Last week the first Republican candidate for President, Ted Cruz, gave a speech at Liberty University. During his speech he highlighted many of the reforms he would endeavor to put in place while in the Oval Office. These reforms include repealing the Affordable Care Act, eradicating the Common Core educational curriculum and rolling back environmental policies pertaining to climate change. This sampling of beliefs alone ostracizes Cruz from a prodigious number of American citizens who identify both with the Republican Party and the Democratic Party. There is an instrumental group of people, however, that Cruz’s comments alienate even more: college students. Maybe not the ones at a Christian school like Liberty University, but definitely elsewhere.
Most politicians on Capitol Hill seem to have a tenuous understanding of what the average college student’s experience is like. They understand the onus of student debt very well and the increasingly fading concept of social mobility within America, but at the heart of the modern college experience lies something even more important. A palpable sense of liberal ideology and activism is seeping through university life here in the United States, and the rhetoric of politicians such as Cruz is only fueling this phenomenon. To elucidate this, consider a few examples. In the 2012 election, 60% of 18-29 year olds supported Barack Obama, whereas 36% supported Mitt Romney. In 2013, the results of a Gallup Poll showed that 67% of Americans aged 18–29 endorsed the legalization of marijuana, a sizable increase from the previous year as well. It is widely accepted that most college students are becoming increasingly liberal in their views. It is hard to fault the students when the face of the Republican Party is associated with contentious ideas such as the rejection of global warming, something that contradicts basic scientific principles.
Therefore, when politicians such as Cruz make statements drawing parallels to global warming alarmists and “flat-earthers” (people who used to believe the earth was flat) they not only distance many college students but also exacerbate their disdain for national politics. Debates between Democrats and Republicans on the merits of climate change, same-sex marriage and marijuana legalization are becoming arcane and the budding lawyers, doctors and engineers of this country expect more.
Moreover, they realize that collective action is no longer an obstacle. The protests against the Keystone XL last year demonstrated this when hundreds of college students were arrested in front of the White House. Campuses across the country are now home to numerous organizations dedicated to an eclectic mix of causes. Some are political but many are number are “social justice” oriented focusing on global issues such as Students for Justice in Palestine. These clubs offer students a safe space for dialogue that they previously could not afford. As a result, collective action is taken for granted for almost any cause and students want to see progress.
This week’s fervor seems to be focused on a new Indiana law concerning religious freedom. Officially titled the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” many people argue that the law essentially makes it acceptable for businesses and employers to discriminate against gays and lesbians on the grounds of religion. Whether or not they are correct is another matter. What is important is the reaction to Mike Pence’s actions, the magnitude of which cannot be overstated. Not only have college campuses reacted but so too have other liberal bastions such as Silicon Valley. Executives from tech behemoths such as eBay, Airbnb and Twitter have all signed a statement urging legislatures across America to “add sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes to their civil rights laws and to explicitly forbid discrimination or denial of services to anyone.” Many colleges such as Duke University have publicly opposed the new law as the final round of the NCAA’s March Madness heads to Indianapolis.
Cruz’s comments and Pence’s actions are not new, and they are not representative of the entire Republican Party, but they are part of a recurring trend. This trend is taking its toll on the youth of America who are growing disaffected from the political realm. Voter apathy can be attributed to just apathy, but there must be something deeper spurring it. Perhaps it is this.