Jose Francisco Rodriguez supports a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Mary-Faith Martinez supports a public health care option. Ethan Lucky supports criminal justice reform. Autumn Crawford wants government action on climate change.
In interviews with two dozen Republicans ages 18 to 23, almost all of them, while expressing fundamentally conservative views, identified at least one major issue on which they disagreed with the party line. But more often than not, they said one issue kept them committed to the party: abortion.
Even as young Republicans often accept the science of climate change and support L.G.B.T. rights, abortion remains a powerful force pulling them toward the Republican Party — and toward President Trump, whom many of them dislike.
“I’m of the firm belief that you can’t be pro-life and vote Democrat,” said Ms. Crawford, 20, a graduating junior at Ohio State University who will vote in her home state, Minnesota. “I’m not pro-Trump. I will vote Republican because I will not vote Democrat, but that doesn’t mean I’m happy about it.”
Abortion is not the only issue on which young Republicans lean right: Most of those interviewed said they were economically conservative, too, and several emphasized their support for Republican immigration policies and gun rights. But abortion is, very often, the issue that is sacrosanct — the one that outweighs their concern about climate change, for instance, and their dislike for Mr. Trump.
Polling of conservatives indicates that abortion “is becoming a bigger issue to their identity as Republicans,” said Melissa Deckman, a political scientist at Washington College who studies Generation Z. “This is an issue that’s just become nonnegotiable, even among younger people.”
Certainly, many young Republicans said, they would consider crossing the aisle in this election if not for abortion.
“If it weren’t for that one issue, then I’d have no problem voting for a Democrat over Trump,” said Mr. Lucky, a college student in Newport News, Va., who rejects the president’s “America first” philosophy and believes the long-term health of the environment is more important than short-term economic growth. He plans to vote third-party.
“What that is essentially telling me is there is a fissure within the Republican Party,” said John Della Volpe, polling director at Harvard’s Institute of Politics, who oversees the survey. In contrast to Republicans at large, who polls show overwhelmingly support Mr. Trump, a significant share of young Republicans “aren’t aligning,” Mr. Della Volpe said. “They don’t have the same values as the Trump base.”
In interviews, young Republicans criticized Mr. Trump’s leadership, his personal conduct and his response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Ms. Crawford said she was repulsed by his comments about women, including the “Access Hollywood” recording, and by the sense that his goal was “to belittle or berate his opponents.” Ilana Miller, 20, a student at Washington University in St. Louis, expressed frustration that Mr. Trump, instead of uniting the country against the coronavirus, was “talking about himself and his own reputation.”
“He is not really the guy you want to be leading the ship through the storm,” said Rory Bosanko, 19, who said gun rights, border security and abortion were among his top issues. Mr. Bosanko, who lives in Salida, Colo., added that he was happier with how Gov. Jared Polis had handled the crisis even though he generally disagrees with Mr. Polis, a Democrat, on policy.
Clay Robinson, 19, a student at Arizona State University, said protecting public health was more important than quickly reopening the economy, as Mr. Trump is trying to do. And Devyn Duerig, 20, said she was horrified when Mr. Trump threatened last month to override states’ shutdown policies, claiming his authority was “total.”
“That is just so wrong,” said Ms. Duerig, a student at Liberty University. “It is against the entire sense of the Republican Party, which is all about small government.”
Both she and Mr. Robinson still plan to vote for Mr. Trump — a vote that Mr. Robinson emphasized was about Mr. Trump’s policy record, not his personality or conduct. Ms. Miller is still trying to decide.
The only subject that appears to rival abortion in terms of keeping young Republicans aligned with the party is economic policy: opposition to socialism and, as expressed in interviews before the recent crash, a belief that Mr. Trump has been a good steward of the economy.
“I go into my business class every day and there’s always the stock report, and every time I walk in, the stocks have been booming,” Morgan Beaudoin, 18, said in January. “The unemployment rate is down tremendously. I’m just proud of what he’s been able to get done when there’s so many people trying to stop him.”
Ms. Beaudoin, who is from Hawthorn Woods, Ill., and is also strongly motivated by abortion, said in a follow-up interview in late April that she still supported Mr. Trump. The economic fallout from the virus would be “a hard thing for anybody to deal with, because it’s something that you can’t control,” she said.
She added that she believed Mr. Trump had shown strong leadership by restricting travel to the United States.
Ms. Duerig also cited the economy in January as a reason to vote for Mr. Trump despite her reservations.
“My dad’s work depends on the economy and how things are going in the steel business, and under Trump he’s had a lot of work — more than he’s had my entirety of growing up,” Ms. Duerig said.
A few weeks ago, her father lost his job in the economic crash. But her vote hasn’t changed.
Part of it is her libertarian views: She believes that taxation “is not the price we have to pay to be in a civilized society,” and that helping people who are poor, uninsured or otherwise struggling should be the job of nonprofit groups, not the government. But part of it is personal.
“I don’t want to put my faith in Joe Biden,” she said. “I just don’t like that man, and so yeah, I’m probably leaning more toward Trump — unless something very big changes within Trump’s personality, or he tries to go fully in on the statement ‘the president has unlimited power.’”
Negative partisanship remains a strong force. Like the broader electorate, many in Generation Z are driven “more by what they are against than what they support,” Dr. Deckman said. In her focus groups, she added, she has seen “antagonism among Gen Z Republicans for Democratic politicians, ‘identity’ politics and what they view as extremism on the left.”
Jose Rodriguez, 22, holds some views commonly associated with Democrats: He supports universal basic income and a public health insurance option, for instance, and unlike most other Republicans interviewed, he said he thought the party should stop trying to overturn Roe v. Wade.
“A lot of older Republicans have the wrong mentality, where it’s like, ‘You’re not getting where you want to in life because you’re not working hard enough,’” said Mr. Rodriguez, who is from Brooklyn. “I think those times when people are hurting, our government needs to help them out.”
Asked what drew him to the Republican Party, he said, “I can more describe what turns me off the Democratic Party.” Mainly, he believes that Democrats advocate government intervention even in situations where it isn’t needed.
He is undecided for November.
But some young Republicans are disaffected enough to commit to voting for Mr. Biden.
Ms. Martinez, 22, a student at the University of South Carolina Upstate, generally agrees with the Republican Party on fiscal issues, abortion and immigration. But she doesn’t feel Mr. Trump “has a lot of integrity.” She supports a public health care option, a view shaped by her own chronic illnesses. And while she disagrees with Mr. Biden on some issues, she likes him as a person.
Ms. Martinez said she was frustrated by the image of the Republican Party as “the party of old white men” — a product not of a lack of young conservatives, she said, but of party leaders’ not incorporating their ideas.
“Obviously they can’t do a complete 180 and just change what makes the Republican Party what it is,” she said, but it would help “on climate change, health care, immigration, just to be a little more open-minded and a little less stuck in one mind-set about it, saying, ‘We have to stick with this because we’ve always done it this way.’”