Generation Z, or the Facebook Generation, unlike their predecessors, Millennials, are still growing into their own politically. Many in Generation Z are not even old enough to vote for or have graduated High School. But in a sign of just how important the GOP views capturing or minimizing the Democratic advantage among the youth vote (18-29) the GOP boasts the only two elected Generation Z state legislators and both are women.
The first, Sara Blair of West Virginia was elected when she was 18. Defeating a 66-year-old Republican incumbent in the primary when she was just 17 she than easily captured her red legislative seat 63%-30% last November. Blair did have the benefit of coming from a politically active and well-known family. Her father, state senator Craig Blair, was elected in 2013. Take the political leanings of the district out of the equation and the fact a 17-year-old lady would run for office and win is amazing. And it runs contrary to popular wisdom the youth vote is a lock for Democrats.
Now, building on such success comes a recent story out of New Hampshire’s 32 LD. The legislative district, based in Rockingham County and encompassing the towns of Northwood, Candia, Nottingham, Deerfield and Epping, has largely been considered a swing district at the legislative level. Former Democratic legislator Maureen Mann, who first captured the district in a 2007 special election and won (2008, 2012) it on and off ran to recapture her old seat. Then state rep. Brian Dobson was vacating the seat to work for Congressman Frank Guinta.
Mann faced minimal competition in her primary but so did her challenger, 19-year-old Yvonne Dean-Bailey. Mann, a former public school teacher campaigned on her legislative record and strengthening education. Bailey, a newbie to politics, campaigned on fiscal conservatism but made the smart choice to avoid directing attacking popular Democratic Governor Maggie Hassan. Instead, her pleas attempted to turn the election into a referendum on a generic Republican vs. a generic Democrat. On May 19th Bailey won with 1,359 (52.4%) votes to Mann’s 1,233 (47.6%) votes. Bailey now is the youngest legislator in the state and the second youngest in the country.
Bailey’s victory is not just relevant because it happened but because of what it represents. The GOP obviously saw the election as a way to get a young woman involved in politics but also as a way to test messages and strategies ahead of 2016 and present a new image of the party. A who’s who of Republican Presidential contenders descended on the small district to promote Bailey’s candidacy including Rick Perry and Marco Rubio. Robocalls by other contenders were recorded on her behalf. As a result the former intern for U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte and former field organizer for former U.S. House candidate Marilinda Garcia saw turnout in the small district increase significantly from past special elections. That turnout benefited her campaign.
Now, two elections in two states do not necessarily indicate the youth vote is about to swing rightward in 2016. But combined with other events it does present a hard to ignore pattern. Since 2012 the Democratic share of the youth vote (Millennials and Generation Z) has been steadily dropping. In that election Obama captured 60% of the youth vote (compared to 68% in 2008). The 2013 Virginia gubernatorial election saw Ken Cuccinelli, according to exit polls, win 45%-39% 18-24 year olds but lose 18-29 year olds 40%-45%. In New Jersey Chris Christie easily capture the youngest demographic. Moving onward to 2014 and the GOP captured 43% of the 18-29 year old vote in the national House vote. Individual US Senate and Gubernatorial exit polls saw individual candidates coming close or winning the demographic. Also, the youngest female Congresswoman ever elected, Elise Stephanik, a Republican won in NY-23.
This 2015 election result fits right in with the pattern. Republican efforts to broaden their party’s appeal to the young and recruit young, smart candidates to run is paying off. While Democrats assume they have a lock on the demographic it may not be as secure as they assume. Recent election results should give the Left pause and make them consider whether the demographic advantage they believe they enjoy is more a passing trend than a permanent one.