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It's easy to believe young voters could back Trump at young conservative conference

People arrive before Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks at the "People's Convention" of Turning Point Action Saturday in Detroit.
Carlos Osorio
/
AP
People arrive before Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks at the "People's Convention" of Turning Point Action Saturday in Detroit.

Updated June 18, 2024 at 10:04 AM ET

Sporting a "Pretty Girls Vote Republican" baseball cap and several buttons, including one reading "Gun Rights are Women's Rights," Lauren Kerby was surprised to be asked who she plans to vote for in the fall.

"Obviously Trump," the 21-year-old from Berkley, Mich., said with a laugh. "I came here for a reason."

Here is the 'People’s Convention,' run by Turning Point Action, the advocacy wing of Turning Point USA, one of the largest national organizations focused on engaging students on conservative issues.

Turning Point - which rose out of concerns about free speech on college campuses, has grown into an unapologetically pro-Trump machine, focused on organizing for the former president ahead of the 2024 election.

It hosts events like these, attracting voters like Kerby and hundreds of others like her who want to party, young conservative style.

And this is certainly a Trump show. At the Huntington Place Convention Center in downtown Detroit, a bejeweled presidential seal with Trump’s face in the center rests on the hood of a gold-painted Mercedes-Benz. At a nearby booth among dozens, vendors are selling "America First" cowboy hats and shirts reading, "Voting Convicted Felon, 2024."

The festivities this year come as Turning Point Action works to significantly expand its organizing presence in key swing states ahead of the general election, including Michigan, home to this year’s conference.

Supporters cheer as Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks at the “People's Convention” of Turning Point Action Saturday, June 15, 2024 in Detroit. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
Carlos Osorio / AP
/
AP
Supporters cheer as Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks at the “People's Convention” of Turning Point Action Saturday, June 15, 2024 in Detroit. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

Just five months out, enthusiasm for Trump is high among younger attendees. NPR spoke with more than a dozen voters under 30 who remain committed to Trump, motivated to vote for him largely because of his isolationist ideas and focus on the economy and immigration.

Their unwavering support stands in contrast to the sentiment of many younger Democratic voters, who remain unsure or unenthused about backing President Biden again.

Trump took the stage Saturday night as the event headliner. He ticked through his proposed second-term agenda and criticized Biden’s record, making little mention of the youth-focused nature of the event, outside of publicly thanking Turning Point founder and longtime supporter, Charlie Kirk, who is a millennial.

“[Kirk’s] got his army of young people,” Trump said to a crowd of over 8,000, according to Kirk. Though Turning Point staff told NPR that around 3,000 of the attendees were students.

“These are young patriots. They don’t want to see… what's been happening in our country," Trump added.

The former president’s remarks came after two days of speeches from conservative firebrands and high-profile Trump allies, including Republican National Committee co-chair and Trump’s daughter-in-law Lara Trump, former presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.)

This year’s conference also comes just over two weeks after a New York jury found Trump guilty of criminal charges, a decision that could negatively impact his chances with younger voters. The latest Harvard youth poll, published in March, found a potential guilty verdict increased Biden’s lead by 10 percentage points among young Americans overall.

Much like their unwavering support in the election, though, voters at the event are unphased by his conviction. His mugshot is displayed on the posters and t-shirts of attendees.

To 20-year-old activist James Hart of Tallahassee, Fla., the verdict has little effect.

“I don’t really think, at this point, anyone’s feelings changed. I think everyone knows who they’re going to vote for. We know Trump. Trust me – we know Joe Biden,” said Hart. “We know their policy. We know how they're going to act. And I trust Trump.”

Where young conservatives stand

For Kerby from Berkley, Mich., supporting Trump partially stems from his push for isolationism, including limiting U.S. aid to Ukraine in its war with Russia.

“He’s focused on what’s happening here,” she said, pointing instead to Trump’s focus on reducing illegal immigration.

“Not saying that other places don't matter, but we should matter first,” Kerby’s friend, Elaina Luca, 21, added. “When you're in a family, you make sure that your family is okay first.”

Luca is also backing Trump. As a mom with two young kids, she’s most concerned about rising prices.

“When I drive around and see a nice house, I like to look up how much it's sold for,” she explained. “In today's economy, it's like, ‘Oh, wow, how did these people even afford that? …And it's like, ‘Oh no, they bought it in 2012 for like $150,000 and now it's worth like $1 million.”

“How am I supposed to get a house to raise my children to live in?” she wondered aloud, “I don't want to pay for a house for the rest of my life.”

Former President Donald Trump walks on to the stage to give the keynote address at Turning Point Action's "The People's Convention" on Saturday in Detroit, Michigan.
Bill Pugliano / Getty Images
/
Getty Images
Former President Donald Trump walks on to the stage to give the keynote address at Turning Point Action's "The People's Convention" on Saturday in Detroit, Michigan.

Turning Point’s 2024 strategy

While Turning Point’s non-profit side has held student conferences for nearly a decade, also sprinkled with appearances from Republican politicians and conservative media figures, this conference marks just the second for Turning Point Action.

The activist network has morphed into a more pronounced political force, planning to ramp up its organizing ground game ahead of the election.

“It's night and day,” said Turning Point Action spokesman Andrew Kolvet. “Any activities we did, in 2022 for example, in the midterms, was like the Stone Age compared to the level of sophistication and just the resources that we’ve poured into this project to develop it.”

Kolvet is talking about the group’s “Chase the Vote” initiative, a get-out-to-vote campaign focused on reaching low-propensity voters in swing states that launched earlier this spring. Trump recently endorsed the program during a separate Turning Point event in Arizona, another pivotal state in 2024.

Turning Point hopes to raise $100 million to build up on the ground organizing staff and plans to work with the Trump campaign on canvassing – a notable change from past election cycles following new guidance from the Federal Election Commission.

Despite the roots of Turning Point, the program is not solely focused on young voters, though Kolvet said that will always be tied to Turning Point’s work.

Growing up under Trump, now it’s time to vote

Despite enthusiasm for Trump at Turning Point, Republicans face a steep challenge to bringing in more young voters. Voters under 30 have traditionally voted for Democrats, and in 2020, Biden won the age group by a 24-point margin.

Plus – young voters tend to be aligned with Democrats on their key issues – notably on abortion access, addressing climate and curbing gun violence. And despite struggling in polling, Biden still maintains a lead with young voters overall in multiple youth polls.

An attendee wears a "Team Trump" cowboy hat as people watch speakers during Turning Point's "Peoples Convention" on Saturday in Detroit.
Jeff Kowalsky / AFP/Getty Images
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AFP/Getty Images
An attendee wears a "Team Trump" cowboy hat as people watch speakers during Turning Point's "Peoples Convention" on Saturday in Detroit.

But among some young conservatives, albeit a proportionally smaller group, Trump’s style of Republican politics – once fringe and now mainstream – is overwhelmingly what they want for their political future.

“The pro-Trump, MAGA element definitely appeals more towards young conservatives and young Americans in general,” said 19-year-old Ohio student, Gabe Guidarini, a member of the College Republicans of America. “It actually addresses the problems that they face.”

He argued young people have trouble connecting to “old school Republican rhetoric” focused on cutting taxes and government spending, because they are not able to progress financially. And given the time period Gen Z has grown up during, Trump’s deviation from political norms is appealing, he explained.

James Hart agrees. Though the 20-year-old now lives in Tallahassee, he grew up in Detroit. “I was raised Democrat,” he said.

That is, until 2016, when his family flipped for Trump.

“His personality is what got my family to say. ‘Hey, you know, maybe the Democrats aren't the greatest,’” he said. “Honesty is the best policy. And up here in the Midwest, we're honest. We say it like it is. And Trump did that.”

Now, as Hart gets ready to vote for the first time, his mind is made up.

Copyright 2024 NPR

Elena Moore is a production assistant for the NPR Politics Podcast. She also fills in as a reporter for the NewsDesk. Moore previously worked as a production assistant for Morning Edition. During the 2020 presidential campaign, she worked for the Washington Desk as an editorial assistant, doing both research and reporting. Before coming to NPR, Moore worked at NBC News. She is a graduate of The George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and is originally and proudly from Brooklyn, N.Y.

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