Living in Washington this semester, I have largely been struck by the bipartisanship I have witnessed. Many adults in the “industry” have friends across the aisle, and while they certainly don’t let that keep them from being ideological, they assume that the vast majority of their opposition is working in good faith. That said, when a Democratic government official that came and spoke to my class last week asked, “Have you ever been made to feel like you need to apologize for your views … because of your age or gender?” I answered with a disheartened yes.
While I have been lucky enough to embrace my politics at Penn, find friends who have been supportive of me regardless of my views, and have platforms where I can express my opinions — notably this column — I am still often caught off guard by the lack of tolerance for conservative beliefs among our generation. In the last week alone, I heard about a friend getting shunned by her roommates after they found out about her partisan affiliations, and listened in on another friend getting ridiculed by his coworkers for daring to befriend a Republican.
These interactions are backed up by data, with 37% of Democrats saying they would not be friends with a Republican, compared to only 5% of Republicans when roles are reversed. These numbers have an even greater disparity when people are considering relationships, as 71% of Democrats versus 31% of Republicans won’t date outside their party.
These encounters point to how distant people our age feel from Republican ideas. Conservative values are often considered alien or extreme, especially by young people. This is in part due to political rhetoric on both sides, with the right describing a lack of tradition in modern American society that increasingly radicalizes the methods of the base, and the left denoting conservatives as extremists.
While Democrats have no doubt had a role in this perception, conservatives have been guilty of creating this image for themselves. With an increasingly cynical outlook on the fate of the American cultural landscape and calls to use big government to impose a paternalistic agenda, conservatives have alienated voters, abandoned their principles, and played (even if unintentionally and falsely) directly into this narrative of extremism. It clearly did not benefit the party electorally, with claims of “threats to democracy” and “deprivation of women’s rights” by the left carrying weight among voters, indicative in exit polling. Many Trump-endorsed candidates flailed in the midterms, underperforming predictions.
In my own experience, both conservatives’ fears and the way they are characterized are unfounded. As a field director and operative on state legislative and gubernatorial races in Connecticut, one of the “bluest” states in the country, I encountered countless voters who expressed concerns directly consistent with American values. They were troubled by the quality of their children’s schools and the increasingly ideological curriculums they witnessed being taught.
These voters worried about the fate of their small businesses and the excessive cost of living imposed by punitive taxes, and they shared their distaste over the freedom-encroaching mask and vaccine mandates imposed by Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont's administration — even if this isn’t always conveyed on social media or at the ballot box. The same can even be said of my college campus. As President of Penn's College Republicans chapter, I notice our membership continue to grow weekly. Penn's American history classes are similarly widely attended, and I am regularly impressed by the showing at our Sunday Catholic masses.
For Republicans, these observations should encourage them to tap into the patriotic and traditional values that are still in the hearts and minds of what former President Richard Nixon would call the “silent majority." Emphasize America’s hardest workers, military service members, and invested parents. Be true to conservative ideas and prove to the left that there is nothing radical or extremist about issues everyday Americans care about.
For Democrats, this should serve as a reminder that conservatism in its most organic form is not all that foreign, radical, or alien. With roughly similar percentages of Americans currently identifying as Republicans and Democrats, it is very well possible that one of your best friends, closest family members, or neighbors is a Republican or has conservative viewpoints.
Instead of shunning, judging, or assuming things about their Republican peers, Democrat students at Penn should take the time to consider what motivates conservative viewpoints they disagree with. Whether people like it or not, there must be a reason why politicians like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis are getting reelected by wide margins in a state that had once been purple. Continuing to isolate and assume the worst about our political opposition only weakens our own arguments and ability to deliver substantive policy solutions.
While today’s “silent majority” may not be exactly as Nixon had imagined, the phrase does speak to many views that the average American holds which are being overlooked by both Democrats and Republicans. Common sense and honest conservative values are not radical or extreme, but instead can be found everywhere you turn.
LEXI BOCCUZZI is a College junior studying philosophy, politics, and economics from Stamford, Conn. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.