Centuries of democracy has taught us a few things about voter politics here in the US. You cannot depend on young votes to win an election, period. It has been true since the early days of the Twenty-Sixth Amendment when people expected new 18-year-old voters to carry the election for George McGovern. We all know how that turned out.
The Big “If” – How Young Vote May Affect The Midterms (Or Not)
-By Preetam Kaushik
Centuries of democracy has taught us a few things about voter politics here in the US. You cannot depend on the young vote to win an election, period. It has been true since the early days of the Twenty-Sixth Amendment when people expected new 18-year-old voters to carry the election for George McGovern. We all know how that turned out.
Ever since then, the young vote (aged 18-30 or less) has been like a cavalry charge that never arrives to save the day for the Democrats. They always pin their hopes on it, but it never lives up to those expectations.
And why just the Democrats, one might ask? That brings us to yet another commonly held belief: young voters (read Millennials now) are progressives and Democrats. If you want conservative votes, look at the Baby Boomers and the Silent Generation.
That’s conventional wisdom that has generally held up to scrutiny over the years. Progressive and liberal-left ideologies appeal more to the impatience of youth. And once you grow older and more mature, common sense (and Conservatism) beckons!
But 2016 and the Conservative resurgence under President Trump demolished a lot of established conventions. 2018 could be yet another watershed moment where we finally see the young vote actually make a difference, and that too for Republicans!
Here is a look at why and how that is possible.
The Young Vote – A Story Of Diminishing Returns
The Twenty-Sixth Amendment was the result of nearly 30 years of political struggle in the US. And it was a just cause as well. Young people deemed old enough to fight in wars for the Union surely deserved the right to vote. So when President Nixon signed the XXVI Amendment in 1971, there were high hopes regarding the young vote.
There was an initial high, with a turnout of 55% among eligible young voters in the 1972 Presidential elections. But since then, it has been all downhill. In 2008, it was 48%, while two years ago it was lower at 46%. In comparison, 70% of seniors (the Silent Generation) voted in the last elections.
And midterms generally fare worse when it comes to voter enthusiasm in general. Only around 20% of young voters ever bother to turn up for these things on average. That probably explains why Dems tend to have a harder time at winning the Senate and the House when compared to the race to the White House.
So What Is Different Now
The Trump presidency has been like an electrical shock to a slumbering political system here in the US. And though it has been great for Conservatism, this is a blade that cuts both ways. The man has a polarizing effect, there is no getting away from that fact. And the progressives are out in force to try and make political gains from his low popularity among the younger generation.
There is a marked upsurge in political activism among young voters, especially those fresh out of school (and many still in schools). Unfortunately, gun control is a significant issue thanks to the several high profile incidents of school shootings in recent years.
Surveys indicate that young voter turnout could eclipse all previous figures in 2018 by a considerable margin. Some surveys are even quoting numbers as high as 40%, which would be double the previous high set way back in the 1980s.
Even if we go by conservative estimates, a young voter turnout percentage close to the 30% mark is well within the realm of possibility.
How Many Young Voters Are Out There?
This could have huge implications for the results since we are witnessing a demographic shift in the US electorate right now. For the first time in history, the Millennials outnumber the Baby Boomers, albeit by a narrow margin (32% vs 30%).
The Baby Boomers outnumbered the millennials in 2016 (around 74 million vs 71 million), but that is no longer the case. As the ranks of the older generation thin out with time, such a demographic change is along expected lines.
Add to that another 8 million newly eligible voters since 2016, and we can see why many are looking at the young vote as a possibly decisive factor in 2018. In key states like Florida, Pennsylvania and Texas, young voter registration is up by eight percentage points or more.
The current mobilization of the youth in America hinges on several key issues. Some of them could prove to be troublesome for the GOP and the conservative cause in general. These include:
The recent spate of school shootings had hit a nerve among young voters. Parkland, FLA was a particular turning point of sorts, leading to mass protests across the nation.
Democratic Party candidates have renewed their assault on second amendment rights to make political gains out of these tragedies. But this could backfire on them, as the issue is waning in the minds of voters as November draws nearer.
Polls indicate that many voters no longer consider gun control as the main issue for them in the midterms. Safety and increased checks like mental health screening are more important for many.
This is a highly polarizing issue all over the nation. And thanks to the recent Kavanaugh hearings, the issue is still fresh in the public discourse as we head to the polls.
There was a gender gap among adults during the 2016 elections. Conservative women did vote in large numbers for Trump, and they still support him in 2018. But it is a fact that more men support the President than women. This split is also apparent among young voters.
If young women turn out in large numbers and use this vote as a protest against the President, that could work in favor of Democrats. But if that doesn’t happen, the GOP could retain its control of the House and Senate.
Though Democrats always try to make a mountain out of a molehill when it comes to environmental issues, this should not be a main factor in 2018.
Progressives are generally more concerned about the environment, and that does include young voters. But there are more important issues on the agenda at the moment.
The young vote is markedly more diverse in terms of race and ethnicity. And a significant percentage of them have direct relatives who were/are immigrants, which works heavily in favor of Democrats.
But the Republicans are also energized by the support for immigration measures enacted by the Trump Administration. Conservative voters who backed Trump in 2016 have been rewarded with a zero tolerance policy on illegal immigration.
Since immigration issue is largely defined by racial identity, young white Millennials could prove to be decisive in countering the progressive assault come November.
Along with the economy and immigration, healthcare counts among the top three issues for young voters in November. And the GOP needs to get its act together here, as young Americans have a surprisingly liberal outlook towards healthcare.
Though there is opposition to Obamacare, many young people favor a government sponsored single payer system. And the GOP’s proposed alternatives including the AHCA do not enjoy much support.
This could prove to be the strongest card for the GOP in the midterms. The economy is going strong, and unemployment is at a historic low. Trump policies in tax reform and international trade are working.
And though they may favor progressive policies in social spheres, when it comes fiscal matters many millennials are extremely conservative. And they are supporting the Republican party in fiscal policy.
At the end of the day, money makes all the difference in the world. And the fiscally responsible young voters might teach the Democrats a lesson in that come November.
Why Independent Young Voters Are Good For GOP.
A lot of young Americans no longer identify themselves with either party. Instead, they focus on candidate agenda and position on major issues. This is bad news for Democrats and great news the conservatives.
Polls suggest that Millennials are leaving the Dems in droves. And many of them favor the GOP when it comes to important issues like the Economy and Fiscal Policy.
Millennials are among the most educated of all young generations in US history. This could make all the difference for the conservative cause in future elections, including 2020.
In the end, there is a huge difference between telling a pollster that you will vote and actually getting out and doing it. This is why many experts remain skeptical of the potential impact of the young vote in 2018.
The media made a massive error of judgment in overestimating the white collar, college-educated voters in 2016. The young vote hysteria could very well go the same way.
Even if it doesn’t pan out that way, the GOP and conservative Americans still have plenty to feel confident about November 2018.