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How to Win Young Conservatives Back

It's hard for young conservatives to be interested
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By: Ben Shapiro – weeklystandard.com – May 9, 2018

There’s a generational age gap, but it’s not insurmountable.

Young Americans are moving to the left. On virtually every issue, they support the Democratic party. A Harvard University poll taken in December 2017 found that among likely American voters aged 18-29, fully 65 percent supported Democratic control of Congress. Polls consistently show greater warmth for socialism among millennials than their elders, greater sympathy for regulation, and less interest in protecting core constitutional liberties ranging from freedom of speech to freedom of religion.

“So,” conservatives usually respond, “what else is new?”

And there’s some truth to this. For generations, conservatives have had to fret over the possibility of losing their children to the attractions of the left, and for generations we’ve been comforting ourselves with the bastardized saying, “If you’re not a liberal when you’re 20, you have no heart; if you’re not a conservative by the time you’re 40, you have no brain.” We tell ourselves that as Americans age, get married, have children, and pay taxes, they’ll inevitably move to the right.

Not anymore.

Given the polling data, cheery optimism isn’t just whistling past the grave. It’s whistling with one foot in the grave. Older conservatives, clutching the Trump presidency like a security blanket, sound less like steady advocates for calm and more like the man questioned about how things are going just after jumping off the top of the Empire State Building: “So far, so good.”

Here’s what the polls show: Young Americans are moving left and staying there. According to a Pew Research study from June 2017, approximately 41 percent of millennials (people born between 1981 and 1996) considered themselves either mostly or consistently liberal in their views in 2004; in 2011, that number had remained somewhat steady at 38 percent; by 2017, that number had ballooned to 57 percent, with just 15 percent of millennials calling themselves consistently or mostly conservative. A March 2018 Pew study on the generation gap in American politics found that among Generation Xers (born between 1965 and 1980), 29 percent considered themselves liberal in 1994; today, that number has shot up to 43 percent. In 1994, liberal baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) were actually outnumbered by conservatives 29 percent to 22 percent; today, liberals outnumber conservatives 39 percent to 32 percent.

Typically, conservatives combat this sort of broad-based political change by pointing out the extremism of the left. During the Carter era, things certainly looked dark for the GOP, but conservatives were able to point out Carter’s incompetence; after Bill Clinton’s 1992 election victory, Republicans ran against Hillarycare and higher taxes; after Barack Obama’s landslide 2008 election, conservatives made war on Democrats’ overspending and regulatory overreach.

And there is no reason to think that Republicans can’t win the same kind of victories now. Republicans famously swept local and state political races across the country between 2010 and 2016; they took the House, the Senate, and the presidency. Meanwhile, Democrats have continued to swing more and more wildly to the left. Vermont senator Bernie Sanders is now the ideological head of the party, promoting insane schemes to guarantee jobs, student loans, and an infinite supply of ambrosia and nectar to all through the power of centralized government. Thought leaders like Ta-Nehisi Coates have sought to replace the blue-collar base of Bill Clinton with the intersectional coalition of Barack Obama, using identity politics as a club against Americans who refuse to admit their “white privilege.” Campus ideologues have declared that the future will be replete with “safe spaces” and compulsory use of transgender pronouns. The left has thrown its moderates out with the bathwater. There is only one pro-life Democrat in Congress. There are few pro-gun Democrats there.

So why do the polls show Republicans facing likely defeat in upcoming elections? Why are the trend lines so awful?

The problem isn’t politics. It’s values.

The Conservative Generation Gap

To understand the generational shift taking place in American politics, we should narrow our focus: Instead of looking at young Americans vs. older Americans, let’s look at young conservatives vs. older conservatives. The data show that young conservatives tend toward libertarianism on issues like drugs and sex but share the same priorities as older conservatives on fiscal and economic issues.

This makes some sense. Younger Americans are less religious than older Americans by a long shot: Only 52 percent of millennials say they are “absolutely certain of their belief in God”; only 43 percent say they pray daily or more often; 28 percent say they attend religious services on a weekly basis; and a mere 41 percent say religion is very important to their lives. It makes sense, then, that liberal social values have resonated with younger Americans. They believe that the case for religious freedom is actually a case for religious bigotry and think that opposition to same-sex marriage reflects a hackneyed version of Old Testament sexual repression. Millennials were raised on the gospel of diversity and tolerance, not the Judeo-Christian moral standards of their grandparents.

But the leftward shift on social issues has infused even young religious conservatives. Forty-five percent of millennial evangelicals said they supported same-sex marriage as of 2014; the numbers are undoubtedly higher now (only 23 percent of older evangelicals supported same-sex marriage in the same poll). Fifty-one percent said homosexuality should be accepted by society, compared with 32 percent of older evangelicals.

Young conservatives in general are far more likely to support gay rights and marijuana decriminalization as well as openness to immigration. But they’re not embracing gay rights and marijuana decriminalization for the same reasons as liberals. Young liberals embrace the LGBTQ agenda because they believe that the strictures of traditional sexual lifestyles are damaging and intolerant; some even embrace marijuana decriminalization because they think that broadening one’s experiences by smoking pot is a necessary precondition to maturity. Young conservatives are far more likely to support same-sex marriage and marijuana decriminalization because they believe that the government should leave everyone alone. Young liberals call for tolerance because they want to promulgate a lifestyle, in other words; young conservatives call for tolerance because they actually believe in tolerance, even of lifestyle choices with which they disagree. In return, young conservatives demand that their opponents mind their own business.

Tolerance is a moral touchstone, then, for young Americans on both the left and the right, but for different reasons.

All of which suggests young conservatives have a shot at winning over their friends and classmates: They’re operating in the same moral universe as many of their peers. Contrary to Hollywood’s portrayal of young Republicans, they’re not Bible-thumping, church-going, hallelujah-shouting religious proselytizers. They’re small government, leave-everyone-alone libertarians. Young conservatives may not care about same-sex marriage, but they’re deeply pro-life and pro-gun. In fact, contrary to popular opinion, younger Americans tend to be more pro-gun rights than older Americans. They’re against government spending programs and favor private market solutions. They militantly oppose the myth of a racist, sexist America, even as they condemn individual cases of racism and sexism.

This should be their time to shine. Government spending grows yearly, as does regulation. Both parties appear to have abandoned fiscal responsibility. And with the new social consensus around controversial social issues like same-sex marriage, which has essentially been taken off the table by the Supreme Court, there’s no reason young Republicans can’t make serious inroads among young Americans of all political stripes.

But that’s not happening.

Which brings us to President Trump.

The Trump Phenomenon

President Trump’s startling popularity among Republicans has been well-documented.

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Source: Ben Shapiro: How Conservatives Can Win Back Young Americans