Several recent articles have examined the influence of the Trump era on teens, at pre-voting ages. Claire Cain Miller looks at ‘What Teenagers Have Learned From a Tumultuous Time in Politics’ (April 22nd 2021 in the NYTimes). Emily Badger and Claire Cain Miller write about “How the Trump Era Is Molding the Next Generation of Voters“
Soon-to-be voters say they’re disillusioned by what they’ve observed, but many are also motivated to political action.
I was a teenager in the sixties. I remember the passion I felt when witnessing on TV a Buddhist monk sit down on a Saigon street, dowse himself with gasoline, light a fire and burn to death. I remember the passion I felt when the 6-day war broke out with many Arabic neighboring states threaten to invade Israel: I immediately went to the Israeli embassy to sign up as a volunteer! The events of the day had to have had a lasting effect on my adult views and politics.
So I understand, that for today’s teenagers the presidency of Donald Trump, the BLM protests following the murder of George Floyd and others, the pandemic, and the insurrection culminating with the storming of the US Capitol, are events that must have shaped the political views of teenagers.
In the NYT, MIller writes: “Apparently, research shows that a voting generation is typically shaped for life by what happens politically in their teen years and early 20s. What have teenagers taken away from all this? We asked 604 of them, ages 13 to 17, from around the country, in a poll by Dynata for The New York Times. A little more than half the teenagers surveyed were girls. And nearly half were Black, Hispanic, Native American or Asian-American. (We talked to more of them because Generation Z will be the first in which nearly half of the electorate is nonwhite.)”
The survey revealed disillusion, hardened political lines, but also motivation to become involved.
“Simultaneously, we have this caustic, scorched-earth politics of the Trump administration, particularly for people of color, and at the same time we see young people exercising power and influence and organizing and showing up in the marches and the election,” said Valeria Sinclair-Chapman, a political scientist at Purdue. “This is their political socialization, so we have to see how it plays out.”
A future woman president? Eighty-seven percent of them said they hoped a woman would be elected president in their lifetime; 47 percent of Trump supporters hoped so.
Confidence in government? About half agreed that government had their interests in mind. But less than half of girls or respondents who were Black, Hispanic, Native or Asian-American agreed, and only one-third of Trump supporters did. White boys were most likely to believe the government represented them. Minority girls were 21 percentage points less likely to agree that the government had their interests in mind. White boys were 20 percentage points more likely to be interested in running for office than boys of color; white girls were eight points more likely than girls of color.
Effect of the Trump presidency: In regard to political ambition it made 1/3 of teenagers of both genders less interested in running (with a larger effect on those of color.) But it also made about 1/2 of survey respondents, and nearly 3/4 of Trump-supporting teenagers, more interested in running.
By comparison, the 2020 election made 2/3 of teenagers more interested in running.
Other research has also found that for some young people who were disappointed by the Trump presidency, it awakened their interest in political involvement, according to David Campbell and Christina Wolbrecht.
“What we found is that there was great disillusionment in democracy among adolescents, especially girls, especially those who think of themselves as Democrats,” Mr. Campbell said. “Then we found this upsurge in protest activity, so the disillusionment, rather than driving them out of politics, pushed them into political activity.”
Their research also suggests that the surge of women running has been encouraging to young people — among liberals and some conservatives as well.
Young people are not likely to forget the activism they’re learning now, said Ella Robinson, a 16-year-old in Silver Spring, Md. The Trump era has taught her and her fellow students political savvy, she said, as their spontaneous school walkouts have been replaced by organized protests, with permits and tailored messages around issues like gun control and climate change.
“People in my generation are very aware that walkouts can only go so far,” Ms. Robinson said. “Voting needs to happen.”