Some young Midwesterners don’t align fully with Democrats or Republicans

By Anne Snabes
Medill Reports

MILWAUKEE — Stephanie Olsen does not align with a political party and sees too much “tribalism” in politics.

“I think identity politics is toxic,” said Olsen, a 30-year-old Milwaukee resident. “We’re just fighting against each other constantly. Really, if you actually talk to a human being, you probably agree on most things.”

I spoke with Olsen outside of President Donald Trump’s rally in Milwaukee earlier this year. Olsen was among a large group of people who couldn’t the enter the arena because it had filled up and watched the president’s speech on a big screen outside of the arena. No Trump supporter, she came to the rally because she is considering a political career and she wanted to “get to know the other side.”

In contrast to the portrait of Trump’s most enthusiastic supporters, the young people who I interviewed outside the arena were not set on voting for Trump. Some are trying to find out which political party they will support in future elections. Others wanted to listen to a perspective different from their own. The young people tended to describe themselves as centrist or independent.

Some lean left or right but don’t fully identify with Democratic or Republican platforms.

High school junior Alex Sopa, who lives in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, said he hasn’t seen Trump in person and thought it would be “exciting.”

“I want to hear what he has to say, so I know who I’m voting for in the future and if I want to stick with the same party,” he said.

Sopa said he is a Republican but is leaning towards being “more central.” He agrees with the Trump administration’s policy of closing off immigration. However, he disagrees with Republicans on the punishment of drug use. He said that people who use drugs should receive treatment, instead of being “put in jail.”

Nicole Massell, a 23-year-old Milwaukee resident, came to the rally because Olsen, her friend, invited her. She also said she had never seen a president before and likes becoming educated about “the opposing side.” She describes herself as centrist and left-leaning, but she offers criticisms of the left.

“With the left, I feel like there’s a bit too much emphasis on identity politics and feeling like everybody has to have a certain label to things,” Massell noted.

She said she would never consider voting for Trump.

“I would die, rather,” she said.

Luke Maillefer, a 22-year-old Milwaukee resident, said the most prominent reason he came to the rally was that he considered it a “historical event” in his town.

“I feel like I need to attend something like this because I don’t know the next time the president might be in my home city,” he added.

Maillefer said he is mostly Democratic, but he, like other rally attendees, sometimes falls in between the two parties.

“I don’t love the two-party system, so it’s like, I don’t want to continue that by saying I’m into it,” he said. “So, I’d rather be independent, I think.”

Maillefer is a fan of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. He said Sanders has the “most potential” in the 2020 Presidential election, and he wants to support a candidate who he thinks would have “enough of a way” to win.

The environment is a priority for Maillefer, who bikes.

“I’m more involved with, like, Bernie Sanders and people that support the environment,” he said. “I really like biking. And I don’t really think Donald Trump even bikes, ever.”

Photo at top: People who planned to attend Trump’s rally in Milwaukee view the president’s speech on a screen outside the arena. (Anne Snabes/MEDILL)