Fueled by generous foundation support, conservative youth groups are surging past their liberal rivals.
During the Vietnam War and the early civil rights movement, SDS dominated the growing youth movement on college campuses, sparking huge rallies and occasionally student strikes.
YAF, by contrast, remained largely confined to smaller scale events, focusing more on propagating conservative ideas.
But their fortunes soon diverged. SDS became so alienated from the liberal establishment that most of its top leaders became violent extremists. Some of the remnants of SDS morphed into terrorist organizations like the Weathermen.
YAF, by contrast, began a “long march through the institutions.” Over time, it spawned the careers of dozens of Republican officials, including top GOP operatives like Karl Rove, all the while clinging tenaciously to its hold on students at major universities.
YAF was a driving force behind Ronald Reagan’s 1980 presidential candidacy and helped re-ignite the GOP’s fervent embrace of conservative libertarian principles. More than a half century after its founding, it’s thriving on college campuses. So are a growing number of Christian-affiliated youth organizations.
Is this pattern likely to change? Perhaps, but liberals may be running out of time.
Surveys suggest that younger voters are getting increasingly conservative, and may be ripe to be plucked by a new generation of conservative youth organizations.
Consider this: In 2008 and 2012, the vast majority of youth, aged 18-29, voted for Barack Obama over John McCain and Mitt Romney, respectively. To some it prefigured an “Obama generation.” But it was largely an illusion.
In 2016, white youth defected in droves to the GOP. Trump bested Hillary Clinton 48 to 43 among this demographic, the worst showing by a Democrat in decades.
And while Clinton beat Trump among “millennials” overall, she vastly underperformed Obama’s level of support among this voting group.
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In Pennsylvania, Ohio and the remaining swing states, Clinton’s support fell 20% among young voters compared to Obama in 2012 – a major reason for her defeat in the election.
And Democratic prospects may soon be getting worse.
According to surveys conducted by Prof. Jeff Brauer of Keystone College, half of those born between 1995 and 2010 — the so-called “Generation Z”, most of them too young to vote in 2016 – hold views on government regulation and spending and national security more conservative than earlier generations of youth.
Jean Twenge, a liberal professor of psychology at San Diego State University, has found the same pattern in her own surveys.
“High school seniors are more likely to identify as political conservatives now compared to ten years ago,” she wrote in a recent paper. “Most surprising, more [youth] identify as conservatives now compared to the 1980s.”
Democrats like to boast of building the “Resistance.” But by all accounts, among youth especially, that resistance is getting more conservative by the day.