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The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.
 

Jayne: GOP disses young voters at its own peril

By Greg Jayne
Published: August 12, 2023, 6:01am

It is a bold strategy. Let’s see how it works out for them.

As young people — both those of voting age and those who soon will be — consistently list climate change and gun violence and LGBTQ rights among their top political priorities, Republicans on the national stage continue to self-immolate.

Concern about climate change? It’s a Chinese hoax, according to the most prominent Republican.

Gun violence? Thoughts and prayers should suffice.

Protections for transgender rights? You’re just being “woke.”

In the short term, this might be a winning strategy. Republicans took control of the House of Representatives in 2020 and almost won the Senate. Donald Trump could conceivably recapture the presidency in 2024.

But in a desire to win the battle, Republicans are sacrificing the war. They are turning off cohorts who soon will comprise a majority of voters, fighting specious culture wars that are propagating a generational shift in the voting public.

These are generalizations, of course. Not all Republicans are more concerned about drag queens than rising temperatures. And young voters are not a homogeneous bloc that votes in lockstep. As a commentary for the centrist Brookings Institution explained earlier this year: “Young women are more likely to identify as liberal now than at any time in the past two decades, a trend that puts them squarely at odds with young men.”

That is part of an ongoing series from Brookings under the header “How younger voters will impact elections.” And while it is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future (to quote Yogi Berra or one of the many pundits who have been credited for the phrase), there’s no doubt that younger generations will be transformational for American politics.

By 2028, according to demographers, millennials and Gen Z will combine to comprise more than half the electorate. That essentially covers everybody born from 1980 to the early 2010s, and it is instructive to examine what has happened in their lifetimes. The older members of the cohort lived through the Great Recession, the worst financial decline in nearly 80 years. That recession took root during the presidency of Republican George W. Bush.

Then there was the COVID-19 pandemic and another recession, which launched under Republican Donald Trump, followed by a Trump-fueled attempt to overthrow the government. Along the way, ignoring climate change and school shootings has not endeared Republicans to young voters.

As the Brookings series surmises: “Research has shown that successful, popular presidents increase the likelihood that generations growing up during their presidency will vote for the party of such presidents. … By the same token, unsuccessful or unpopular presidents … have created opportunities for the party out of power during those administrations to gain the allegiance of a new generation of voters.”

By no meaning of the words could Trump be considered successful or popular. He twice lost the popular vote.

All of which makes the prevailing Republican strategy rather perplexing. After losing the presidential election in 2020, the most radical of GOP supporters attempted to subvert the will of the people by attacking the U.S. Capitol. After a disappointing showing in the 2022 midterms, some Republicans suggested raising the voting age. And after years of chaos and ineptitude, Trump still holds sway over the party.

Add to that the totalitarian manner in which conservatives seized control of the Supreme Court (compare the nominations of Merrick Garland and Amy Coney Barrett), and an anti-democracy ethos becomes clear.

All of which might make sense now, if you believe the end justifies the means. But it is not an effective long-term strategy.

As the Brookings Institution writes of the youngest generations of voters: “Their values … will shape the direction of American politics — its elections and public policies — for the next three or four decades.”

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