DES MOINES, Iowa—President Joe Biden garnered more than 60 percent of ballots cast by under-30 voters in 2020 while former President Donald Trump mustered less than 36 percent, according to Tufts University’s Tisch College of Civic Life.
That glaring gap, boosted by surging turnout—50 percent of Americans between 18–29 years old voted in 2020, an 11-percent increase from 2016—allowed President Biden to win three swing states by less than 45,000 combined votes and, ultimately, the Oval Office.
But surveys show that same voting cohort is ambivalent about the administration they helped install and that the prospect of a 2024 presidential election between an octogenarian incumbent and a 77-year-old former chief executive is unlikely to compel the same decisive turnout it did in 2020.
Republicans can hope that happens or they can earnestly engage under-30 Americans and young families to capture a constituency the GOP has struggled to entice for generations, not only for their 2024 votes, but for a lifetime of support.
And that starts with a nominee whose age and experiences are relatable to Millennial voters, or who can relate to the pressures on young working and middle-class families raising children.
That was among common themes implied or overtly stated by four of the five Republican presidential candidates who campaigned on Aug. 12 at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines Register Political Soapbox pitches and in “Fair Side Chats” with Gov. Kim Reynolds.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who served as Trump administration United Nations Ambassador, did not directly outline a strategy for winning young voters but referred often to their middle-class roots and to how they identify with parents raising children.
Biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and multi-corporate CEO Ryan Binkley, who is also a Dallas pastor, made winning the youth vote a significant component of their stump pitches, as did Miami Mayor Francis Suarez the day before.
All three warned that without something to offer under-30 voters and young families, Republicans will not win in 2024 no matter who earns the party’s nod.
Of course, they were referring to President Trump, who is far and away the frontrunner in the 13-candidate GOP field but not popular with under-30 voters and is losing that constituency’s vote by nearly a 2-to-1 margin in 2020 and, as polls indicate, unlikely to fare better in 2024.
President Trump was the other Republican candidate to campaign at the Iowa State Fair on Aug. 12, spending about 15 minutes at Steer N’ Stein, a restaurant bar on the 455-acre midway grid. He did not participate in the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox or “Fair Side Chats.”
Democrats Marianne Williamson and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., also made 20-minute pitches from the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox. By the time the 11-day Iowa State Fair concludes on Aug.20, 13 presidential candidates, including 11 Republicans, will have made rounds at the fair.
When Is Too Old?
Mr. DeSantis, who secured a key endorsement from influential Iowa BlazeTV commentator Steve Deace on Aug. 11, never mentioned the youth vote in his “Fair Side Chat” with Ms. Reynolds, which was briefly disrupted by LBGTQ activists blowing whistles and rattling cowbells before they were hauled off by state troopers—one literally dragged—after a scuffle in the crowd.
However, the governor, 44, has often made references to his relative youth compared to that of Mr. Trump, and much of his friendly interview with Ms. Reynolds recounted experiences with his three children, all under six years old, on the campaign trail.
Ms. Haley, 51, the mother of two teenagers, recalled the pressures on her family when her husband, Michael, an officer in the South Carolina National Guard, was deployed in 2013 for a year-long tour in Afghanistan.
Like Mr. DeSantis, she did not define a strategy for appealing to young voters, but she has raised concerns about how many of the nation’s leaders, from the White House to the Senate, are not merely elder statesmen, but elderly.
“I’m a huge proponent of mental competency tests for anyone over the age of 75,” she said. “These are easy tests. It’s like, name four words that start with the same letter? What town were you born in? How many grandchildren do you have?”
Mr. Binkley, 55, a moonshot candidate with little national recognition who has not, as yet, qualified for the first Republican presidential debate on Aug. 23, said failure to engage young voters not only cost the GOP the White House and Senate but blunted the much-anticipated 2022 Midterm “red wave” into a trickling ripple.
“Many people are wondering, is there another wave coming? There’s not another wave coming,” he said. ”We’ve maxed out at 46 percent of the vote in the last two elections. And what we have to do as a party is pick up that mantle … and carry it to the next generation.”
There will be 70 million Millennials eligible to vote in November 2024, a lot of votes for President Biden unless Republicans craft an appeal to under-30 Americans, he said.
“The young people that are watching this today basically voted for Joe Biden in the last election. And we’ve got 70 million Millennials up for this ‘next-generation vote’ and we’ve got to win their hearts,” Mr. Binkley said. “So, I’m running for the next generation.”
Mr. Binkley, who praised the former president for implementing conservative policies, said using the same failed blueprint a third time won’t work any better than it did the first two times.
“Donald Trump had two opportunities. He maxed out at 46 percent of the vote in the last two general elections, lost 46 of the top 50 cities by population, plus 70 percent” of college students, he said.
Under-30 Voters Key to 2024
Mr. Ramaswamy has been impressive on the campaign trail and is challenging Mr. DeSantis as the leader of a pack so far behind Mr. Trump that the chase may already be over before it begins with the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 15, 2024.
“I’m also here as a member of my generation. I just turned 38. They said 37 was too young to be president. So I said fine. I turned 38. So I got that problem solved,” he quipped in his “Fair Side Chat” with Ms. Reynolds that ended with both rapping to his favorite “walk-off” song, Eminem’s “Lose Yourself.”
Mr. Ramaswamy said 40 percent of his 70,000 campaign donors are first-time contributors. The usual ratio is 2 percent, indicating that much of his campaign donations are coming from young voters far more so than a typical GOP office-seeker, he said.
“We’re bringing young people along with us in droves. And so, if you put me in that position as your nominee, it is my duty, my responsibility, to bring them along with us in our movement and deliver that landslide election,” Mr. Ramaswamy said. “And here’s how we do it. Young people know the difference when they’re being lied to. Young people know the difference when they’re just being told some fluff that you memorized in a political speech two minutes before you showed up.”
Millennial voters will elect the next president, he said, so it would be a good idea for those who want to be the next president to recognize that and to think about what it would take to earn their votes.
Mr. Ramaswamy said his campaign pitch to raise the voting age from 18 to 25 has been misinterpreted. His proposal, which would require a Constitutional amendment to implement, would require anyone between 18 to 25 to pass the same civics test given to immigrants seeking citizenship before they vote. Active duty military and first responders would be exempted from those requirements.
Mr. Ramaswamy said young Americans want to know the truth about things “and that’s why this is a campaign founded on speaking the truth, not when it’s easy but, when it is hard, the hard truth that goes back to telling the people, we the people, the truth once again.”
That truth is this: “God is real. There are two genders. Fossil fuels are a requirement for human prosperity. Reverse racism is racism. An open border is not a border. Parents determine the education of their kids. The nuclear family is the best and greatest form of governance known to mankind. Capitalism lifts us up from poverty. There are three branches of government in America, not four. And our Constitution is the strongest guarantor of freedom in human history. That is the truth. We stand up for the truth. We fight for the truth. That is who we are.”
And with the truth, Mr. Ramaswamy said, will come hearts, minds, spiritual fulfillment, and Republican voters.
“Speaking as a member of my generation, I think we are in the middle of this national void where young people like me, we’re just so hungry to believe in something bigger than ourselves,” Mr. Ramaswamy said. “And it’s sitting right here, right in front of us. It’s that flag on this gentleman’s shirt”—pointing into the crowd—“on his hat right here. It’s the United States of America, the greatest nation known to mankind.
“If we can revive pride in that country,” he continued, “I think our national problems start melting away. And so, that’s what this campaign is all about. Revive our national identity and good things are going to happen in this country. And it just might take a different generation to help lead us there.”