Young People Are Conservatives’ Newest Target


No matter how you identify or what beliefs you hold or your status in society, you are imbued with the power of the vote as an American citizen. (Courtesy of Twitter)

I will put this simply: any attempt to restrict access to voting is an attempt to usurp democracy. It is a blatant attack on the rights of citizens — regardless of their economic, social or political status. On the flip side, any attempt to expand voting rights is an act of upholding democracy. There was and will never be an exception — old, rich, young, poor, imprisoned, non-English speaking, disabled, Democrat, Republican and everything in between. No matter how you identify or what beliefs you hold or your status in society, you are imbued with the power of the vote as an American citizen. 

Now I could go on for years about how everyone, including current and formerly incarcerated persons, should maintain the right to vote. I could also write a dissertation on the importance of rich and variable thought and expression in the democratic process. But for now, I will address the simple truth that the Republican party’s attack on the voting rights of young people is an active threat to our democracy and demonstrates the deterioration of a once meaningful part of American society for all people. 

The only reason anything has ever gotten done in this country is because of young people, not parties and certainly not conservatives. That is, after all, the idea of conservatism: to conserve the current state of affairs or repeal policies which have disrupted an often false idea of the past. Since the 2020 election, attempts to restrict the voting rights of young people have become a part of the public consciousness. Voting restrictions began long before this, however. Practically the second the Voting Rights Amendment of 1965 was passed (bipartisanly) people began to try to find ways to keep certain groups from the vote. The most blatant attack on the rights of the vote came in 2013 when the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder. Their decision allowed states and jurisdictions with a history of voter suppression to enact restrictive voter identification laws. Now, roughly a decade after this, our Supreme Court is remarkably more conservative and our political landscape is far more hostile. 

The newest target by conservatives is young people. The mission of conservatives is to make sure as few people have the ability to vote as possible (how patriotic). Republicans saw what happens when young people vote, and now they’re doing everything they can to make it harder. Every generation has been more liberal than their parents because that’s how social progress works. Idaho Republicans used their congressional monopoly to ban student ID cards as a form of voter identification. Texas Republican Rep. Carrie Isaac introduced a House bill to prohibit Texas counties from placing voting locations on college campuses. We should be worried that Isaac will give Florida Governor Ron DeSantis more ideas. The GOP has had little federal success, but they have been frighteningly effective at running local campaigns to roll back voting rights. And as any high school history teacher will tell you, the real power lies in the local and state governments. These pushes are not because college campus voting or IDs pose any real threat; it’s because college-educated students are deeply frightening to Republicans. Critical thought is deeply frightening. Fear mongering is a favorite tactic of conservatives, and if it works, we may have to fight even more just to submit a ballot that they may just throw out anyway. 

On top of the threat of young people as a monolith, the racial aspect cannot be ignored. Gen Z is the most diverse generation in history. Roughly 71% of white voters casted ballots in 2020, compared to less than 59% of voters of color — a disparity that will only worsen with more restrictive voting laws. Further evidence of racially charged voter suppression on the part of republicans: a much larger portion of white voters account for the Republican and Republican-leaning votes than of Democratic and Democratic-leaning vote (81% vs. 59% as of 2019). Young people are the easiest group to dissuade from voting, and the easiest to suppress. That is only exacerbated when it comes to young minority voters. Unfortunately, the power of an “I voted” sticker only goes so far. 

Conservatives have never been interested in the rights of minorities, or really anyone. They have never piloted programs to expand the vote or provide better care for the large number of non-white American citizens — they haven’t even been good at faking it, like liberals. As a result and to no surprise, they are not popular with Gen Z. Especially given the last 20 years of becoming increasingly more conservative. As a result, they are desperately trying to lower voter turnout so as to not face this grim reality. Just to make matters worse, the GOP has never been all that tactful, and young people are able to see and identify the ways in which their voices are being silenced. The most clever voter suppression scheme were the policies guiding the acceptance or rejection of mail-in ballots — a particularly sneaky way of shadow-banning young people from the ballot box. Too bad social media lets us talk and discern on a much larger scale than ever before. In Florida in 2018, one in 20 mail-in ballots were thrown out from the 18-35 age group — compared to just 200 in the entire state for the 65+ group. New Hampshire Republicans proposed a slew of voting restrictions following 2020, directly targeting the 12% of the population made up of college students. 

The evidence is tangible. Republicans are subverting the will of the people, undermining the power of the largest voting bloc and not doing a very good job at hiding it. I hope for the GOP’s sake that they realize that the subversion of democracy is an attack on everyone, not just their “enemies.” But I don’t think it was ever about upholding democracy, but that’s a conservation for another day. 

Today, Gen Z needs to know the fight ahead, and who is being attacked. Making change will require advocacy from all sides and it will mean running for local elections and voting in local elections. It will mean refusing to be dissuaded when barriers are put in front of us. 

Alexandra Rapp, FCRH ’24, is a history and international studies major from Hershey, Pa.