Think liberal professors are pushing young voters into the open arms of the Democratic Party? Think again.
Republicans are doing themselves a tremendous disservice by turning to easy (and false) answers to explain the utter collapse in support for the party among younger voters. Republicans have been blaming liberal professors with indoctrinating young people for more than 50 years.
Does anyone think there were fewer liberal professors in the 1960s and 1970s? Yet when presented a Republican candidate who spoke to their concerns or presented an upbeat portrait of America and its future, young voters backed Republicans. Nixon won the youth vote in 1972 by six points and Ronald Reagan captured the youth vote 61-39 in 1984, a margin that exceeded his overall winning percentage. George W. Bush, as recently as 2000, won as many votes from young people as Al Gore.
Young people, traditionally, have shown the least allegiance to a particular party, but have shown time and again that they respond to a hopeful message that speaks to issues that concern them.
Young people live in a very different world than those of us from the older generations grew up in. They came of age in a time of greater cultural freedom than at any time in American history and they are more tolerant of diversity than any previous generation.
They’ve also witnessed colossal policy failures by Republican leadership. Voters under 40 in the U.S. came into political consciousness in the wake of 9/11 and witnessed a disastrous war promoted by the Bush administration based on lies. They watched the financial meltdown under the Bush administration that left many new college graduates struggling with tuition debt and a job market that was slow to provide them with the economic opportunities they had expected.
They saw a Democratic president in Barack Obama who was relatively young, hopeful in his outlook, and addressed, within the limits of our political process, issues that were of concern to younger Americans.
And then they saw the darkness that consumed the Republican Party and that has yet to release its grip. Donald Trump was the opposite of hopeful. He was the candidate of white grievance, who railed about “American carnage” and spewed a hateful message while pretending the concerns of young people— issues like climate change, economic and racial inequality, the crushing influence of student debt, and police brutality, were mere hoaxes perpetrated by radical left activists and, apparently, professors.
At the same time, they witness a Republican Party that has been more than happy to mimick Trump’s rhetoric, particularly his vilification of “the other,” whether they are immigrants, people of color, gays and lesbians, or trans. Keep in mind, most young people have grown up in a world that’s racially diverse and where variances in sexual orientation are of little concern to the people they know. Most young people don’t care if a trans person is in their bathroom at school, and many of them can’t understand why Republicans are riling up their parents and grandparents over such a trivial issue.
If there is actual indoctrination of young people in schools, it’s that teachers regularly highlight the importance of kindness, understanding, sharing, and tolerance of our differences. Today’s GOP dismisses such tenets of the Golden Rule as “wokeness” and elevates cruelty toward others in both their rhetoric as well as their policies. Is it any wonder they’re facing a mismatch with young voters?
Young people were witness to four years of the Trump presidency and saw him order the tear-gassing of peaceful protestors of the George Floyd killing in front of the White House, while he praised armed and violent right-wing protestors who stormed the U.S. Capitol, leaving one police officer dead and more than one hundred wounded. They saw a president whose only major economic policy was a massive tax cut for corporations and the uber-wealthy, which simply exacerbated America’s already glaring economic inequality. And they watched as he appointed ultra-conservative justices to the U.S. Supreme Court who promptly overturned Roe v. Wade. Perhaps the only surprise in the 2022 elections was that the Democrats won the youth vote by ONLY a 28-point margin.
If Republicans want to lay blame for the astonishing gap in support among young people, they should stop blaming teachers, college professors, and popular culture and start looking in the mirror. When young people see a party that preaches intolerance, that restricts individual freedom, promotes inequality, and pretends climate change isn’t happening, they don’t need professors to tell them which candidates to support. They can figure that out for themselves.
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