Trump or No Trump, Conservatives Stand To Make Major Gains Among Youth

Stewart Lawrence | Consultant and policy analyst

One indicator?  Foundation grants to youth organizations.

Between 2008 and 2014, conservative youth organizations received nearly $500 million more in contributions than progressive youth organizations, according to the liberal youth group, Gen Progress.

In fact, the largest conservative youth organization’s total revenue was larger than the combined revenues of the wealthiest four progressive youth organizations during this period.

And the disparity is growing: in 2008, conservatives held a 2-to-1 financial advantage; by 2014, it had grown to nearly 3-to-1.

Last month, a leading progressive funding voice sounded the alarm.  He called out major liberal foundations for refusing to support youth organizations as generously as conservatives do.

He also pointed to another disparity:  Conservative foundations tend to provide grants with relatively few strings attached while progressive foundations try to micro-manage their aid recipients.

“In the effort to be fair and to not make mistakes, many progressive funders have given up speed, agility, responsiveness to current dynamics, and the ability to accept risk and failure. The incredible irony is that liberal funders are more conservative in their funding strategies, and conservative funders are being bolder and less risk-averse,” wrote Vu Le.

These disparities aren’t limited to the foundation world.

In the US Senate, over half of Republican offices pay their interns; by contrast, less than a third of Democratic offices do.  The Republican National Committee also pays its interns; the Democratic National Committee expects them to work for free.

And while College Republicans enjoyed a national budget of over $6 million for 2016, College Democrats didn’t even have a line item in the DNC budget.

Some analysts believe that the disparity in foundation support mainly reflects the latest presidential trend.

With Barack Obama in office, youth had less reason to seek foundation grants to support political advocacy, they say.  And now that Donald Trump’s in power, liberal foundations are likely to rev up their support to resist the incoming administration’s agenda.

“There’s always a lot of ‘backlash’ funding,” David Callahan, editor of Inside Philanthropy, told  National Monitor.  “Liberal donors tend to step up their grant-making when they’re in the opposition.”

But thus far there’s little evidence to support that view.  In fact, according to recent funding reports, conservative and liberal funders have increased their grant-making at comparable levels since Trump’s election.

The larger problem may be the way liberals and conservatives approach the political process.

“Conservatives have simply understood how to play the long game, longer,” wrote Carlos Vera, a liberal youth activist, in an op-ed column published in USA Today last May.

“Progressive funders have tended to be more nearsighted, focusing their giving on single-issue campaigns or increasing election-year turnout. But in doing so, they’ve pigeonholed progressive youth organizations and forced them to dramatically narrow the scope of their spending. This is not a sustainable model for cultivating or keeping talent.”

By contrast, conservative groups have invested heavily in leadership development programs that bear fruit over time, Vera said.

Consider the contrasting fates of two of the best known campus youth groups spawned during the 1960s:  Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and the Young Americans for Freedom (YAF).

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?   Not if recent voting patterns are any indication.

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 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.

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 the “Resistance.”  But the resistance is getting Redder every day.

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