Ian Martens, a rising junior at Furman University in South Carolina, says President Donald Trump has “done a great job building our economy up,” and he likes the fact that Trump “stands up for Second Amendment rights,” or the right to bear arms.
“Most importantly, he is the most pro-life president,” Martens told VOA, calling that political issue for him “a debate between life and death.”
While the youth vote -- now the largest voting bloc in the U.S. -- is predicted to have a significant impact on the 2020 election, young white males like Martens may play an outsized role in determining the election.
Young white males “form a sizable and sometimes disproportionate swath of the American electorate,” reported the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts.
Young white males came out in force in the 2016 presidential election: One million more young white males went to the polls and cast a vote than young white females, and they preferred Republican candidate Trump to Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton by 22 percentage points.
And two years later in the 2018 midterm elections, while the majority – 60% -- of young voters ages 18 to 29 identified with the Democratic Party, more than four in 10 young white men said they favored Trump, according to the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization.
They voted more than Latino and Black men in the 2018 midterm elections, according to the Tufts analysis of 2018 Census Current Population Survey (CPS) data, and they make up a larger portion of the population in “some pivotal swing states like Iowa, Ohio, and New Hampshire,” CIRCLE reported.
Priorities among young white male voters are “Make America Great Again and the gun rights movements,” according to CIRCLE.
“I support President Trump because he brought up issues career politicians have neglected for decades, from highlighting working-class men and women all across this country, addressing the needs of farmers to protecting national interests overseas,” Cody Steed, a member of College Republicans at Florida Atlantic University, wrote in an email to VOA.
“I feel that he truly cares for the progression and success of this country,” Steed said.
Gun rights are pivotal for many young voters. In 2018, 77 percent of young American voters said that gun control was an important issue in determining their vote, according to the Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics.
The anti-abortion movement is important to some young white male voters, as well. Overall, 46% of men overall oppose abortion, according to a 2019 Gallup poll.
“The pro-life debate is the most important ‘political’ issue in my opinion, because it is most directly a debate between life and death,” Martens said. “Each abortion is the ending of a life, so that is why I am most passionate about that because I am not in favor of ending precious babies’ lives.”
By comparison, the same poll found 43% of women overall identified as supporting abortion rights, with 62% between the ages of 18 and 29. Forty-six percent of these women identified as “total Hispanic or nonwhite.”
Young white men join the ranks of “disaffected, middle-aged, working-class white men [who] were credited with one of the biggest political upsets in American presidential politics,” VOA reported.
At a Trump youth rally in Phoenix June 23, young white men took the stage with President Trump, one of his adult sons, and several other lawmakers and officials – all older white males.
“What a day at the @TrumpStudents convention in Phoenix,” tweeted Twitter user @realRyanShear after the youth rally in Phoenix. “So many great speakers and stories. Young conservatives won’t back down to the leftist mob that wants to silence our freedom of thought and speech. #Trump2020”
One engine for young white men is S4T, founded in 2015 by Campbell University students Ryan Fournier and John Lambert, that has “over 5,000 volunteers, 280 chapters, and over 13,000 vote pledges,” as of October 2019, it states on its website.
Confidence to act
A 2018 study from CIRCLE showed that young white men’s “self-perceived civic efficacy was relatively high,” 39 percent of them hold a belief that they are “well-qualified” to engage in politics, a higher percentage than that of young white women or of young men and women of color.
Despite this, however, a majority of – 60% -- “young white men were the least likely subgroup of youth to feel heard by their elected officials.”
But these voters do not uniformly echo the concerns of older white men in the Republican Party.
A study done by Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics found that many young Americans support getting rid of the Electoral College as well as private health insurance. Additionally, a “majority” of those surveyed support background checks for assault weapons.
“I would also like Trump to support and advance bipartisan legislation protecting clean air and water, investment in infrastructure, and economic support for disadvantaged communities in the form of a system different than our current assistance programs.” Steed said.
“I would very much like to see advanced … his personal promise in 2016 to broaden the overall party to be more inclusive of same-sex marriage and individuals who identify with the LGBT community,” Steed added.
“We are blessed with tremendous freedoms because of our founders, and that is something to celebrate and love, and President Trump does,” Martens said.
A Virginia native, Martens hasn’t campaigned for Trump, but says he likes talking with friends about politics and hopes that “people can see my side of things and I can explain it with compassion and kindness.” What’s needed in the U.S. is a “cultural shift,” Martens says, such as a return to traditional religious values.
“A lot of conservative values are rooted in religion and religious principles and values, but as people move away from religion, we are losing the important aspects religion brings to our communities,” he said.
Conservatives not Republicans
Since the 2018 midterm elections, however, the president has faced criticisms for his handling of a variety of issues, including foreign interference in U.S. politics, but also the more recent coronavirus pandemic and protests caused by racial strife.
Among the critics are some conservative white males -- ardent conservatives or Trump supporters four years ago, but who now have taken to social media to explain how they’ve changed their mind in whom they will support this this election year.
“I want to say to every woman, Muslim, member of the LGBTQ+ community, minorities, victims of sexual assault, and many others, I’m sorry,” Zach from North Carolina said in a video tweet from @RVAT2020, who said he voted for Trump in 2016.
“You deserve so much more than a man who … enacts legislation that moves us backwards on social issues and individual liberty,” he said.
Trey, an 18-year-old from Texas, said he was “extremely excited to be able to vote for the Republican candidate to finally uphold the conservative values I’ve been raised with and that I believe in.”
“I’ve been waiting for this year for a while,” he explained in a video on Twitter.
“The Christian faith that Donald Trump claims to uphold is in no way, shape or form apparent in the way he acts. It’s all meant to be a facade to court the Republican vote, and his policies have steered what Republicanism and conservatism mean in a completely different direction than in what I believe in,” he said.
Trey said he would be voting for someone who “upholds character, leadership, the ability to court both sides of the political aisle. … and that is certainly not Donald J. Trump.”
"I do think that America can return to that shining city on a hill that (former President Ronald) Reagan once referred to us as,” tweeted @PrestonBrailer, who attends the University of Pennsylvania and describes himself as conservative. “But first, I think, Donald Trump and the current GOP leadership need to be voted out.”