Sam Lowry is a student member of the Harvard Public Opinion Project.
President Trump has created a crisis for the Republican Party. He has driven high-ranking officials out of politics or out of the Republican Party entirely, such as with former Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Rep. Justin Amash (I-Mich.), respectively. While few elected party members have stood fervently against Trump, these men are not unsupported. The latest poll by the Harvard Public Opinion Project finds that a sizable group of young conservatives are within the Flake-Amash camp … and they too are being pushed aside by the Trump train.
Although HPOP data shows that Trump has a majority of support from young conservatives ages 18 to 19, it also shows that a sizeable minority within this demographic (39 percent) opposes his presidency. 26 percent of this group goes so far as to say they will never vote for him. Instead of staying loyal to the party, that sizeable minority, like Amash, has decided to leave politics entirely, becoming less politically engaged and active as a result.
The exodus of these anti-Trump voters is only making the composition of the Republican party more pro-Trump. 81 percent of young pro-Trump conservatives consider themselves Republican in stark contrast to the mere 18 percent of young anti-Trump conservatives who are fleeing to the no-man’s-land of independence. The Republican Party is now the Trump Party, as support for the president is often the deciding factor in one’s choice to affiliate with or distance oneself from the party.
For those young conservatives leaving the Republican Party due to a lack of support for Trump, there seems to be no clear avenue for political action. Amongst conservative HPOP poll respondents, not supporting Trump correlates with lower political engagement and lower likeliness to vote in the 2020 general election. When asked if they considered themselves politically engaged, only 15 percent of young anti-Trump conservatives described themselves as such compared to 33 percent of young pro-Trump conservatives. When asked if they were likely to vote in the 2020 general election, only 38 percent of young anti-Trump conservatives plan on voting compared to 67 percent of young pro-Trump conservatives. A similar effect was seen in 2016 when dissatisfaction across the board with both Hillary Clinton and then candidate Donald Trump led to a lack of voter turnout. In 2020, young anti-Trump conservatives are less likely to head to the polls due to a similar dissatisfaction with both the Republican and Democratic options.
In tandem with their disengagement, young anti-Trump conservatives also generally feel less comfortable voicing their political opinions. While the underlying cause of this phenomenon is not fully clear, a possibility is that young anti-Trump conservatives fear being associated with Trump based upon their right-leaning views. To avoid association with a president they dislike if not detest, it seems, they are choosing to remain silent. The largest gap between these two groups is in their level of comfort in talking with their parents about their political views. As the generational divide over Trump persists, evident in recent polls about impeachment, young anti-Trump conservatives’ discomfort could be coming from disagreement with their parents over support for the president. The generational divide exemplifies the intra-ideology disagreement found within American conservatism today.
An HPOP-run focus group conducted last month also depicted uneasiness around the president amongst young conservatives. One participant remarked, “some moments you agree with him and some of the moments you think he’s nuts.” Another participant simply called Trump a bully. This uneasiness around the president impacts how young conservatives view the nation’s future. 74 percent of young pro-Trump conservatives are hopeful for the future of America, while 70 percent of young anti-Trump conservatives are fearful for it — five percent more fearful than their young Democratic counterparts. This disparity might reflect young anti-Trump conservatives’ feeling of hopelessness around the 2020 presidential election, lacking a candidate in whom they believe. Instead, they see the solidification of the Republican Party into the Trump Party.
As the 2020 election nears, the Republican Party will have to reckon with the consequences of its likely nominee alienating a sizeable minority of its potential youth electorate. If the party is to survive into future generations, it will have to eventually move away from Trump. Unfortunately for young anti-Trump conservatives, there seems to be no sign of stopping forcing them to wait and speculate with fear as to what the future of America holds.
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