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Fewer than one out of every four millennial voters will cast a ballot for Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump in November because the Republican Party has been “asleep at the wheel,” a top Republican pollster said last week.
Some young political activists believe, though, that the blame does not solely rest with Trump.
Kristen Soltis Anderson spoke at the US Chamber of Commerce’s annual legal reform summit on Wednesday and told the audience that the entrance of millennials into the voting ranks has caused an age divide in how people vote because millennials are increasingly labeling themselves as Democrats.
“As recently as the 2000 election, there was no age divide in our politics,” she said.
A Survey Monkey poll released last week illustrated what would happen if only young people voted in the 2016 presidential election. “The map was entirely blue,” said Soltis, author of The Selfie Vote: Where Millennials Are Leading America (And How Republicans Can Keep Up). OK, not entirely blue — Trump would win at least 23 electoral votes.
Soltis said that, in many ways, the Republican Party’s inability to connect with young people is becoming increasingly similar to its inability to connect with voters at all.
“The problem that the Republican Party has is that, in any other system, it would be three different parties,” she said, dividing America’s Republican Party into three factions: the 'Romney' Republicans who are more centrist, the 'Trump' Republicans who are farther to the right and the 'Gary Johnson' Libertarians who simply value a smaller government.
“You’re seeing the friction of different factions fighting to be the top dog there. ... I don’t think the party could survive even if two of those factions came together and kicked the third one out.”
Kevin Burke, the secretary of the Notre Dame College Republicans, agrees with Soltis.
“I would say this is as divided as the party has been since I can remember,” Burke said in a telephone interview. “The main reason that many want to attribute it to is the Trump factor, but the rest of the party is to blame as well. The GOP held the House and Senate majorities for the last eight years, and there has been far too much gridlock.”
Jimmy Loomis, president of the College Democrats at Washington University in St. Louis, feels the cause of Republican Party’s inability to connect with young people is even more simplistic.
“Any party or ideology should speak for themselves and the values and principles of that group should be self-evident,” he said. “I think that’s been the case with the Democrats.”
Mark Halperin, managing editor of Bloomberg Politics, also spoke at Wednesday’s summit, saying that although millennials do poll strongly Democrat, none of it matters unless they go out and vote.
“There’s no doubt that the Clinton campaign has better turn-out mechanics than the RNC and Donald Trump” he said. “[But] my sense is that the Trump people are a little more fired up. ... They’re not fired up for her.”
“I really think this narrative that young people aren’t excited about Secretary Clinton and her candidacy is mostly false, and I think that a lot of it really does stem from a very vocal minority of former Sanders supporters who are not supporting Secretary Clinton,” he said.
Editor’s Note: This story was produced by Washington Program reporters from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.