The kids are not all right — in fact, the youngest voters in America today are almost all left. In 2016, Donald Trump commanded the support of some 28 percent of voters under 30, according to Pew Research. His disapproval rating among Americans under 35 currently hovers around 70 percent. And while the senescent pussy-grabber-in-chief might be especially unappealing to the youths, millennials and Gen-Zers don’t look kindly on the rest of the Republican Party either. Meanwhile, when quizzed on their ideological beliefs and policy preferences, the rising generations espouse more liberal views than any older cohorts.
The sources of the GOP’s troubles with young people aren’t difficult to discern. Millennials (and Gen-Zers) are less white than older generations — and the whites among them are more racially progressive. For this reason, Republicans have a harder time persuading them to swallow the bitter (and deeply unpopular) pill of conservative fiscal policy with a spoonful of attacks on Colin Kaepernick and migrant caravans.
This problem is not lost on Republican operatives. But so long as reactionary plutocrats remain the party’s top shareholders — and resentful white cultural conservatives remain their most reliable voters — updating their product to better suit young voters’ tastes simply isn’t an option. So they’ve opted to disenfranchise left-leaning young voters, instead.
The latest effort comes in the swing state of Iowa, where Republicans currently enjoy full control of state government. Initially, the Hawkeye State GOP hoped to ban early voting on public university campuses. But after county auditors decried the measure as an attempt at disenfranchisement, Republicans settled for a subtler means of customizing the electorate: requiring all graduating college students in the state to take a survey asking whether they intend to remain in Iowa after receiving their diplomas, and then removing them from the voting rolls if they say that they do not.
Of course, graduating college students have been known to change their plans on occasion. And many students may not understand the implications of answering the survey in the negative. What’s more, the voting reform bill would also move the poll closing time for statewide elections from 9 p.m. to 8 p.m., and mark any active voter who fails to turn out for a single presidential election as inactive. Meanwhile, the State Senate rejected a proposal to end Iowa’s lifetime disenfranchisement of voters with felony convictions.
Iowa Republicans are hardly alone in their quest to erect obstacles to college student voting. In 2008, Republicans in the Tarheel State’s government revised North Carolina’s voter-ID law to exclude student identification cards. Eight other states have adopted similar restrictions. And last year, New Hampshire Republicans passed a law that effectively imposed a poll tax on college students, while then–Florida governor Rick Scott tried to block early voting on university campuses.
It is unclear whether Iowa’s “disenfranchisement by survey” scheme will make it into law — or whether it will survive legal challenge if it does. Regardless, the effort is one more ominous sign that the conservative movement recognizes that its goals are incompatible with democracy.