Flexing its muscle, Gen Z puts MAGA on defense | Dick Polman

‘Republicans don’t have a messaging problem with young voters, they have a values problem with younger voters,’ an analyst said

April 17, 2023 6:30 am
Rep. Justin Jones, left, and Justin Pearson, right, were expelled from the Tennessee House. (Photo: John Partipilo/Tennessee Lookout).

Rep. Justin Jones, left, and Justin Pearson, right, were expelled from the Tennessee House. (Photo: John Partipilo/Tennessee Lookout).

I’m updating a plea uttered by Princess Leia in “Star Wars”:

“Help us, Generation Z! You’re our only hope!”

Fortunately, the youngest voters in the electorate (current ages 18 to 26) are already helping us, big time. By landslide margins, as best evidenced at the ballot box, they’re sickened by the MAGA GOP’s racism, sexism, gun fanaticism, election denialism, Christian nationalism, homophobia, anti-science ignorance, forced-birth extremism … have I left anything out?

Republicans are somehow shocked that most Gen Zers feel this way – and suddenly realize that wooing the young’uns could be a herculean task in years ahead.

I’m loathe to soil my column space by quoting Kellyanne Conway, but here’s what she said on Fox News not too long ago: “I think we got some work to do on the young people who think differently on abortion, perhaps guns, or climate change. The thing I’m really concerned about on this is that the left becomes a turnout machine for young people.”

Not sure what kind of “work” Kellyanne wants “to do on the young people,” but if the goal is to get them to “think differently” – to buy the MAGA belief that slaughtering innocent civilians on a regular basis is the price to be paid for freedom; that it’s wise to use government muscle to crack down on women, to the point of pulling abortion pills off the market; that climate change is a mirage; that anyone who isn’t white and straight is an inferior human; that hate is cool – then I bet that most young people will spurn the cult’s invitation.

Most hilariously, Republicans thinkers seem to believe they’ll win over Gen Zers with better “messaging.” I prefer to believe John Della Volpe, who directs polling at the Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics.

After crunching the numbers, Volpe said, “Republicans don’t have a messaging problem with young voters, they have a values problem with younger voters.”

Oh yeah. Most Gen Zers value the multicultural America of the 21st century – racial diversity, LGBTQ rights, female empowerment – coupled with the belief that government has a crucial role in solving problems. They also believe we shouldn’t entrust the climate to God, that we shouldn’t surrender our civility to guns, and that we need to rescue democracy from its current existential crisis. Those values clash with a cult led by a criminal defendant.

The proof is in the numbers that track voters under 30. In the 2020 presidential election, Joe Biden beat Trump among youngsters by 59-35 percent – and their turnout was 11 percent higher than in 2016. In the 2022 midterm elections, a whopping 77 percent chose Democratic candidates; the GOP drew 21 percent. They were a key reason why the Republicans won the House by a paper-thin margin.

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They were an even bigger reason why Democrats kept the Senate and added a seat: In Pennsylvania (where the seat flipped from red to blue), 70 percent of under-30s voted blue. In Arizona (where Dems were defending a seat), it was 76 percent, while in Nevada (where Dems were defending a seat), it was 64 percent. Down in Georgia, 63 percent helped to thwart the ascent of dolt Herschel Walker.

There’s no need to speculate about whether the U.S. Supreme Court’s erasure of Roe v. Wade fueled their ire – young voters were the only age cohort to rank “abortion and reproductive rights” as the top voting issue. And that sentiment hasn’t waned.

In last week’s Wisconsin state supreme court race – with the composition of the bench at stake and abortion rights hanging in the balance – young turnout was nearly as great as in the 2022 midterms, and their landslide support for the abortion rights candidate helped propel her to an 11-point win over the MAGA candidate.

In New Hampshire last year, a Gen Z Republican named Karoline Leavitt tried and failed to win a House seat. She recently contended in a Fox News column that her party can surely woo young voters if only it would tweak its messaging.

For instance, “Republicans cannot continue to allow the Democrats to own an issue as popular and simple as protecting the environment. Republicans want clean water, air and forests, too, so why don’t we say that, instead of allowing the Democrats to portray us as evil Earth-haters who want the planet to end in 10 years?”

That is priceless. The reason Democrats own the environment issue is because her party refuses to help the environment. Last year, not a single congressional Republican voted for the new federal law that provides subsidies for low-emission technologies. Republicans have tried to use the government power to promote polluting energy sources – like burning more coal. Republican state treasurers have even sought to punish companies that want to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

It’s not enough to “say” that Republicans want to protect the environment when their actions – and the donations they garner from fossil fuel sources – demonstrate precisely the opposite.

So with disgusted young voters poised to strike again in 2024, I have a better suggestion for the MAGA GOP:

Keep on doing what you’re doing.

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Dick Polman
Dick Polman

Opinion contributor Dick Polman, a veteran national political columnist based in Philadelphia and a Writer in Residence at the University of Pennsylvania, writes at His work appears on Mondays on the Capital-Star's Commentary Page. Readers may email him at [email protected].