Republicans Are Fueling a Generation of Democrats

When analyzing the 2020 election, pundits tend to pay the most attention to white working-class voters and suburban women. While Trump did fairly well with both groups in 2016, subsequent elections demonstrated that when Republicans made racist appeals to white working-class voters, they increasingly alienated suburban women. How that plays out in next year’s election is a topic of endless discussion.

But if we take a longer-term view of Republican prospects, a whole different demographic group begins to stand out: young adults. That is what David Brooks recently addressed in a column titled “The Coming G.O.P. Apocalypse.”

The generation gap is even more powerful when it comes to Republicans. To put it bluntly, young adults hate them.

In 2018, voters under 30 supported Democratic House candidates over Republican ones by an astounding 67 percent to 32 percent. A 2018 Pew survey found that 59 percent of millennial voters identify as Democrats or lean Democratic, while only 32 percent identify as Republicans or lean Republican.

Several factors contribute to this generational trend. The most significant is that young adults have spent their lives surrounded by diversity. As Brooks points out, “Only 16 percent of the Silent Generation is minority, but 44 percent of the millennial generation is.” The more Republicans double down on Trump’s overt racism, voter suppression tactics, and xenophobic immigration policies, the more they’ll distance themselves from young adults.

Secondly, as Dan Levin has documented, young voters keep moving to the left on social issues. For example, even young Republicans are more likely to approve of same-sex marriage and accept transgender people. The more Republicans follow the advice of people like Sohrab Ahmari and insist on waging a cultural war, the more they’ll lose young voters.

As just one example of the kind of impact these trends are having, even in the red state of Texas, Beto O’Rourke beat Ted Cruz in 2018 by almost 20 points among voters who were 18-40 years of age, and a whopping 40 points among 18-29 year olds.

One of the reasons that politicians and pundits haven’t paid very much attention to young adults is that they don’t tend to vote in large numbers. But between the size of their generational cohorts and increased turnout, something very significant happened in the 2018 midterm elections.

Midterm voter turnout reached a modern high in 2018, and Generation Z, Millennials and Generation X accounted for a narrow majority of those voters, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of newly available Census Bureau data.

The three younger generations – those ages 18 to 53 in 2018 – reported casting 62.2 million votes, compared with 60.1 million cast by Baby Boomers and older generations.

Those who are skeptical that these shifts threaten the Republican Party might point to the age-old idea that people grow more conservative as they age. But that has been proven to be a myth:

Contrary to conventional wisdom, Americans’ political and social views do not tend to drift to the right as they age, according to Kim Parker, who oversees research into social demographic trends at the Pew Research Center.

“The differences we see across age groups have more to do with the unique historical circumstances in which they come of age,” she said, noting that demographers have not seen a generational pattern of growing more conservative or more Republican over time.

To the extent that the “unique historical circumstances” in which young voters come of age have a significant impact on their lifetime voting patterns, here is what is happening with young adults in the Trump era.

President Donald Trump is having a tough time with America’s youngest voters. According to a new poll from the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and MTV, just 33 percent of people between the ages of 15 and 34 approve of Trump’s job performance…

The AP’s survey also reveals just how negatively those young — and upcoming — voters view the president. The poll found that a majority in that age range of 15- to 34-year-olds — 60 percent — described Trump as “mentally unfit.” Another 63 percent agreed that the president “is a racist.”

Young respondents also split with Trump on key issues such as immigration and protecting LGBTQ and minority rights. Fully 69 percent supported a pathway to legal status for DREAMers; 59 percent supported policies to protect LGBTQ rights.

Perhaps the GOP has some secret plan to avoid the kind of apocalypse this data indicates. But obviously Brooks doesn’t think so because he ends his piece by saying “today’s Republicans don’t even seem to see the train that is running them over.” To the contrary, other than try to suppress the votes of young people (a short-term strategy likely to backfire), they seem to be doing everything possible to tether themselves to the rails as the train barrels down the tracks.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.