President Donald Trump’s approval numbers vary depending on the pollster and their methodologies. But what is clear is that both Trump’s campaign and his first two months in office have been controversial. They’ve also been politically polarizing for many people across the country, including some young Republicans in the Miami Valley.
The University of Dayton is home to more than 240 student clubs and organizations. Among them is the University of Dayton Republicans club. The group has about about 40 active members and 175 students on their mailing list. Sophomore Thomas Ferrall is the club’s president. He’s also running for chairman of the Ohio College Republicans (OCRF).
Ferrall didn’t care for Trump’s rhetoric during the campaign. He says it was just too divisive, and he didn’t vote for him in November either. However, he does support many of Trump’s policies, particularly the president’s stances on immigration and abortion.
“I respect that he’s the president, I just voted for someone else that I thought would be the best choice but I do root for his success now and hope that he’s a great, great president,” he said.
Ferrall says he thought the president’s first speech to a joint session of Congress, “depicted a bold and ambitious plan for America.”
Yet, before Trump took office, Ferrall’s views more closely reflected those of other millennials.
According to the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University, half of eligible voters between the ages of 18 and 29 voted in November. That’s about 24 million young people. And according to the center’s analysis, about 55 percent of those millennials voted for Hillary Clinton - compared to 37 percent who voted for President Trump.
At Cedarville University, junior and Political Science major, Matthew Beal, describes himself as a Conservative with Libertarian leanings. He pulled the lever for President Trump on November 8th despite supporting Ted Cruz in the primary.
Beal also found Trump’s campaign rhetoric divisive, but he admires the president’s ability to shake up the political establishment.
“I do think Trump has a mouth that runs too much, and based on that, it’s been kind of tough with some of the things he’s said. His comments about women were reprehensible in my opinion but I was willing to put that aside and just look at the practical matter. It was going to come down to Clinton or Trump and I could not support the policies of Hillary Clinton,” said Beal.
And, neither could Jacob Calloway, another Cedarville student
Politically, Calloway identifies as an Independent and as a Christian and says he had big problems with Trump, Clinton and Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson. He chose to abstain from the election.
Calloway is a senior in Cedarville’s International Studies program and, as he prepares to enter the workforce, he worries about the growing, and sometimes volatile, political divide he sees on other university campuses and among Americans overall.
“I don’t want my political opinions to hold me back from jobs or to hold me back from making a living. You know, people have very little respect for competition of ideas and the idea of diversity of opinion, and so I would hope that going forward I can be an agent of diversity and of community rather than division. Being a really good debater does nothing if you don’t bring people together,” Calloway said.
Yet, Calloway, Beal and Ferrall say during the campaign and since Donald Trump took office, their college campuses have seen little of the confrontations other institutions have faced.
“We actually do enjoy a good relationship with the college Democrats; they have some good people in there and we really enjoy doing joint events. We did a debate last semester that I think went really well,” said Ferrall.
“They obviously have been a little upset with the results of the election. They’ve staged some protests. Everybody has a right to protest and express what they feel so we haven’t really antagonized them and we respect their opinion but obviously we are very happy that we did so well in the presidential election.”
Ferrall adds, "As Americans we should be happy that he’s, at least in some people’s eyes, he’s succeeding because if he succeeds, we succeed.”
Matthew Beal says discussions throughout the election remained respectful at Cedarville.
“We have people who really didn’t care for Trump but we were civil about, we discussed it like rational human beings and I think America would be wise to follow suit,” the college junior said.
Yet, attitudes toward Donald Trump have changed for some younger voters, according to Cedarville's Jacob Calloway.
“So many people that I knew that had made fun of Donald Trump or joked about him and said 'this is ridiculous' or 'this is crazy,' suddenly they’re avid supporters of him and there’s nothing better that could have happened to America.”
The political views of many younger Republican voters aren't easily categorized when it comes to President Trump, according to University of Dayton Assistant Political-Science Professor, Christopher Devine.
“They agree with a lot of Democratic criticisms of him but they also don't agree with the Democratic party solutions to those, for instance how the would handle immigration in different way then then Trump, so that's a really interesting dynamic where you see a group kind of caught in the middle trying to figure out what it means to not fully be in support but also not fully be in opposition,” he said.
And Devine says there is another conflict at play where President Trump is concerned.
Some Americans believe a president needs governmental experience to lead the country effectively. Others clearly believe it will take a political outsider like Trump to effectively change government.
“You’ll get quite a divide on that but certainly the fact he’s not just that he’s an outsider but that he is the unique personality that Donald Trump is. It's creating a dynamic that is really just fascinating for observing the political system and putting it in that context of ‘well, we’ve always talked about what if an outsider came in.’ Now we get to see what that's like.”
Ultimately, Devine says he’s not sure whether historians will regard Trump’s presidency as a 'one-off' or a game-changer but he says it may be difficult for other outsider candidates to replicate Trump’s ascendancy to Washington in future elections.