Republicans have long struggled to connect with young voters, and President Trump is no exception. The president’s approval rating among Americans between ages 18 and 29 hovers around 27 percent, according to Gallup.
Other polls show similar numbers. In the most recent Harvard Institute of Politics survey of young American voters, 32 percent of respondents said they voted for Trump in 2016; 29 percent currently approve of his job performance. According to a Monmouth University poll released Wednesday, 59 percent of young voters (18- to 34-year-olds) disapprove of the job Trump is doing, a slight increase from the number (57 percent) who disapproved of him at this time last year.
Twenty-two percent of 18- to 24-year-olds somewhat or completely trust Trump, according to a 2018 survey by the Tufts University Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), which studies young voter trends. That number was 30 percent in the center’s 2016 survey.
This could pose a challenge for the GOP in 2020, as millennials are the largest generational voting bloc in the electorate.
Benji Backer, founder of the American Conservation Coalition, which advocates conservative environmentalism, said the GOP is struggling because they aren’t prioritizing issues of importance to young voters. “Environmental issues are up there in the top two or three issues for young people, according to most studies,” he told The Fix. “And when the leadership of the Republican Party isn’t focused on environmental issues, that’s incredibly damaging to getting young support.”
Shermichael Singleton, a conservative who has worked in the Trump administration, echoed that concern. Support for the president among young voters has gone south, he said, because Trump does not consistently devote attention to obstacles to building wealth, including the rising cost of education and delayed homeownership.
“President Trump hasn’t addressed any of those things and though the economy is doing well, it doesn’t appear that it has necessarily translated into anything tangible for millennial and Gen-Z voters,” he told The Fix. “I think young voters want a president who is concerned about social issues, cultural issues and economics.”
“The GOP has to put forth policy issues that specifically address the concerns of millennials,” Singleton added.
Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg, director of CIRCLE, said the president is struggling to draw in even conservative young people. “The youngest voters often hold more conservative ideology because they are still holding some of their parents’ ideological stances,” she said. “If this holds true, then the GOP is unable to capture those youngest conservatives and welcome them as GOP members because the main representation of the GOP is the president.”
“Young people, especially those who are conservative, should not be limited to imagining the GOP as Trump’s party if they do not like his politics or the way he does things,” Kawashima-Ginsberg added.
If Trump wants to connect to young people in 2020, he’ll need to make a major pivot to emphasize issues that matter most to young voters.