Isolated in a sea of fervent Sanders’ supporters at an April rally in Washington Square Park, Ivan Teo, an NYU College Republican, made his way around the crowded college campus. Streets surrounding the usually serene park were cordoned off and filled with protesters, college students, and people proudly donning Bernie Sanders badges as they snaked around NYU buildings in a seemingly endless queue to enter the rally grounds. The Democratic candidate drew close 27,000 supporters, the majority college students and millennials, making the experience for Teo an “obvious manifestation of how lonely being a Republican in a very liberal, progressive city is like.”
Throughout the month leading up to the New York primary, millennial Sanders supporters dotted the NYU campus, giving out Bernie paraphernalia and holding “Vote Bernie” signs. Though less popular with the millennial generation, Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton also had a significant presence on the college campus, with tables set up at NYU Kimmel Center for University Life by student Democrat groups. But there were no signs of support for Republicans like Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and John Kasich around the admittedly left-leaning school, and the only words spoken about them were usually negative. “It’s frustrating how often people are appalled when they find out I’m a Republican,” said Teo. He faces the stereotype that all Republicans are “racist, sexist, xenophobic bigots.”
The 93 million millennials in America are the most powerful age group among voters, which is bad news for the Grand Old Party. Voters under 30 are supportive of Sanders and Clinton, who are polling at 61 percent and 45 percent respectively. Labeled the most liberal both politically and socially, approximately two-thirds of millennials support the Affordable Care Act, liberal immigration laws, and gay marriage equality. “These opinions make millennials more compatible with Democratic candidates,” said Peter Levine, director of the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) at Tufts University. But what about the 15 percent of millennials who don’t #FeelTheBern, and instead subscribe to more conservative values? While millennial Republicans may be less conspicuous, stigmatized, or simply misunderstood, they are certainly out there. These millennials are attracted by the Republican Party’s conservatism and goals of small and limited government, economic and social liberty, pragmatic foreign policy, and strong national defense.
Eli Nachmany, a 21-year-old from New Jersey and chairman of the New York Federation of College Republicans (NYFCR), believes that the Republican Party “defends these principles and puts forth an agenda aimed at uniting all Americans, not dividing groups and pitting them against one another,” he said. “I know that the Republican vision for this country is better than that of any other party.”
But that “vision” is often unheard in discussions. Teo believes that the stigma of being branded a bigot is especially harmful as it silences debate and reduces complex issues that Democrats and Republicans disagree on, like fracking and tax cuts, to one-sided arguments. “The Democratic stance on these issues, for example, that fracking and tax cuts are all bad and no good, are taken for granted as true.” His political stance leaves him feeling isolated at times, but forces him to really think about his principles and values because “it’s important to understand and defend them when faced with so many people who don’t share them.”
Although it’s not easy being a millennial Republican today, Nachmany does not let this stigma affect him. “Being afraid of what someone else thinks of your strongly held beliefs is no way to approach debate,” he said. It is precisely because of the misrepresentation that Nachmany is motivated to communicate the authentic Republican perspective to others by upholding NYFCR’s . mission statement. At NYU, Nachmany promotes Republican principles and encourages an active College Republican chapter, preparing members for future service to the Republican Party.
While the divide between millennial Democrats and Republicans seems clear, the lines grow ambiguously blurry when it comes to stances on specific issues. Polls have found that the millennial political opinions are not black and white. About one-third of millennials identify as economically conservative, while another one-third call themselves liberal; 37% describe themselves as conservative on foreign policy and only 28% are labeled as liberal, according to a USA TODAY study. But it is on social issues that the liberals win: almost half consider themselves liberal, while less than one-third call themselves conservative. Does this mean that the traditional GOP stance on social issues is what’s turning millennials off?
Levine does not believe that millennial Republicans are more socially progressive apart from attitudes towards gay rights. “I don’t think views of abortion have changed over time,” he said. “Gay rights is the main example of an opinion that has changed as even conservative youth tend to be favorable towards it.”
While younger Republicans may have a “libertarian streak,” it really comes down to “wanting the government to get out of the way” when it comes to social issues like health care. Teo adds that it should not be the role of the government to excessively regulate private, consenting, non-harmful behavior. “The reason that younger Republicans want the government to get out of the way on social issues is because it gets involved in problems like the drug war and more often than not, the government messes it up.”
While the millennials that do identify with a party tend to side with Democrats, there are many more who are independent of any party affiliation. Levine explores two theories regarding millennial voting patterns. “One theory is that millennials don’t like parties because parties are disciplined and hierarchical organizations, and millennials are used to having choice and ability to customize their interests,” he said.
Another theory is that political parties “no longer do much” as parties, leaving millennials with little to identify with. “Parties have become labels for independent politicians and campaigns,” Levine explained. Until the 1980s, parties were large organizations that recruited volunteers, organized events, and employed many people. Today, “a major event––like the Bernie Sanders rally––might seem to be related to a party, but actually, it was the candidate that made it happen, not the party.”
- Ivan Teo, https://www.facebook.com/ivan.teo.3388
- Eli Nachmany, https://www.facebook.com/EliNachmany
- Chloe Chik, https://www.facebook.com/chloechik614
- Peter Levine, Peter.Levine@tufts.edu