Since the American presidential election of 2016 and the messy campaign that led up to
it, tensions have been high. Across the nation, news story after (fake?) news story has unfolded
to a constant barrage of anger, insult, threat, and protest – from both sides of the political aisle.
This political climate is truly atypical – but for the youngest voters in the country, it’s the first
they’ve ever paid full attention to. Millennials in the United States left the Republican Party at a
reckless pace during the past election. It’s normal to see some flip-flop in party identification,
and the Trump-Clinton contest certainly saw both more Republicans voting Democrat, and more
Democrats voting Republican, than many in recent history. However, as a recent Pew Research
study discovered, young former GOP voters left their party far more disproportionately than
young Democrats or elderly voters. They found that 23% of Republicans under the age of thirty
defected to the Democratic Party over the past year (“Partisan Identification…”). Even back in
2014, this was by far the most liberal age group, and within the GOP there were clear ideological
divides by age bracket (Kiley and Dimock). At this rate, the current state of the GOP is driving
away potential young voters. To survive in the long term, the Republican Party needs to
understand why their constituents are leaving.
It’s tempting to believe the common misconception that the youth always tend to be
liberal, and the elderly, more conservative. Some argue that this trend is natural, and that as
millennials grow older they will return to the Republican Party. While there is a small degree of
truth to the claim, in the vast majority of cases, party identification usually tends to stay
relatively consistent throughout the lives of most active voters. According to Amanda Cox of
The New York Times, “events at age 18 are about three times as powerful as those at age 40” in
determining political preferences (Cox). This raises some questions: what is causing the
youngest generation to depart from the party of Lincoln and Reagan? And how can the GOP stop
The first problem is political polarization and its effects on society. The widening gulf in
ideology between the average voter from each party contributed greatly to the dismal choice we
were offered in the last election. If the party extremists hadn’t become increasingly populous and
vocal, then more moderate, less controversial candidates could have a greater say in our politics.
Skeptics claim that the candidates polarize the people and not the other way around. Even if
that’s true, it’s still a problem for the GOP, and a solution still needs to be found. This
polarization is also largely responsible for the rejection of disagreeable media – on the very basis
of its disagreeability. Amanda Taub, also of The New York Times, describes how “partisan bias
fuels fake news because people of all partisan stripes…. use trust as a shortcut” to decide what to
believe (Taub). Media bias affecting our perception of reality is a huge crisis, but polarization
has also caused the caustic, insult- and offense-driven rhetoric to solidify into a contest. Political
winners are decided, tragically, by who can best shout-over the opponent. The GOP has become
very good at this. As Republican Senator Jeff Flake wrote recently, “It is not enough to be
conservative anymore. You have to be vicious. Of course, this culture… is bipartisan. But in the
election of 2016, our side outdid itself” (Flake 10). It’s not merely that millennial Republicans
are becoming Democrats – many others are just becoming politically apathetic.
In my personal experience, I’ve also felt this disgust at our nation’s polarization. As an
18-year-old eligible-voter and college student myself, I have suffered both a political and moral
dilemma as I have tried, over the past two years, to find my place on the political spectrum. In
high school, as an active member of the conservative Young Americans for Freedom
organization, I once had felt confident that my choice had been made. And yet as the election
season approached, I realized that I could no longer call myself a Republican. That’s not just
because of Donald Trump – it’s because of how the entire party reacted to him.
Regardless of whether or not Trump is actually as racist, homophobic, and bigoted as he
is portrayed, the problem is that millennials (including myself) believe that he is. The problem is
that millennials, unlike older Republicans, take offense at his politically-incorrect speech.
FiveThirtyEight recently published polls about the decline of other country’s opinions on
America and her president – and the problem is that millennials care about how other people
around the globe perceive us (Wezerek). Kaitlyn Schallhorn, writing for The Blaze, explains that
young Republicans are already in the “political minority” among their peers, and that while they
desperately want to convert others to their cause, Donald Trump appeals to the values of a more
old-fashioned, traditional, and outdated electorate that may be sufficient for election, but can’t
help millennial conservatives to win over their friends of religious, racial, or sexual-orientation
In the words of the famous science fiction author Isaac Asimov, “There is a cult of
ignorance in the United States…. The strain of anti-intellectualism… [is] nurtured by the false
notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge’” (Asimov).
Despite the dangers of that willful political illiteracy, it’s likely that such a quote will always be
relevant in this country. At the same time, the embrace of anti-intellectualism by conservatives is
one final cause of the millennial flight from the Republican Party. This is what scares me the
most. Only five years ago, Daniel McCarthy of The American Conservative lamented how the
word ‘conservative’ “once signified an intellectual tendency with partisan overtones, now it
signifies a partisan tendency that would prefer not to have intellectual overtones” (McCarthy).
GOP voters used to respect the value of an education. Now, as another Pew survey from this past
July explains, while 72% of Democrats have a positive view of the impact of colleges and
universities on the country, a full 58% of Republicans have a negative view (“Sharp Partisan
Divisions…”). This populist spirit of the “common man” is exactly what Republican politicians
seek to appeal to today, but while it is true that professors and academics tend to have a liberal
bias, and that our society’s increasing scientific atheism is fueled by the secularism of many of
these establishments, the rejection of the value of knowledge-seeking institutions is not only
perilous – it’s also no way to get the votes of their students.
Millennials are defecting from the Grand Old Party in masses. Until party leaders
recognize that this problem exists, nothing can be done to fix it. Young voters, like myself, want
to be won back over, and to rejoin a more conservative electorate. Perhaps with the right
candidates, policies, and recognition for the interests of my own generation, the Republican Party
can survive, and thrive, into future generations.
Asimov, Isaac. “Quote by Isaac Asimov.” Goodreads, Goodreads Inc,
Cox, Amanda. “How Birth Year Influences Political Views.” The New York Times, 7 July 2014,
Flake, Jeff. Conscience of a Conservative: A Rejection of Destructive Politics and a Return to
Principle. Random House, 2017.
Kiley, Jocelyn, and Michael Dimock. “The GOP’s Millennial Problem Runs Deep.” Pew
Research Center for the People and the Press, Pew Research Center, 25 Sept. 2014,
McCarthy, Daniel. “How Conservatism Lost Its Mind.” The American Conservative, American
Ideas Institute, 24 Aug. 2012, www.theamericanconservative.com/2012/08/24/how-
“Partisan Identification Is ‘Sticky,’ but About 10% Switched Parties Over the Past Year.” Pew
Research Center for the People and the Press, Pew Research Center, 17 May 2017,
Schallhorn, Kaitlyn. “Republican Millennials Grapple With a Trump Nomination: ‘The GOP
Has Chosen to Self-Immolate.’” TheBlaze, TheBlaze, Inc, 25 Aug. 2016,
“Sharp Partisan Divisions in Views of National Institutions.” Pew Research Center for the
People and the Press, Pew Research Center, 10 July 2017, www.people-
Taub, Amanda. “The Real Story About Fake News Is Partisanship.” The New York Times, 11
Jan. 2017, www.nytimes.com/2017/01/11/upshot/the-real-story-about-fake-news-is-
Wezerek, Gus, and Andrea Jones-Rooy. “What The World Thinks Of Trump.” FiveThirtyEight,
19 Sept. 2017, fivethirtyeight.com/features/what-the-world-thinks-of-trump/.