Diverse Generation of Voters – – – –
By Stephen Wolf – – – – –
Bashing millennials, the youngest cohort of voters, is a recurring trope among many journalists. Yet despite their perceived cultural flaws, millennials hold the most progressive political attitudes of any generation and are deeply hostile to the Republican Party. Indeed, Hillary Clinton’s advantage among the nation’s youngest voters could save us from electing the least qualified major-party nominee perhaps ever, although their support is far from guaranteed.
Millennials favor Democrats by such large margins in large part because they are the most racially diverse group of voters ever, as you can see in the chart above. As Philip Bump at The Washington Post recently noted, non-Hispanic white millennials are only modestly more Democratic than white voters overall, themselves a strongly Republican voting bloc. And 2012 exit polling showed Mitt Romney carried white voters aged 18-29 by 7 percent, yet Obama won among all voters under 30 by 23 percent. That’s largely because Obama crushed Romney by 83 points among young black voters and by 51 points with young Hispanics.
With 2016 shaping up to be one of the most racially polarized elections in the modern era, it’s no surprise that millennial voters are harboring deep resentment to the most openly racist Republican nominee in living memory. If this election turns out as close as recent polls have predicted, growing racial diversity among younger voters could make the difference for Democrats.
It wasn’t always this way among young voters, but Democrats’ advantage among that cohort has grown over the past quarter century, as the graph above illustrates. In 1990, the youngest generation of American adults (ages 18-34) was 73 percent white, but today millennials are just 56 percent white. On the other hand, older voters are the most consistent bloc of support for Republicans, and it isn’t difficult to see why when Americans age 55 or older are 75 percent white.
Strong millennial support for Hillary Clinton is no certainty, however. Although Trump is deeply unpopular with this generation of voters, young Americans are disillusioned with major public institutions, including both established parties. Many younger voters express a greater inclination toward voting for third-party candidates. However, they still favor Clinton over Trump overall, according to some recent polls.
Preventing defections to third parties is a major challenge for Clinton, but evidence suggests that as Election Day approaches, partisanship increasingly dominates voter preferences, which would mean that wayward Democratic-leaning millennials would come home to Clinton. But even if this happens, the other major challenge for Democrats is turnout. Younger voters have almost always shown up at the polls at lower rates than older voters, and this year won’t be any different. However, as younger Americans are increasingly disillusioned with politics, there is a risk that the turnout age gap could grow.
To combat this, Democrats need to provide young voters with positive reasons to support Clinton, not just why they should oppose Trump. The recent presidential debate could go a long way toward reminding young voters that Clinton is a mainstream, even progressive, Democrat, despite the media-created caricature they might have only previously encountered. Millennial voters broadly favor progressive policies like raising the minimum wage, fighting the high cost of college education, and efforts to promote racial equality, all topics Clinton has campaigned on and mentioned in her first debate.
Like every generation, millennials aren’t perfect, and you might not like their cultural preferences. But blaming them more than others for failing to turn out or support Democrats by a big enough landslide when in fact older voters are favoring Republicans simply isn’t an accurate way of looking at things. The most racially diverse generation in the electorate could be all that’s standing between us and President Donald Trump.