When I was in high school and college there was a kind of political reawakening among young people. The 60's was a tumultuous time not just politically, but also culturally, socially and sexually. Everyone could sense the world was changing after the sleepy 1950's-- in music, art, fashion... consciousness. And the unjust War against Vietnam was raging and people my age were being drafted and killed. And we were fighting for the right to vote-- which finally came for people between 19 and 21 in 1971 with ratification of the 26th Amendment. Protest demonstrations were big and getting bigger. The first time I saw the inside of a jail cell was when I was arrested at one of those. We couldn't vote yet but we made our voices heard.
Yesterday, the L.A. Times ran a piece by David Lauter, Young people’s political engagement is surging. That’s a problem for Republicans. I hope he's right. But I'm not as certain as he is. When males started growing their hair long, it was 100% a cool, left-wing thing to do. A few years later, as the red necks and conservatives started catching on, it was cooler to shave your head and ditch the bell bottoms.
I was president of my freshman class at "the Berkeley of the East Coast." About a third of the students were leftists, a third were conservatives and a third were busy studying. I never fully trusted the theory that young = progressive. Still... Trump-- more so that Obama-- made politics cool. He was clearly an existential enemy (or, for morons, a hero). Obama was a symbol and a mishmash of good and compromised.
Lauter wrote that "Political engagement by young Americans has surged to a historically high level, and that’s not good news for the Republican Party, according to the findings of the annual Harvard Youth Poll. A dozen years ago, after President Obama’s election, 24% of Americans younger than 30 reported themselves to be politically active, according to the poll, conducted by the Harvard Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics. At the time, the Obama campaign was widely credited with having energized young Americans. Today, that engaged number stands at 36%, maintaining an extraordinarily high level seen during last year’s election. Young Black Americans report the most political engagement-- 41%, the survey found."
Political engagement is highest among students in four-year college, who make up about one in five young people, and among those with college degrees, who are about one in four of Americans younger than 30. But even among the roughly half of young people who don’t have a degree and aren’t enrolled in a four-year college, engagement has risen.
The figures show “the highest level of political engagement that we’ve ever seen in our poll,” said John Della Volpe, the director of polling at the institute, who has supervised the youth survey since 2000.
The survey, which questioned 2,513 Americans ages 18 to 29 and has a margin of error of 2.6 percentage points, also found striking optimism: Fifty-six percent say they are more hopeful than fearful about America, a big rise from four years ago, when 31% said they were hopeful.
The increase in hopefulness is particularly large among Black and Latino young people, with roughly seven in 10 saying they are hopeful about the country, compared with about two in 10 Black youths and three in 10 Latino youths in 2017.
A youth problem for Republicans
Along with those high levels of engagement and hopeful feelings about the country, the poll also found a striking level of alienation from the Republican Party and, in particular, former President Trump.
Almost two-thirds of the young people in the survey have an unfavorable view of Trump, with more than half saying their opinion is “very unfavorable.” Only 28% have a favorable view. Asked how history should view him, 30% say Trump should be seen as the “worst president ever” with an additional 24% saying he should be viewed as bad or terrible. Only 26% say he should be seen as good or great.
A majority, 53%, say they view the Republican Party as “too extreme,” compared with just 14% who reject that label. By contrast, 36% call the Democrats too extreme.
Overall, 52% of the young Americans surveyed say they identify with the Democrats or lean toward them, compared with 28% who identify or lean toward the Republicans. That’s strikingly at odds with older generations among whom the two parties have been roughly at parity over the last decade.
The Democratic edge is largest among young people of color. But even among young white people, Republicans have fallen behind, the survey showed. The only sizable group of young Americans among whom Republicans have the edge are rural residents, who make up fewer than one in five young people.
The distance between young Americans and the Republicans doesn’t reflect any innate liberalism of youth, said Della Volpe. “It’s a man-made problem.”
In 2000, when he started surveying young people, “there was virtually no gulf. Young people were as likely to vote for George Bush as for Al Gore.” Even among college students, Gore had only about a four-point edge that year, he said. The gap began to open during Bush’s tenure, widened during the Obama years, and then hardened under Trump.
“For Republicans to win a national campaign, they don’t need to win this demographic, but they need to keep a Democrat in the mid-50s or so.” Once a Democrat gets to 60% or more among young people, as President Biden did, “it makes it very challenging for a Republican to win,” said Della Volpe, who polled for Biden last year.
The impact showed up clearly in 2018, when a surge of youth voting was key to Democrats’ recapture of the majority in the House. Biden’s large majority among younger voters also provided his margin in crucial states last November.
For Republicans, solving that problem poses a difficult challenge. As the poll showed, the gap between young people and the GOP involves both ideology and deep-seated values.
Ideologically, young people have moved notably to the left over the last five years, with growing shares backing strong government action to stop climate change, reduce poverty and provide health insurance to all Americans, among other issues, the poll found.
On each of those, Republicans and young Americans are out of step with each other. Notably, young Republicans have significantly more liberal views than their elders. But the gap on values and identity may be even harder to bridge.
The generation younger than 30 is the most ethnically and racially diverse in the U.S. electorate. Whites make up a bare majority, 53%, the survey found. In the electorate as a whole, whites make up just under 70%.
Young voters of color overwhelmingly say they do not feel “included in Trump’s America,” the poll found. Just about one in six say they feel included; close to 60% say they do not.
Even among white young people, more say they do not feel included, 41% to 35%. Overall, just 27% of Americans ages 18 to 29 say they feel included in Trump’s America, while 48% say they do not, with 24% neutral.
By contrast, 46% of young people say they feel included in “Biden’s America,” while 24% do not and 28% are neutral. Among all major racial and ethnic categories, more young people feel included than excluded under Biden.
That feeling of not belonging plays a role in another of the poll’s findings-- the intensity of feeling about issues of race and about Trump.
About three-quarters of the young people surveyed agree that “we need more open-mindedness” in politics, with just 4% disagreeing. Large majorities say they could be friends with a person who disagreed with them on hotly contested issues including abortion, climate and guns.
But issues of race relations and support for Trump provide notable exceptions.
Young Americans split closely on whether they could be friends with someone who disagreed with them on race relations-- 54% say they could, 44% say no. Black youths feel especially strongly on that, with 57% saying such a disagreement would block friendship.
The share saying they could not be friends with someone who supported Trump is also large-- about one-third say they could not.
One hopeful note for Republicans comes, ironically, from the poll’s findings about Biden.
A year ago, the poll found that only about a third of young people viewed Biden favorably, putting him far behind other political figures, notably his rival in the primaries, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
Now, Biden’s popularity has soared. His job approval stands at 59% among all young people. Among college voters, his approval is the highest the poll has ever recorded for an incumbent, 63%, and 40% expect their lives to improve as a result of his policies, compared with 19% who think their lives will get worse.
By 54% to 37%, young people view Biden favorably, a slight edge over Sanders.
“The overarching thing is how much of a U-turn or pivot this is from where we were a year ago,” Della Volpe said. During the campaign, Biden took pains to understand young voters’ concerns, he said.
“Republicans need to do what Joe Biden did,” he said. “He listened.”
That's a silly conclusion. Conservative politicians listen to their big donors, not to the kids. If Republicans "listen," it's just to have marketing consultants figure out how to manipulate voters. Tommy Hough is running for a seat on the San Diego City Council. Remember when San Diego was a GOP bastion. The seat Tommy is going for-- District 6-- is the last Republican seat on the Council. The other day he sent out an e-mail to voters in the district calling Earth Day "a cause for celebration as we acknowledge the strides our nation has made to preserve wilderness and wildlife, and ensure enforceable clean air and clean water policy." I guess a Republican could pretend to be down with a line like that.
"But this Earth Day," wrote Tommy, "as we fight a multi-front battle against climate change in the form of rising sea levels and increased wildfires, and as humans continue to fill our seas with plastic and our sky with exhaust, we environmentalists need to double down." OK, now he's straying into territory conservatives are careful not to tread, for fear of offending their corporate donors.
Here in San Diego we have a Climate Action Plan that has been fueled, in part, on fudged numbers on greenhouse gas emissions from trucks.
Plenty of San Diegans want to preserve our urban forest, but last month healthy trees over 110 years old were cut down over the objections of neighbors. Other city trees have been needlessly cut down over the years over the objections of arborists.
Our city has a Multiple Species Conservation Plan (MSCP) that specifically preserves native habitats for species and conservation, in part as mitigation from previous development. But City Hall seems to consider these lands available for use in a bizarre new parks system that substitutes a point system for actual acreage.
And we have the ongoing sewage calamity in the Tijuana River Valley. What other area of the U.S. has a dilemma remotely on the scale of the poison our neighbors in the South Bay are exposed to in the air and water every day? With a visible plume of sewage that goes up to the county line, we all have a stake in this crisis, including the City of San Diego.
That's not GOP-friendly messaging, although it's very youth-friendly messaging. "As a San Diego County Planning Commissioner, environmental leader, Surfrider veteran, founder of San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action, and coordinator of the ReWild Mission Bay campaign," concluded Hough, "I'm ready to get to work as a councilmember and lead the way finding solutions for the Tijuana River Valley-- by far the overriding, overarching environmental crisis anywhere in our region."
This list of states is ordered in terms of political engagement by voters between the age of 18 and 24. (The 9 states not the the list don't keep track of that statistic.) The second number in parenthesis shows political engagement among people over 65 years old.
Virginia- 60.7% (72.6%)
Minnesota- 54.7% (72.6%)
Maryland- 54.3% (68.1%)
Kentucky- 53.9% (60.2%)
Nebraska- 52.9% (79.5%)
Pennsylvania- 51.4% (64.8%)
North Carolina- 50.7% (74.7%)
Louisiana- 49.8% (70.2%)
Maine- 49.4% (82.0%)
Colorado- 49.0% (81.1%)
Oregon- 48.8% (74.7%)
Missouri- 48.0% (75.8%)
Wisconsin- 47.1% (77.9%)
Illinois- 46.8% (73.2%)
Mississippi- 46.7% (77.7%)
Washington- 45.9% (77.6%)
Idaho- 44.3% (74.7%)
South Carolina- 43.9% (73.1%)
Utah- 43.6% (76.6%)
Georgia- 43.5% (72.4%)
Connecticut- 43.3% (73.6%)
Indiana- 43.0% (67.7%)
Nevada- 42.9% (74.0%)
Massachusetts- 42.8% (74.3%)
California- 42.7% (69.2%)
Alabama- 42.7% (66.9%)
New Mexico- 40.9% (74.7%)
New Jersey- 40.7% (68.0%)
Arizona- 40.2% (72.2%)
Ohio- 40.1% (74.0%)
New York- 38.2% (64.5%)
Michigan- 37.8% (74.4%)
Iowa- 37.6% (78.0%)
Florida- 37.3% (69.8%)
Kansas- 35.8% (75.2%)
Arkansas- 34.5% (67.3%)
Oklahoma- 33.7% (70.7%)
West Virginia- 32.5% (63.3%)
Texas- 31.9% (69.0%)
Tennessee- 31.1% (64.2%)
Hawaii- 21.7% (60.3%)