Democrats are set to get a shellacking next week. But they argue they see a much brighter future in 2016 when their primary constituency, the “Coalition of the Ascendant” shows up at the polls. But why are Democrats set to see another midterm where their core constituencies turnout drops so significantly? The answer is simple. The Democrats “Coalition of the Ascendant” is missing some key constituencies that will be crucial well into the future.
Particularly, the Democrats coalition is missing young whites, both men and women. Democrats tout their strength among younger votes but their strength is actually based largely on geography and race. According to exit polls of both 2010 and 2012 the GOP won young, white men and women. GOP leads among these two groups was fairly commanding in swing states in 2010. This runs counter to the simplistic narrative younger voters are Democrats. Among college educated men in particular, their shift to the GOP since 2008 has become especially pronounced.
Democrats strength among these groups is based on racial and cultural lines. Democrats are running up strong margins among young Latinos and blacks as well as Asians. They also win young whites in the Northeast and almost to a draw in the Mountain West. GOP strength among the young is strongest in the Sunbelt and the South. In particular, Democrats run extremely strong among young, single, college educated women nationwide. Yet, these same women tend not to vote in midterms.
Young whites will play a huge role in future elections. This is why it is particularly confusing for Democrats to argue their “Coalition of the Ascendent” is set to give them an enduring majority. This cycle has made clear Democrats are struggling to motivate their base and even just Democratic leaning voters.
A new Harvard analysis of young voters habits finds some interesting information. A total of 36% of young whites planned to vote in November 2013, 37% of young blacks said the same while a mere 28% of young Hispanics said the same. What is especially n0table beyond the fact young voters just don’t want to turn out is the differences among the group. If Democrats assume they can maintain a double-digit lead among the group into perpetuity they might want to think again. Among 25-29 year old Millenials 38% identified as Democrats and 22% as Republicans. But among the newest batch of Millenials, 25% identified as Republican and 31% as Democratic. Further, a majority of all Millennials are more cynical of government and disapprove of the ACA. The icing on the cake for Republicans might be that 52% of Millennials want Obama recalled and their disapproval of Obama now largely matches the general population.
Critics could contend the demographic profile of the survey does not match future America. Afterall, demographically the survey was 59% white, 13% African-American and only 7% Hispanic with 9% qualifying as other. But while the future of America may be brown the country’s politics continue to be dominated by whites and among the young this has certainly been the case (even in 08 and 12).
This election could determine just how much pull Democrats have with the young. Certainly, the party has pulled out all the stops to get them to vote. But as older Millennials have become more Democratic, younger Millennials have become less so (coming of age under a weak Obama economy). Thus, Democrats might be assuming a bit much in that they can continue to hold the high ground among the young. Republicans have not been blind to these trends either and are finally starting to reengage with the young, particularly young minorities, who along with young whites hold the key to future elections.
This reengagement holds real promise for the GOP. Among the Harvard sample 37% identified as conservative or conservative leaning, 24% Republican and a huge 41% as Independents. Further, the belief Democrats hold a lock on the unmarried is hard to see in this survey with only 20% being married.
None of this is to say Democrats cannot reestablish a lock on young voters. But if trends hold the Millennial generation may not be as liberal as it began. More likely, Millennials will mirror the Depression generation and Baby Boomers who started out more liberal and towards the tail end began to curve back towards moderation and conservatism.
If true, this is not good news for Democrats. They have cultivated an image of being the party of the future by protecting women’s rights, supporting marriage equality and so on. Yet, if younger Millennials grow more conservative and cynical of government this Democratic image cultivation may not matter. Afterall, if you cannot find a job it is kind of irrelevant what a party’s stance is on equality vs. the economy. Further, on issues like gay marriage, the courts have largely taken that issue off the table politically.
The Democrats “Coalition of the Ascendant” could still come to be. Democrats could forge a post-Obama majority without young whites and perhaps even without tail-end Millennials. But the could is key. The Democrats coalition is looking increasing frayed this midterm along racial and gender lines. Even the young are more split in polls than usual. If this holds than the Democrats won’t need to rely on a “Coalition of the Ascendant” in 2016. They will need an entirely new coalition to hold power. And if electoral history has taught one thing, coalitions are not easy to build from scratch nor maintain.
Addendum: A new Harvard IOP survey finds young voters are abandoning the Democratic Party a weak before the midterms. Notably, young whites give strong support to the GOP while young blacks go Democratic. Hispanics split 59-34 for Democrats.