The New York Times ran an excellent report yesterday, interviewing several young people who consider themselves Republicans despite disagreeing with the GOP on at least one major political issue.
“In interviews with two dozen Republicans ages 18 to 23, almost all of them, while expressing fundamentally conservative views, identified at least one major issue on which they disagreed with the party line,” Times reporter Maggie Astor writes. “But more often than not, they said one issue kept them committed to the party: abortion.”
One of the young people interviewed, Autumn Crawford, told the Times, “I’m of the firm belief that you can’t be pro-life and vote Democrat. I’m not pro-Trump. I will vote Republican because I will not vote Democrat, but that doesn’t mean I’m happy about it.”
Another college student told Astor, “If it weren’t for that one issue [abortion], then I’d have no problem voting for a Democrat over Trump.”
Several of the young people interviewed expressed deep dissatisfaction with President Trump, others said the Republican Party doesn’t take the threat of climate change seriously enough, while a few more had left-leaning views on LGBT issues and immigration. But all of the interviewees had one thing in common: They won’t stop identifying as Republican, despite their disagreements, because their opposition to abortion most influences their political affiliation.
The article is useful in a number of ways, one of which is how it highlights a brewing problem for the Right, which faces the unpleasant reality of a rising generation that tends to lean left on several issues, even among young people who are more conservative in a number of key areas.
But most interesting is how the article seems to bolster, anecdotally at least, the pro-life argument that younger Americans are becoming more opposed to abortion than older generations are. The age gap in abortion polling isn’t quite as stark as it is on other issues, but it’s been fairly clear over the last decade or so that Millennials, in particular, tend to be more pro-life than the generations that came before them. And, as Astor notes, those who oppose legal abortion tend to determine their vote based on that issue more frequently than do those who support it.
Medical progress is perhaps the most obvious explanation for the rising number of young, pro-life Americans. Over the last few decades, ultrasound technology has made it possible to witness the growth of human life in the womb, and, more recently, to do so in 3-D. That capability hasn’t totally altered the abortion debate, but it has robbed abortion supporters of the argument that the fetus is merely a “clump of cells.” About halfway through pregnancy, an ultrasound photo makes it perfectly clear that’s not the case.
The interviews in the Times article also underscore another point, though it goes unmentioned in the report itself. The steady radicalization of the Democratic Party on abortion is almost certainly costing the party votes. Especially given that Trump has made some subset of otherwise conservative voters uncomfortable with the GOP, Democrats have had a chance to convince those voters that they’re welcome on the left — and to moderate in some ways to make that possible. On abortion, as on nearly every other issue, they’ve failed even to attempt it, instead becoming even more pro-abortion than they were in 2016.
And this isn’t an issue for Democrats with young people only. In September 2016, Politico Magazine published an article on the “real Trumpettes,” wealthy women who were vociferous supporters of Donald Trump’s campaign. Buried in the article was this fascinating anecdote:
For example, there is Maria, Kramer’s housekeeper. “Maria is one of our Trumpettes who has converted her entire church,” [Trump supporter Toni Holt] Kramer said, describing her as part of the family. “She’s Latina.”
Maria, a U.S. citizen from Mexico, cited her opposition to abortion in explaining why she was voting Republican, but she disappeared into the kitchen instead of joining the group discussion.
It’s only an anecdote, of course, but it’s been borne out by voting patterns, too. The pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, for instance, targeted 184,000 persuadable voters in 2016, aiming especially for minority voters and moderates who might be alienated by the Democratic Party’s platform that favors unlimited legal abortion. An analysis later found that, among those voters, there was a shift of more than 20,000 votes from Hillary Clinton to Trump, as well as that Hispanic voters in particular were more likely to back Trump after receiving pro-life messaging.
On the flip side, of course, Democrats risk drawing the ire of abortion-advocacy groups and activists if they cease backing unlimited, taxpayer-funded abortion on demand. But this article from the Times illustrates the pro-life case that support for such a policy will alienate plenty of Americans in the middle.