It’s commonly known that younger voters lean more liberal, which is a major part of why Democrats make stronger appeals to get young people to the polls when compared with Republicans. But one large group of younger voters currently tilts in the opposite direction—18-year-old white males.
Twelfth-grade boys are nearly twice as likely to identify as conservative versus identifying as liberal, according to a survey by Monitoring the Future.
This is a big deal. In the latter term of the George W. Bush presidency and into the early days of Barack Obama’s time in the White House, liberal boys outnumbered conservatives. Those days might be long gone.
Conversely, more young women continue to identify as liberal. Teen girls have doubled their support for Democrats in the decade between 2012 and 2022.
It makes sense, considering that decade-long period included the first female presidential nominee of a major party in Hillary Clinton, the MeToo movement, greater numbers of women entering college and the workforce, and the increased abortion restrictions (and bans) that resulted from the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade.
But why are 18 year-old boys leaning more conservative, and what about the age of Trump appeals to them? Part of the answer is an embrace of toxic masculinity.
Since his first presidential campaign in 2016, Donald Trump has leaned into his act of abrasive machismo. He won the presidency even after Access Hollywood tape, released shortly before the 2016 election, showed a pre-politics Trump bragging about sexually assaulting women. He regularly used social media to attack women for their looks or weight. And his brutish bullying not only shook his Republican primary contenders but also anyone in his own party who dared to challenge his leadership once he was in office.
Trump himself also made efforts of direct outreach to teens and young adults particularly through organizations like Turning Point USA, a right-leaning political group of young conservatives who are on board with the MAGA positions regarding anti-immigration rhetoric, Black Lives Matter slanders, and full-on bigoted assaults on LGBTQ rights. But TPUSA has also gone out of its way to promote protecting masculinity as one of its core values, with posts and videos such as, “Men Have A Duty To Be Masculine,” and attacks on the supposed “feminization” of American culture. They also attack the Democratic Party as “weak” for supporting policy reforms to expand women’s rights and advocate for equal pay, combating climate change, and ensuring LGBT populations aren’t victimized or discriminated against.
This isn’t political posturing, these are core modern day conservative values. And young men are the target audience. White male conservatism has fought tooth and nail against equity, diversity—and has dived head first into grievance politics and culture wars.
“…Democrats should not accept the trend of young white males identifying as more conservative. With thin margins of victory in races from the presidency to city councils, even slight changes in voter attitudes are worth a second look. ”
Though the Fox News juggernaut—and lesser-watched conservative counterparts like The Blaze, Newsmax, and OAN—are predominately viewed by an older generation of white male conservatives, their talking points are regurgitated on new media that’s more likely to be seen by younger people.
Podcasters like Joe Rogan, men’s rights activist Andrew Tate, and other right-wing influencers on Twitter, TikTok, and YouTube have caught fire among white teens particularly aspiring for the things these brands proximate to masculinity: the accumulation of wealth, women as sex objects or baby-making housemaids, and unabashed bullying of those you don’t agree with.
Popular right-wing “thinkers” like Bronze Age Pervert (BAP) reject principles of equality and democracy, are openly misogynistic, and subtly inject racism into the promotion of “male” pursuits like body-building. BAP is particularly popular among young white males and even gained support from some Trump staffers.
White voters—particularly older men—have long been the bread and butter for conservatives. In last year’s midterms seven in 10 voted for Republicans, according to exit polls and AP VoteCast. Democrats have largely ceded ground on courting older white men seeking, instead focusing on Black voters, women, young people, and other more diverse groups.
But Democrats should not accept the trend of young white males identifying as more conservative. With thin margins of victory in races from the presidency to city councils, even slight changes in voter attitudes are worth a second look. Democrats need to find a message to these voters that the toxic masculinity of Trump and the MAGA movement is not the way forward for this country, and that they are not victims of modernity.
Democrats cannot simply hope that as the older Fox News-viewing population dies off that their politics will go with them. The newfound growth in conservative identification among young white males shows that the battle for justice, equality, and a sustainable future is far from over.