Still smarting over a humbling defeat in 2016 and a daunting Congressional map in 2018 the party is looking forward to 2020. Specifically, because of President Trump’s persistent weakness with Millennials and their potent growth they are poised to offer the party a pathway forward to power.
Writing in the Atlantic, Ronald Brownstein lays out the basic Democratic premise. By 2020, the share of the electorate represented by Millennials is expected to eclipse Boomers. They continue to oppose Trump at higher rates than other generations of voters and Democrats hope Trump makes the GOP irreversibly racist in their eyes.
But, this analysis (Democrats, not Brownstein’s), is overly simplistic at best and devoid of data at worst. Consider, that in 2000 Bush and Gore split the youth vote. A mere four years later Kerry won them by nine and Obama carried them by a massive 36 and 30 point margins. Trump lost Millennials by a small margin than Romney. Not necessarily an indication of an increasingly liberal bloc.
Of course, not all Millennials are the same. Trump did not need to do better with all Millennials. Just certain Millennials. For comparison, Romney and Obama actually ran close to even among college educated white Millennials. But among blue-collar Millennials Romney won by 10. Now flip the script and Hillary ran circles around Trump with white, college educated Millennials. But Trump won blue-collar Millennials in the right states by massive margins.
Take a look at some of Brownstein’s analysis. “Exit polls found Trump reduced the GOP deficit among those younger voters compared with Romney in 2012 in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, and he actually carried voters under 30 in Iowa. In all of those states except Michigan, Clinton’s vote share among those younger than 30 fell by double digits compared with Obama’s, while Trump improved by 7 to 9 percentage points over Romney. Trump also significantly improved over Romney among young people in New Hampshire and Maine, two mostly white states. Even in the coastal and Sunbelt states where Trump’s vote share among young people was either stagnant or slightly below Romney’s, Clinton’s numbers usually lagged Obama’s, sometimes significantly, as more Millennials drifted away to the third-party options.”
Further complicating Democratic hopes, the share of college educated Millennials in many of the swing states heading into the 2020 election are unlikely to change by a significant percentage. Sure, Democrats might find somebody better able to appeal to them but odds are good that will turn off their college educated base. Everything in politics involves a trade-off.
Just look at how the baby boomer vote has shifted over the years. In 2000, Bush and Gore deadlocked. But in every election since they have become increasingly Republican. Unlike Millennials, Boomers also vote far above their actual demographic numbers. Millennials, not to much.
Democrats would counter Millennials might even turn Georgia or Arizona, perhaps Texas, in four years. But if they could not pull it this year when every dirty secret about Trump was aired, what are the chances it will happen in 2020? If nothing else, no higher.
In 2016, Clinton put a massive amount of importance on their votes. She had reason according to the polls. Again, according to Brownstein, “In one survey for the liberal groups Project New America and NextGen Climate, which looked solely at Millennials across 11 battleground states, three-fourths of them described him as a racist; roughly an equal number said he was biased against women; and almost 70 percent said they would be “ashamed” for the country if he won.” Yet, on Election Day, Clinton only won 55 percent of their votes.
A common theory batted around about this is that these voters were drawn third party candidates because of James Comey. But the only exit poll to ask third party supporters who they would vote for if it was Trump or Clinton found a massive 55 percent would not even show up.
Further presenting problems for Democrats in the run-up to the midterms is Millennials have horrible turnout in midterms. In 2010 and 2014 turnout dropped precipitously from the prior Presidential elections.
It is also unclear how late generation Millennials and the up and coming Social Media generation will shape the path of the youth vote. John Sides notes that generations of voters tend to lean more towards the opposite party than the one of the President they grew up under. Worse, while the youngest voters are the most diverse they also seem to behave the most conservatively on fiscal issues.
Predicting long-term is a horrible business in politics. But, we do know Millennial turnout is likely to drop next year. Even if it it increases massively in 2020 the Presidential map will likely be fought on turf more favorable to the GOP than not. Whether Millennials can, and will, help Democrats beyond that is the question.
My word of advice for the party. Don’t put all your eggs in that basket. Just ask how that turned out for Hillary Clinton.