'Fired up': York County GOP draw coveted young voters while Dems slump

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch
A graduate wears a Make America Great Again hat amidst a sea of mortar boards before the start of commencement exercises at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, U.S., May 11, 2019.  REUTERS/Jonathan Drake - RC1AA7FBD110

The number of young Republican voters in York County has swelled since 2016, according to state data. 

Meanwhile, the York County Democratic Party has bled registered voters within the coveted 18 to 34 demographic, one that, nationally, Democrats have said is key to ousting President Donald Trump and flipping the U.S. Senate in November. 

"York County is an interesting case where a lot of youth tend to be more conservative," said Michael Anderson, president of the York County Young Democrats. "Based on the demographics on the county, we’re already at a disadvantage in terms of numbers."

"We haven't been able to mobilize as much as we'd like," Anderson added.

More:York County GOP holds big advantage ahead of April primary elections

Most national polls show Trump struggling with young voters.

But in York County, Democrats lost 3.2% of younger voters since President Donald Trump won the election in 2016. The number of young Republicans increased by about 5%, according to data from the state Department of State.

Overall, more than 145,000 Republicans are registered in York County, marking a nearly 11% increase since 2015. Meanwhile, the number of registered Democrats has remained relatively stagnant in the county at roughly 95,000.

At the state level, there are nearly 800,000 more Democrats than Republicans. Still, the state GOP registered 3% more young voters than state Democrats have since 2016. 

“We’re attracting our share of young people; probably more than our share of young people," said Jeff Piccola, chairman of the York County Republican Committee.

Piccola said young voters are emboldened by Trump's presidency, particularly with his pro-America economic policies. He also accused Democrats of being divisive, boxing voters into categories such as race, age and religion.

“People are fired up," said CJ Weigle, president of the York County Young Republicans. "They’re unhappy with how things are now. My generation doesn’t have the same trust in government than perhaps we once did. And that transcends all politics.”

That energy among Republicans was notable, party officials said, immediately following the start of Trump's presidency. In April 2017, York County Republicans added more than 10,000 voters to their registration rolls while Democrats added only 3,000.

Young voters nationwide, though, were key in 2018 when Democrats seized control of the House.

The youth turnout skyrocketed 10% from 2014, according to researchers at Tufts University in Massachusetts.

Democrats flipped 41 House seats in 2018. That was good for the party, but seats representing York County remained red. And there is still only one Democrat representing York County in the state Legislature.

Progressive organizations such as Next Gen America are doing all they can to keep up the momentum — particularly with young progressives. 

“I think it’s super likely (the youth vote can flip the state blue),” said Next Gen America state director Larissa Sweitzer. “When we turn out in large numbers, we have the potential to flip a bunch of states.”

Sweitzer said the organization has registered 50,000 Democrats in Pennsylvania since 2016, a majority identifying as progressives focused on issues such as climate change, LGBTQ rights and health care.

Young voters have been a key component in Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders' bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. 

Voters aged 18 to 34 make up 23% of all of the registered Democrats in York County. The state party itself relies on those voters even more, as they make up 26% of the party.

"The biggest obstacle with the youth vote is getting them out to vote, as well as then keeping them engaged," said Chad Baker, chairman of the Democratic Party of York County. "This is a generation of voters who expect immediate results similar to the immediacy they experience in the society around them."

The county Democratic Party is trying out new recruitment tactics as a result, including bringing candidates in to promote registration at colleges and school districts because that population is "often looked over," Baker said. 

— Logan Hullinger can be reached at lhullinger@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @LoganHullYD.