In 2006 and 2008 Democrats made sweeping gains at every level of government in the country. That sweep was almost entirely wiped out in 2010. For every election there is said to be tale. The tale of the 2006 election was of the angry middle class voter against Republican corruption and war. In 2008 the tale was of minorities and especially the young voting for the “change” candidate in a young African-American Senator from Illinois and his coattails helping other Democrats. In 2010 it was a tale of a strong Democratic majority overreaching angering conservatives and failing to ease the economic concerns of the middle class voter.
Within each election are subtales of voters shifting their allegiances and votes. Every party has its core constituences but a mere percentage point loss or gain among these groups can mean several elections are won and lost; subsequently a Chamber of Congress can be won or lost on these minute percentage point changes. In 2006 and 2008 Democrats cleaned up among every one of their core constituencies. Nowhere was this more evident then in the youth vote.
The youth vote (18-29), also known as “Millenials” in 2008 went for Democrats at the presidential level by a whopping 66%-32%. At the House level nationally it was 63%-34%. In 2008 these “Millenial” voters made up 18% of the voting population. But contrast that with the 2010 elections. Young voters only went to the Democrats by a 55%-42% edge. And in 2010 they only made up 12% of the voting population. These shifts along with GOP gains almong Hispanics, seniors, and women catapulted them to new majorities in state legislatures and the US House, multiple governorships, and almost evening the numbers in the US Senate. For some time analysts chalked up the shift of the youth vote in 2010 as an aberration. The majority of these voters would return to the Democratic fold in 2012 some said.
But a new Pew survey splashes cold water on this assumption and points to millenials having the same racial voting and ideological cleavages of prior generations. The most notable finding from the Pew Survey is that since a prior 2008 Pew Survey (http://people-press.org/2011/07/22/gop-makes-big-gains-among-white-voters/) the GOP now leads among whites ages 18-29 by 11 points. Back in 2008 Democrats held a 7 point edge. Even in 2010 when these young voters went to the polls the GOP only held a one point edge among white millenials. That dynamic has now shifted.
Republicans have also made gains among white voters across all age groups and income levels. This is perhaps most startling among those who earn less then $30,000 a year and do not have a High School degree. Back in 2008 Democrats held a 15 point edge among this group. Now the GOP leads by four points among this group. This group also encompasses many of the youngest white voters in rural and metro areas.
But the same voting differences among the general population can clearly be seen among millenials. White millenials are now mirroring the voting patterns of former white generations, mainly majority Republican. White millenials now lean to the GOP by 11 points. Among all whites this edge is 52%-39%. Even accounting for the gains the GOP has recently made among all white voters the growth of support among white millenials indicates a continuation of a generational trend.
The millenial generation remains the most Democratic of any prior generation perhaps due to being the most diverse. In 2008 millenials went Democratic 62%-30%, by far the most Democratic of any age group. In 2010 millenials went for Democrats 55%-42% and identified as Democratic 55%-36% even as the rest of the voting population went Republican 52%-45%. In 2011 millenials identify as Democratic or Democratic leaning 52%-39% Republican or Republican leaning. Among the general population Democrats only lead 47%-43%.
Obviously the largest shift among millenials has been white millenials to the Republicans. But is this shift temporary or does it indicate something permanent? Is it opposition to general Democratic Party policies or the state of the economy? Are white millenials blaming the president? The answer is all of the above.
Democratic Party policies are inherienty geared to help the every constituences that are their core support. And that support is not among whites. Indeed, the Pew Survey finds that the 52%-39% lead the GOP enjoys among whites is its largest in more then 20 years. Meanwhile Democrats continue to hold massive leads among blacks and hispanics (though the GOP has made gains among them). Democratic policies thus are geared to reward their core constituences. Affirmitive action, civil rights legislation, regulatory and anti-discrimination policies while all sounding good on the outside disenfranchise white voters at the expense of other groups.
As of this writing the economic recovery has virtually slowed to a crawl. The new revised numbers for GDP growth in the 1st quarter of 2011 found growth down from 1.9% to an anemic 0.4%. The revised numbers for the 4th quater of 2010 found GDP revised down 2.3% from 3.1%. Economists only expect the economy to grow 1-2% in the 2nd quarter of 2011. And this is not the end of it. Several major engineering and marketing companies are set to lay off thousands of well paying, highly educated Americans.
White House policies have failed in virtually every measure to blunt the deepness of the recession or the pain-staking slowness of the economic recovery. Instead, the Stimulus Package, TARP, the auto bailouts, and massive budgets have failed. All these measures have done is serve to add another $4 trillion to the deficit and yet somehow in certain surveys been found to have cost more jobs then they have created. And that leaves white millenials of all education levels stuck.
Finally we get to the president himself. It is likely not the personal qualities of the president that have turned white millenials against his party but his policies outlined above. The largest evidence of the president’s actions are the detrimental effects it has had on the US economy and not the few positives.
The Pew survey serves to illustrate how in such short times constituences can be lost but also how prior generations mirror the voting habits of past or current generations. Minority millenials are solidly Democratic just as their parents are. White millenials are now lean heavily to the GOP just as their parents do. But in a way the Pew survey also illustrates how hard it is for core constituences to change. Republican constituences have also been based on white voters but it can now be said to include young white voters. Democratic support now and in the future will have to lean even more heavily on black and asian support as well as the growing hispanic vote.
For 2008 being hailed as a “change election” it has failed to live up to its tale. Little has changed. Whites and now white millenials continue to lean to the GOP. Minorities and lower income voters remain Democratic. The economy continues to struggle along and many Americans remain worried about the future. What 2012 offers remains to be seen. But it is unlikely in 2012 we will see among millenials the same voting habits of 2008. And for Republicans that can only be a good thing.