In almost all of the battlefield states of the Midwest that were significant for Trump’s re-election, the president performed worse among young voters than in 2016, according to a POLITICO review of polls on leaving the state. Trump stepped down in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, two states he lost. He also resigned in Arizona, another critical state that slipped away.
In several of these states, erosion was significant. In Pennsylvania, President-elect Joe Biden won young voters by 20 points, compared to Hillary Clinton’s 9-point lead in 2016. In Wisconsin, Biden won the state’s youngest voters by 16 points, a dramatic increase over Clinton razor-thin edge in 2016 – and a definite swing in a state Trump only lost 20,000 votes. Michigan saw a four point shift from 2016 to 2020.
“It’s not that Joe Biden electrified young people, it’s that he hasn’t been able to get in touch with as many young people as we had the potential to do,” said an ally of Trump, who said himself is strongly committed to making contact with conservative young people.
For Trump’s critics, Biden was gaining ground with young voters because he was his opponent: a divisive politician with a culture war playbook that failed to energize audiences outside his base. However, the consensus is far less clear among the president’s election officials and allies. Interviews with more than a dozen people involved in Trump’s 2020 Operation revealed rifts, sharpness and a system where nobody would be to blame but everyone had a scapegoat – from the president himself to the campaign to outside groups like Turning Point USA, Charlie Kirk’s conservative campus organization group.
The fallout has left the GOP with a lack of insight into what went wrong with Millennial and Gen Z voters – especially in a cycle where Trump saw gains with other demographics – and no clear strategy to get one more Rise in youth support for Democrats in 2022 to prevent mid-term elections. And the Republican Party desperately needs a strategy to reverse the trend as it has struggled for decades to connect with younger voters.
“The Republican Party has no future if it does not improve its performance with younger voters,” said Michael Steel, GOP strategist and former top advisor to House Speaker John Boehner.
“I’m not a fan of top-down autopsy processes,” added Steel, “but I hope the end of the Trump presidency will be a natural turning point and time for a fresh start.”
Some Republican activists involved in the 2020 cycle said the way young voters who are strongly Democratic currently perceive the GOP will automatically improve once Trump is out of office.
They said the president’s inflammatory approach to issues like racial relations, which became a major cultural focal point this summer, has likely cost the party the support of young Conservatives who may have been on the fence about supporting Trump and less ideologically rigid are such issues than their older colleagues.
For example, a post-election study by Tisch College of Civic Life at Tufts University found that 60 percent of Trump voters between the ages of 18 and 29 believe racism is “a somewhat or very serious problem,” compared with 52 percent of Trump voters over 45 years old. Similar gaps emerged when young Trump voters asked about the importance of climate change (52 percent said they were “concerned” about 40 percent of older Trump voters) and their self-proclaimed identity (61 percent identified as conservative versus 74 percent of the older Trump) were asked voters).
The same party staff also accused Trump of failing to tweak his message in the few instances he appeared in front of younger audiences during the general election.
At a June campaign event in Phoenix, Arizona, where the president spoke to several hundred Students for Trump activists, he talked about 401 (k) retirement funds, school elections, and stock market profits – topics that are more resonating with older investors. those who plan for retirement and parents.
“Your 401 (k) s, I don’t think you want someone to play with them because you are at a record high right now and you are putting the wrong person in, they are being wiped out,” Trump told a group that is probably never looked at a 401 (k) before.
Others blamed the Trump campaign and accused the president’s best aides of “outsourcing” his youth program to Turning Point Action, the political action arm of the conservative campus group Turning Point USA.
Led by its 26-year-old founder Charlie Kirk, the group oversaw myriad door knocking and grassroots efforts during this cycle, and worked with White House leaders like senior adviser Jared Kushner to plan events that introduced the president and his Deputy in front of a young audience. People involved in Kirk’s operation claimed that his “Herculean” efforts to advance Trump’s re-election were made without input or resources from the Trump campaign – much to their chagrin in the months leading up to the November 3rd election.
However, two Trump campaign aides who worked closely with Kirk said the campaign had its own youthful endeavors that went beyond the voters who are still in college. These aides described the Turning Point news as too sycophantic to attract young voters who may join more conservatism but remain concerned about Trump himself. Kirk was given a prime-time speaker at the Republican National Congress in August and has a close relationship with the president and some of his adult children.
“It is a mistake to believe that college campus-only groups will reach out to young voters outside of college,” said one of the aides.
Another Trump ally described Turning Point Action as ill-equipped to handle the youth work for a major party’s presidential campaign “because it is a relatively new organization with no deeper community ties.”
People close to Kirk denied these claims, suggesting that the young activist and his group do whatever it takes to help the president, accusing the Trump campaign and Republican National Committee of lacking the organizational skills and resources required to reach a wide range of young voters in the EU are critical battlefields for 2020.
“Instead of trying to scapegoat Turning Point Action, an entirely external, separate and independent entity that is still fighting for electoral integrity, maybe the campaign should do just that,” said a person close to Kirk.
“He gave the president a platform when it was extremely difficult and no one could campaign,” said a second person close to Kirk.
Part of the problem for both campaigns in this cycle was the inability to reach college-age students on campus, where they are most likely to register to vote and hear from candidates and their proxies.
Due to the closure of the campus in connection with the Covid-19 pandemic, voter registration campaigns and initiatives such as the RNC’s “Make Campus Great Again” have been slowed down. Meanwhile, the crowd and travel restrictions in many swing states made it difficult for the Trump campaign to get its candidate to a millennial audience outside of his signature rallies.
“Republicans are struggling with a deficit when it comes to young voters, so when you lose the ability to do many of the things that determine turnout for these age groups, it becomes even more of a challenge,” said a senior adviser to the Trump campaign .
RNC spokesman Mike Reed said the party’s students and young professional volunteers had still managed to knock on over 4.1 million doors in major battlefield states and made nearly 7 million calls to electoral households in the final months of the 2020 cycle . However, these numbers did not apply to the millennial range.
In the end, Trump saw his youth welfare services decline from four years ago in Arizona, Florida, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and several other states. Only Georgia and Michigan saw a slight increase in Trump voters under the age of 29 – from 33 percent in 2016 to 39 percent this cycle in Georgia and from 34 percent to 35 percent in Michigan. However, the gains were insufficient to include either state in the president’s column.
“We lost ground in a year in which we should have gained ground,” said Trump’s ally matter-of-factly.