Why young vot­ers find Trump a turn-off

Cecil Whig - - OPINION - Michael Ger­son

— Peo­ple al­ways re­mem­ber their first pres­i­den­tial vote — their first par­tic­i­pa­tion in the largest de­ci­sion of Amer­i­can democ­racy.

In high school, I was a rather awk­ward, nerdish his­tory buff (my wife would dis­pute the verb tense). I was also some­thing of a lefty, par­tic­u­larly com­pared to my con­ser­va­tive re­li­gious up­bring­ing. I de­bated on be­half of Jimmy Carter in the mock elec­tion at my Chris­tian high school dur­ing the 1980 elec­tion, mak­ing me a po­lit­i­cal mi­nor­ity of one.

But my po­lit­i­cal iden­ti­fi­ca­tion had be­gun to shift by 1984 and I cast my first pres­i­den­tial vote for Ron­ald Rea­gan. For me, ex­po­sure to eco­nom­ics had an ide­o­log­i­cally sober­ing ef­fect (a young lib­eral can’t be too care­ful in his or her read­ing). In ad­di­tion, Wal­ter Mon­dale and his run­ning mate, Geral­dine Fer­raro, had turned con­ser­va­tive re­li­gious peo­ple into a rhetor­i­cal skeet tar­get. And Rea­gan him­self — who had demon­strated per­sonal courage and a ca­pac­ity to gov­ern — seemed to em­body some­thing hopeful and de­cent about the coun­try.

I was not alone. In 1984, vot­ers aged 18 to 24 sup­ported Rea­gan over Mon­dale by 61 to 39 per­cent. “The oldest pres­i­dent in U.S. his­tory and the youngest mem­bers of the na­tion’s elec­torate,” said the Philadel­phia In­quirer in 1986, “have forged one of the strong­est bonds in Amer­i­can pol­i­tics.” The first se­ri­ous po­lit­i­cal mem­o­ries of my gen­er­a­tion were of an ap­peal­ing, creative, elec­torally dom­i­nant (at the na­tional level) GOP.

Now jump for­ward to a re­cent USA To­day/Rock the Vote poll that shows Hil­lary Clin­ton beat­ing Don­ald Trump by 56 to 20 per­cent among vot­ers un­der 35. Let that sink in. Trump is sup­ported by one in five younger vot­ers — an as­ton­ish­ing and con­se­quen­tial col­lapse for the GOP. While the young don’t turn out at elec­tion time with the same fre­quency as older vot­ers, they al­ways get (and de­serve) par­tic­u­lar at­ten­tion from the par­ties. In the long run, younger vot­ers are older vot­ers. In the long run, older vot­ers are ... com­pan­ions to John May­nard Keynes.

So why is Trump crash­ing and burn­ing among the young? The 2016 elec­tion ex­cludes some ex­pla­na­tions. It can­not be that Clin­ton is mak­ing an in­spir­ing, Barack Obama-like ap­peal to youth­ful ide­al­ism. Dur­ing the pri­maries, Clin­ton was rou­tinely trounced among the young. In Iowa cau­cus en­trance polling, Bernie Sanders bested Clin­ton among 17- to 29-year-old Democrats by 84 to 14 — the pre­vi­ous most


laugh­able show­ing among the young.

And it can­not be that younger vot­ers are re­ject­ing Trump be­cause he is too so­cially con­ser­va­tive. He got ap­plause dur­ing his con­ven­tion speech for promis­ing to de­fend “LGBTQ ci­ti­zens.” Trump’s nom­i­na­tion rep­re­sents the ad­vance of gay rights (though not of gay mar­riage) within the Repub­li­can coali­tion and the marginal­iza­tion of so­cial is­sues.

I would ven­ture that Trump’s fail­ure among the young has some­thing to do with his as­sault on the idea of tol­er­ance, par­tic­u­larly racial and re­li­gious tol­er­ance. Younger vot­ers are less likely than other age groups to re­gard racially in­clu­sive lan­guage as “po­lit­i­cally cor­rect.” They are less likely to be­lieve in “re­verse dis­crim­i­na­tion” and to em­brace anti-im­mi­grant at­ti­tudes. And, ac­cord­ing to the USA To­day/Rock the Vote sur­vey, they were not im­pressed by the GOP nom­i­nee’s con­ven­tion speech. By more than 2 to 1, younger vot­ers said it made Trump seem less hu­man and ac­ces­si­ble.

While Clin­ton has an ethics prob­lem, Trump has a hu­man­ity prob­lem. His com­bat­ive­ness and lack of po­lit­i­cal pol­ish could be ad­van­tages among younger vot­ers. But th­ese are tied to a dis­cred­it­ing lack of em­pa­thy. It is one thing to go af­ter “low en­ergy” Jeb Bush or “Lyin’” Ted Cruz; it is an­other to mock a dis­abled re­porter, stereo­type Mex­i­cans as rapists, con­demn a judge be­cause of his eth­nic­ity, at­tack the faith of a griev­ing Gold Star mother, or call for sys­tem­atic dis­crim­i­na­tion against Mus­lims. Th­ese are not vi­o­la­tions of po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness. They are vi­o­la­tions of hu­man de­cency, re­veal­ing se­ri­ous moral im­pair­ment.

Here is some­thing for Reince Priebus, Paul Ryan, Mitch McCon­nell and other Repub­li­can lead­ers to con­sider. At high schools and col­leges with Latino or Mus­lim stu­dents, spray paint­ing “Trump 2016” on a wall or poster is prop­erly taken as a racially charged in­ci­dent. When white stu­dents chant “Trump! Trump!” at a bas­ket­ball game against a team in­clud­ing mi­nori­ties, it is prop­erly taken as a racial taunt. Young peo­ple un­der­stand the logo of the Repub­li­can nom­i­nee — the very name of the Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­date — as con­vey­ing a mes­sage of ex­clu­sion.

Th­ese are the first se­ri­ous po­lit­i­cal im­pres­sions of my younger son, vot­ing in his first pres­i­den­tial elec­tion this year. It is the way to lose a gen­er­a­tion.

Michael Ger­son is a syn­di­cated colum­nist. Con­tact him at michael­ger­son@ wash­post.com.

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