger generation—which tends to be racially diverse, tolerant of homosexuality, down to smoke some weed—has come of age.
Jack and David Cahn are a set of precocious millennial twins writing a book about their generation. They told VICE that some Republican policies, like gun rights and charter schools, are attractive to millennials, but that Trump has gotten in the way of the party's ability to attract younger voters.
"On the one hand, the GOP continues to brands itself as the party of climate deniers, immigrant haters, and gay bashers. That's not helping them win millennial votes," David said. "On the other hand, Donald Trump is the ultimate anathema, not only to centrist millennials, but also to Republicans. The three core millennial values are optimism, tolerance, and authenticity. Trump's attacks on Mexicans and Muslims, mocking of disabled people, and refusal to denounce the KKK violate these values to the extreme."
Clinton doesn't have Obama's gift for uplifting rhetoric, and many young people aren't particularly drawn to her: The same Harvard study found that Bernie Sanders was the only candidate from either party to earn a positive net rating among under-30s. The leadership of the Democratic Party is old and getting older. So 2016 seems like it could have been a chance for the GOP to bring millennials into the fold. Instead, it nominated a man that two-thirds of voters under 30 believe he's a racist.
A Time magazine article about young people at the Republican National Convention claimed that most millennials in attendance weren't Trump voters; in fact, many were, like other Republicans, openly wondering if they could support a man who says such noxious things publicly. That lines up with exit polling from the GOP primaries, which found that on Super Tuesday at least, millennials were the least likely Republican cohort to vote for Trump.
"Younger conservatives are libertarian-leaning," Cliff Maloney, the executive director of the conservative group Young Americans for Liberty, told VICE. These young Republicans "not only want the government's hands out of their wallets, they want the government out of their bedrooms as well."
Maloney said that "pro-liberty" young people who backed Ron Paul in 2012 tend to support politicians like Ron's son Rand, a Kentucky senator, and other Paul acolytes like Reps. Thomas Massie, of Kentucky, and Justin Amash, of Michigan, both of whom have adopted libertarian-leaning stances during their terms in Congress.
"When Republicans embrace technology and innovation, support free speech, advocate for a sober foreign policy, and real criminal justice reform—they win," Maloney said. "Those topics are important to young people, and when Republicans abandon them, they lose any shot at youth support."
Trump, who is now running as the "law and order" candidate, has said he wants to make it easier to sue newspaper for libel, talks openly about torturing suspected terrorists, and has feuded with some of the tech sector's most prominent leaders. In other words, the problem isn't that Trump has lost young undecided voters and young people of color—it's that he risks losing even young Republicans.
In May, after it became clear Trump would be the Republican nominee, Katrina Elaine Jorgensen, the communications chair for the Young Republicans National Federation, resigned her post in protest. "I cannot live with being seen as supporting a candidate I truly feels tramples on all of our values," she wrote on Facebook.
She might be one of the most vocal young Republican #NeverTrump-ers, but she's not alone.
"Unfortunately, a Trump loss in 2016 is unlikely to push the GOP to adopt more millennial-friendly platforms on issues from weed to immigration and the environment," said David Cahn. "Republicans will use Trump as an excuse for the party's loss, instead of recognizing that Trump is only part of the greater problem, which is that GOP is out of touch with the beliefs of the next generation."
Follow Harry Cheadle on Twitter.