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Why young male voters in deep blue Philadelphia like Trump: 'Almost punk in a way'

Julia Terruso, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in Political News

PHILADELPHIA — Gianni Matteo was born and raised in a family of Democrats in South Philadelphia, but the 20-year-old is a big Trump fan.

“The working class doesn’t really care about which foreign enemy we should be fighting in countries most Americans can’t even name,” Matteo said outside of a newly opened office for former President Donald Trump in Holmesburg on Tuesday. “They care about why I have to work two jobs this summer, why I have no money in my pocket to take my girlfriend on dates.”

As the presidential campaign barrels toward November, several polls have shown the gap in support among young voters for Biden and Trump shrinking. President Joe Biden won 60% of voters aged 18-29 in 2020. Some national surveys now show an almost even split between Trump and Biden in that age group. That would be a historic realignment, which analysts who study the youth vote closely have cautioned could be the product of polling errors.

But as both campaigns seek to attract young voters, young Trump supporters like Matteo, a rising college junior who is working at a wedding venue this summer, cite concerns about their economic future, specifically the housing market. And some see the former president’s brash, often incendiary personality as a positive.

“The biggest thing is, Trump is a rebel,” Matteo said. “Trump is almost punk in a way. He’s a rebel against the establishment — an establishment that doesn’t care about us.”

As Biden has lost some ground with progressive young voters frustrated with his policies on the war in Gaza, Trump has gained some support, particularly with non-college-educated men. His appeal is apparent even in some pockets of deeply Democratic Philadelphia, where being a young Trump supporter has historically been a lonely identity.

“I think with young people there’s a political realignment going on,” said Joe Picozzi, 29, a Republican running for state senator in the Northeast. “I’ve talked to people who are like, ‘I never really cared about politics and now I’m getting fired up.’ I don’t know anyone who’s like, ‘This is working. This is going great.’”

‘A lost generation’

At a recent happy hour for the Philadelphia Young Republicans, about a dozen college-educated young professionals gathered at a beer garden near Rittenhouse Square. Most work as lawyers, bankers, or in other jobs that allow them to live in or around Center City. But the main topic was still the economy — and how hard it feels even for relatively successful people to buy houses.

“There’s sort of a lost generation here,” said Matt Lamorgese, 31. “We were promised all kinds of things by President Biden when he was running for election and what have we gotten? People are struggling to buy houses, get a mortgage for the amount they need, they’re not starting families, not saving for retirement and if they compare themselves to their parents, they’re behind.”

Lamorgese, who chairs the group, said it’s been tough to grow ranks in a city where most young people are Democrats. But momentum has picked up ahead of November. Still, a series of GOP events over the last month, including the Trump campaign office opening, had mostly familiar faces — and not many of them young.

Both campaigns are trying to make inroads with young Pennsylvania voters. About 50% of the country’s eligible 18-29-year-old voters cast ballots in the 2020 presidential election, which is a lower turnout than older voters but an 11-point increase from 2016.

Trump has made a splash at one-off events — appearing at a sneaker convention in Philadelphia and an Ultimate Fighting Championship match. He also recently joined TikTok. Biden has deployed a host of resources to reach young voters and tried to emphasize work on student loan debt forgiveness and junk fees.

Sipping on IPAs at the happy hour, the group cited inflation, immigration, Biden’s age, and “the Democrats becoming so cringe,” as reasons for sticking with Trump.

“I think you just have to be non-apologetic,” said Evan Bochetto, 35, who owns a media production company, and whose father, George, is a prominent GOP attorney in the city. “If someone says, ‘Oh, you must be a horrible person, you’re voting for him.’ You say, ‘No, I’m not a horrible person. That’s my sacred right as a citizen. Now, let’s discuss some issues. Do you feel safe walking down the street at 11 p.m. on a Saturday night?’ And a lot of the ladies say, ‘no.’”

Only two women were at the event — there’s a gender imbalance in big city young Republican clubs across the country, Lamorgese said. The group was also white — though Trump’s campaign is working to improve its support among Black voters.

Claire Goldstein, 35 who works with small businesses and lives in Washington Square, said she’s voting for Trump because “of all the nonsense surrounding the protests with Israel.”

”I think that there should be a much harder line with encampments, with people calling for the destruction of a country, people calling for the death of Jews,” she said. “So listen, Trump has a lot of flaws, but he is the counter to this absolute nonsense that is raging around our city.”

 

Biden’s appeal to young voters

Biden’s campaign has been trying to communicate the president’s achievements to young voters.

The campaign launched “Students for Biden-Harris” earlier this year, a program focused on building a large volunteer base. The campaign has touted Biden’s work protecting abortion access, something that has been particularly resonant with young women who helped him win in 2020. The administration has also committed unprecedented spending to address climate change and student loan forgiveness.

Trump has done little dedicated outreach to young voters specifically.

“Young voters want a president who is fighting for them, not one who shows up to UFC fights while working to kick young people off their parents’ insurance, bragging about siding with the NRA to do nothing to reduce gun violence, and selling out our planet to oil and gas billionaires,” said Sarafina Chitika, a Biden senior spokesperson.

Researchers who study the youth vote downplay some of the recent surveys showing the split among young voters. Voters under 30 are less aligned with either party but remain more progressive than voters overall, and polls show they tend to align more with Biden than Trump on issues.

A poll by the Harvard Institute of Politics (IOP) this spring found Biden up 8 points on Trump with young voters and 19 points among likely young voters.

“I don’t see strong evidence that Trump is making significant inroads with the youth vote based upon this data,” said John Della Volpe, the pollster at Harvard.

Polling has also shown more movement toward Biden among young undecided voters. That presents an opportunity for Biden’s campaign to remind young voters, many of whom were in elementary school when Trump was president, about Trump’s first term.

“For an 18 or 19-year-old introduced to Trump when they were 8, 9 or 10, their reflection upon Charlottesville or the Muslim ban is gonna be much different,” Della Volpe said. “It’s not necessarily that they’re agreeing with these values, they just have a different relationship and view him more as an antihero.”

The Northeast Philly American dream

Young Republicans in Philadelphia say they feel some momentum among peers. On a recent weeknight, about a dozen volunteers in their 20s and early 30s came out to canvass for Picozzi, the young candidate in the Northeast.

The son of a firefighter and an occupational therapist, Picozzi is trying to win a longtime Democratic seat currently held by State Sen. Jimmy Dillon. He’s framed his campaign around a “Northeast Philly version of the American dream,” specifically appealing to young people starting families.

“The Northeast Philly dream is to be able to own a house where kids can play outside, where you can afford to go to a few trips down the Shore, go to a few Eagles games a year,” Picozzi said.

Picozzi supports Trump but doesn’t lean too far into talking about his party’s presidential nominee, who was convicted last month on 34 felony counts.

Several young supporters shrugged off Trump’s conviction, dismissing it as politically motivated or acknowledging they’re used to the former president being a shocking political figure.

“I don’t think the felon thing will change much,” said Shayne Gitteo, a 20-year-old college student who volunteered for Picozzi recently. “His rhetoric already kind of pushes societal boundaries. He says what people don’t want to hear. His expressions and reactions are so brutally honest. And I do think that attracts young people to him.”


©2024 The Philadelphia Inquirer, LLC. Visit at inquirer.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

 

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