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Republicans get major boost as ‘fired up’ young men lean right in record numbers

The kids aren’t all right, but more and more young men are seeing red.

A recent survey by Monitoring the Future, an academic project that has been studying American youth for decades, found that 23% of 12th grade boys identified as conservative in 2022, while only 13% described themselves as liberal. 

The study, by the University of Michigan, was first conducted in 1976, at which point just 17% of high school boys saw themselves as conservative and 25% identified as liberal.

Conservative identification went up among young men in the 80s and early 90s but had hit a steady decline until recent years showed a new trend to the right.

Their female peers, meanwhile, have gone more to the left, with 30% identifying as liberal in 2022, compared to 12% conservative.

In New York State, conservatives under 40 — many of them men — have been getting increasingly involved.

Peter Giunta, 29, has been the chair of the New York State Young Republicans since 2021. When he took the position, there were just six chapters throughout the state. Now, there are 30.

“[Lee] Zeldin’s campaign really fired up a lot of young Republicans,” he said.

Lee Zeldin’s campaign for governor for New York governor in 2022 didn’t get him elected, but it did energize young Republicans in the state.
Lee Zeldin/ Twitter

The official New York State Young Republicans organization, whose members range in age from 18 to 40, has also been mentoring teen Republican groups, for those ages 13 to 19, which sprang up organically around 2021.

“It’s really bringing them into the system earlier, before they’re eligible to vote,” said Giunta, who lives in Staten Island and is the chief of staff to State Assemblymen Michael Reilly.

“This is an operation that, from what I understand, the Democrats just do not have,” he said. “We are very fired up.”

One 17-year-old from Queens told The Post his immigrant parents’ upbringing in the USSR had made him a conservative. “They lived through socialism, and they know what leftism and progressive policies can do to a country and to a people,” said the high school senior. “I didn’t want the same to happen to my country.” 

Meet four of New York’s GOP youth operatives.

‘They call me racist. I’m black and Puerto Rican’: Elias Cunningham, 15

Republicans get major boost as ‘fired up’ young men lean right in record numbers
Elias Cunningham hails from Cornwall, NY, which is about 50 miles north of New York City and has a population around 13,000.
Stephen Yang

Around the 2016 elections, Cunningham, then age 8, took an interest in politics, originally leaning left. But, in 2021, he started doing more research and veering right. The Cornwall, NY, native also chafed at how prominent the promotions for gay pride seemed to be in his community.

“I have respect for everyone,” said Cunningham, a devout Christian. “I just don’t think sexuality should be pushed down children’s throats.” 

When he started at Washingtonville Senior High School in 2022, he was also upset by a student-teacher who would scold pupils for getting their pronouns incorrect.

Elias Cunningham sitting on a picnic table, holding a "Make America Great Again" hat.
Cunningham is the Goshen HQ campaign manager for the Republican slate in the 9th district of the NY Supreme Court, a position usually held by an adult.
Stephen Yang

Now a high school sophomore, he said that classmates have harassed him in the halls and on social media for some of his viewpoints — such as an Instagram post saying men shouldn’t be playing women’s sports. They’ve called him a “transphobe” and a “racist.”

“I was really confused about [the latter] because I’m black and Puerto Rican,” he said. His parents aren’t particularly political; his mother, a waitress leans left, while his father, who works in coffee sales, is more to the right. 

But their son is very enthusiastic when it comes to government.  In 2022, he founded the Orange County chapter of Teen Republicans, and he’s now the chairman of the group for the whole state.

Colin Schmitt in coat and tie in front of a blurry American flag.
Cunningham really enjoyed working with Colin Schmitt (above) on his campaign for New Windsor town supervisor.

Last year, he was heavily involved in Colin Schmitt’s unsuccessful bid for New Windsor town supervisor, and he still treasures a framed, signed poster from the campaign. Just last month, he became the official Goshen HQ campaign manager for the Republican slate in the 9th district of the NY Supreme Court, a position usually held by someone old enough to drive, vote and buy beer.

Cunningham has his eyes set on a career in politics, and he already dresses the part. His closet is full of blazers, dress pants, golf shorts and button-downs. 

“I always want to have a professional look,” he said. “My classmates think I’m a 60-year-old man in a 15-year-old’s body.”

‘Ben Shapiro made everything make sense to me’: John J. Parker, 20

John J. Parker outside on the Syracuse University campus.
John J. Parker, a senior at Syracuse University, says being a conservative at a liberal college can be isolating.
Matt Wittmeyer for NY Post

A senior at Syracuse University, where he’s the chair of the school’s College Republicans chapter, Parker said that life on campus as a conservative can be challenging. 

“It’s tough, it’s isolating, you get lonely,” said Parker who is majoring in political philosophy and writing and rhetoric. “[There’s an] underlying cultural hostility.”

He recalled an instance where he “got his head bit off” by a fellow student when he said Roe v. Wade was a bad case on a “pure legal level” — a viewpoint that has been espoused by those on both sides of the aisle. Another time, a white classmate admonished him for his ambitions to be a public prosecutor, saying the profession is racist.

John J. Parker in his dorm room.
Parker is studying writing and political rhetoric and takes a philosophical approach to politics.
Matt Wittmeyer for NY Post

His attitudes about sex and dating have also made him an outlier among his peers. 

“I think people should generally probably date with the goal of marriage… and should reserve intimacy for people that they actually want a long term relationship with,” said Parker, who isn’t “specifically” religious but is “highly sympathetic” towards those who are.

Parker, who grew up well-off  in Redding, California, came to his political beliefs around his junior year in high school after some swim team friends who were homeschooled turned him on to Ben Shapiro

Ben Shapiro
Parker credits Ben Shapiro with introducing him to the “conservative side of the internet.”

 “[He’s] really kind of the pipeline to the conservative side of the internet,” said Parker, who wants to go into politics after a career in law.

“Everything kind of made sense to me, and it was kind of away we go from there,” 

‘Way more young men are right wing the polls show’: Daniel Idfresne, 19

Daniel Idfresne outside on the Syracuse University campus.
Daniel Idfresne, a sophomore at Syracuse University, has had an easy time finding friends who just happen to have similar political views.
Matt Wittmeyer for NY Post

The day before he started his senior year at the prestigious Brooklyn Technical High School in Fort Greene, a then 17-year-old Idresne published his first piece of political commentary – “I’m 17. And I’m immunized from woke politics” — in The Free Press.

Conservative media jumped on the piece — which praised charter schools and challenged assumptions about growing up black in America — and he soon appeared on Fox News. Many of his classmates, however, weren’t happy about it. 

Exterior Brookllyn Technical High School.
When Idfresne attended Brooklyn Technical High School in Fort Greene, he said peers “shunned” him for his views.
Debbie Egan-Chin

Thomas Sowell.
Economist Thomas Sowell is one of Idfresne’s favorite thinkers.

“A lot of people shunned me,” said Idfresne, who grew up in Bed-Stuy and was raised a strict Baptist by parents who aren’t really politically minded

He first got into conservative politics when he was 16 and a friend suggested he read Jordan Peterson’s “12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos.”

The message of “cleaning your room” — taking responsibility for and working on yourself — resonated with him, and he started watching Peterson on YouTube, which led him to other commentators and thinkers on the right, such as Shapiro and Thomas Sowell. 

Daniel Isdrense sitting on steps outside on Syracuse University campus.
Idfresne would like to continue working as a political commentator after college.
Matt Wittmeyer for NY Post

Idfresne has found it much easier to be conservative in college — he’s a sophomore at Syracuse University, studying political science — than in high school.

He hasn’t felt the need to join the College Republicans and says that many of the people he’s drawn to just end up having similar political views.  he’s made.

“If you find a group of friends who work on themselves, they go to the gym, they’re decently charismatic … chances are they’re probably conservative — if they’re a young guy,” he said. “There are way more young men who are right-wing than even the polls show.” 

‘Lockdown opened my eyes to the left’: Kieran Laffey, 17

Kieran Laffey in suit, sitting on a bench outside.
Kieran Laffey isn’t old enough to vote, but he’s well on his way to a career in politics.
Samuel Corum

The East Williston, Long Island, native wasn’t really political until the COVID lockdowns closed his public high school, canceled hockey practice and kept him from seeing his friends. 

“It opened my eyes,” he said. The fact that the left has shown no remorse for some of their ill-conceived pandemic policies upset him further.

“That’s the part that frustrates me the most,” said Laffey, a devout Catholic. “I have friends that are not the same [because of school closures].” 

His anger spurred him to start a Nassau County Teen Republicans chapter in the summer of 2022. He said it grew to be the largest chapter in the state, attracting as many as 50 young conservatives — about 70% of them men — to meetings, which were sometimes dress-up affairs held on Friday nights. “They really provided a safe space.”

Kieran Laffey on the George Washington University campus
Kieran Laffey just started college at George Washington University.
Samuel Corum

Dramatically lit portrait of Jordan Peterson.
Like many of his male peers, Laffey has connected with the work of Jordan Peterson (above).
Toronto Star via Getty Images

Now a freshman at George Washington University, Laffey plans to study political science and government and pursue a career in politics.

“DC is the city to be in,” he said enthusiastically. He already speaks in campaign-ready phrases.

“We just need people to remain calm and take that emotion out of politics,” he told The Post. 

Vivek Ramaswamy shaking hands on the campaign trail.
Laffey names Vivek Ramaswamy (center) as a candidate in the Republican presidential field that he’s excited about.

When it comes to the 2024 Republican field, he’s most excited about Vivek Ramaswamy, 38, for his “brilliant mind” and relative youth. But, the budding political strategist is first and foremost pragmatic.

“The best ability is electability,” he said. “I want a person who can win the election and deliver great policies.”

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