When one attendee asked Shapiro how he could best his teachers in a debate — a tremendously high-schooler-interested-in-politics question — Shapiro suggested that his best bet would be to bide his time.
“Recognize that what you’re really doing at this point in your life is just building your arsenal,” he said, “getting better at what you do. Exercising those muscles that when you actually do have the capacity to exercise some form of leverage and convincing power, you can do it more effectively.”
He also told a story about how his young daughter had reminded an older kid that the older kid would probably die before she did.
“In five years,” he said to the student, “you’re going to be voting, and you’re going to be the voting public long after the time when they’re impacting the political conversation.”
That’s true, certainly, but it also serves as a reminder of the problem. For Shapiro and others in his party, figuring out how to appeal to young people is of critical importance. Younger Americans are less likely to identify as Republican than older Americans, with those under 30 voting for Biden last year by a 24-point margin, according to validated voter data from Pew Research Center, compared with the four-point margin by which those 65 and over preferred President Donald Trump.
It’s not clear if Crenshaw’s summit was meant more to foster engagement among young people or to build his own position with the group. (He’s the same age as Shapiro.) As The Washington Post’s Ben Terris reported from the event, the recommendations being made to encourage nonconservatives to join the movement were broadly vague: Treat people with respect and tailor your arguments to their concerns. There were plenty of assurances that they were on the right side of the issues, but even on typical conservative issues, younger Americans — and even White men — are more liberal.
In 2019, Pew asked questions about political topics. Support for the liberal position was generally higher among younger respondents regardless of race and gender. The exception was non-White men, for whom the liberal position was more constant across generations. Particularly striking is the data for White men, among whom there was a wide divide on the questions between younger and older respondents.
Looking at the national General Social Survey, we see something similar. Baby boomers, particularly White male boomers, are more likely than millennials to identify as conservative. White male millennials are more muddled in their responses than millennials overall, but still less conservative than older White men.
A central question, of course, is whether the millennial generation sees the same reversal of ideology as the boomers exhibited. What Crenshaw, Shapiro, et al. seem to hope will happen is what happened to the boomers at about the same time: an ideological flip. If we line up the oldest millennials with the oldest boomers, you see how that worked.
That flip among the boomers, though, overlapped with the emergence of Ronald Reagan, who tied Jimmy Carter among those under the age of 30. This is not where Trump is. (Crenshaw pointedly noted that his district leans only slightly Republican despite his winning it by 14 points in 2020. The secret, he said, was being nice.)
So what’s going to do it? The Daily Beast’s Will Sommer found another apparent effort to sway young voters.
This is the output of a group with the hard-to-parse name Today is America. The group’s president and chief operating officer is Liam Rafizadeh who, last year, was interviewed as the manager of a TikTok account called Republican Hype House — a reference to a group of content creators who usually live together and make short videos with the hope of going viral. That effort does not seem to have made much of a dent, given the election results.
It’s useful to remember, of course, that demand will find supply, and demand for youth voices will find youth voices willing to take funding. Turning Point USA’s Charlie Kirk makes hundreds of thousands of dollars a year as he tries to build a movement of young conservatives. Again, it doesn’t seem to have helped much at the presidential level. (In 2016, Pew estimates that Trump lost voters under 30 by 30 points, so his 24-point loss last year could be seen as something of an improvement.)
There is a perhaps unexpected point of opportunity among younger Americans, though: young Black and Hispanic voters. Pew’s assessment of party identity by age finds the same gaps between young and old on the Democrat-Republican split, but consistently finds more young people identifying as independents. Among non-Whites, that’s at the expense of the Democrats, almost exclusively.
Bear in mind, though, that young non-White Americans still lean heavily to the left. Given that they also constitute half of the U.S. population under the age of 18, it’s critical over the long term that the Republican Party figures out how to win their votes.
Crenshaw’s summit did feature some non-White speakers and panelists. It also included several guys in their late-30s trying to relate. Most of Today in America’s output, meanwhile, seems to be focused on giving young White people an opportunity to make their case — exercising their rhetorical muscles, to use Shapiro’s framing, but without the benefit of an opponent. The content I saw was mostly just young people trying to go viral by saying things that the pool of young conservatives will appreciate and agree with, the functional equivalent of the Young Republicans Club joking about Biden during their after-school meeting as they wonder why they aren’t attracting many new members.
It’s not clear anyone has figured out how the party more broadly can do so.