Reagan McCarthy, a 20-year-old student at Penn State University who identifies as a conservative, is not sure she can trust Donald Trump.
“There is a lot of uncertainty,” she said at the Conservative Political Action Conference in late February. “You never really know what his next move is going to be.”
But with House Speaker Paul Ryan, McCarthy says she knows what to expect.
“I really trust Paul Ryan because I know what his agenda is — repealing Obamacare, fixing the tax code, pulling people out of poverty,” she said. “It’s very straight and narrow.”
McCarthy is like many next-generation conservatives. According to a recent report from the Pew Research Center, 52 percent of 18- to 39-year-old Republicans said they are more likely to side with congressional Republicans than with Trump.
“Younger Republicans (those under 40) are the only subgroup of Republicans who say they are more inclined to trust Republican congressional leaders over Trump in the case of a disagreements between them,” the report said.
This finding is in line with a broader trend. While Trump has aligned his political platform with certain far-right factions of the Republicans Party, recent research shows that young Republicans are actually more to the left than the rest of their party on almost every issue. That means Trump’s often radical and vague rhetoric may not resonate as deeply with this group — and that the Republicans Party could see a shift in platform down the line.
Young Republicans have always been more skeptical of Trump
Young voters’ skepticism toward Trump is not surprising.
Polling throughout the campaign showed Trump was by far the least favored candidate among young voters. On Election Day, exit polling showed Trump received roughly 37 percent of the youth vote — consistent with Mitt Romney’s performance in 2012.
While this breakdown is in large part because younger voters are overwhelmingly aligned with the Democratic Party — a 2016 survey by Harvard’s Institute of Politics found 61 percent of millennial voters prefer a Democrat in the White House — there has also been an ideological shift among young Republicans to the left relative to their own party. And they defy most signifiers of a typical Trump voter.
“They are less xenophobic, less anti-immigrant, and less white and better educated than their Republican elders,” says Gary Jacobson, a political scientist with the University of California San Diego who has researched political polarization among young voters. “They may prefer House Republicans faute de mieux” (for want of a better alternative), he says.
Overall, young Republicans are far more likely to identify as moderates, as Vox’s Jeff Stein explained, whereas older Republicans are much more likely to identify as conservatives. These young Republicans may not make up enough of the party’s base to push away from the older white electorate for now — but in the future, their political leanings could indicate a looming shift in the Republican platform.