The drop in youth votes could be devastating for Dems in 2022

Young voters can be mobilized for progressive candidates, but not now it seems.
Photo: Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images

It has been almost 14 years since the 2008 presidential election introduced the idea of ​​a “Obama Coalition” by young and non-white voters who would supposedly make the Democrats increasingly unbeatable as US demographics shift. Of course it didn’t work that way. While the Democrats have actually won the popular vote in every subsequent presidential election since 2008, they haven’t matched Obama’s 7.2 percent voting advantage, and they came close to losing the electoral college in 2012 and 2020, along with losing in 2016, meanwhile the Democrats have lost two of the three midterms since 2008. And for 2022 it doesn’t look exactly sunny.

There are several reasons why predictions about the increasing demographic invincibility of the Democrats have not materialized. A key problem that became apparent after the Democrats’ disastrous defeat at the 2010 midterms is that they have allied themselves with sections of the electorate least likely to vote in non-presidential elections. This “midterm falloff” problem regarding young and nonwhite voters eased significantly in 2018, helping make it the rare good halfway point for Democrats.

Then, in 2020, another problem began to emerge for Democrats: declining performance among nonwhite voters, particularly the fast-growing Latino category. This trend has made Democrats more dependent than ever on young voters who are also disproportionately black and/or mixed race.

Millennials and Gen-Zers went together about 20 points for Biden in 2020 and were carried about two-to-one by Democrats in 2018. While not identical, the two younger generational groups are more alike than any other older cohort, as Ron Brownstein did Remarks at CNN:

Almost half of Generation Z (currently defined as young people born between 1997 and 2012) are children of color, more than a third describe themselves as secular without affiliation with any organized religion and a notable fifth in a recent Gallup poll identified as LGBTQ. Millennials (broadly defined as those born between 1981 and 1996) aren’t prone to change quite as much, but are still far more diverse than older generations on any metric.

Both groups are also much more likely than their predecessors to believe in strong problem-solving government and the urgency of challenges like climate change. They seem poised to eventually come to the Democrats’ aid by replacing the older, whiter, more conservative cohorts that are literally beginning to die out, as Brownstein explains:

the non-partisan project “States of Change”. … calculated that Millennials and their younger counterparts, Gen Z, accounted for a little less than a third of those eligible to vote in 2016, far less than the nearly 45% of baby boomers and older generations. By 2024, those numbers will more than reverse: The group predicts that Millennials and Gen Z will account for nearly 45% of the eligible voter, while Baby Boomers and older generations will shrink to about a quarter. (Generation X, i.e. those born between 1965 and 1980, remained constant at around a quarter of the electorate during this period.)

But these younger people will only save the Democrats if they vote. And that seems unlikely in 2022 for two reasons. First, the consistently strong turnout in the 2018 midterm elections appears to be an outlier; The election was basically a referendum on Donald Trump, who younger voters really didn’t like. Second, while voters under 30 aren’t a mature target for the Trump-era GOP, they don’t like Joe Biden much either. President’s approval rating among 18-34 year old voters according to CNN is currently 40 percent, quite low for such a pro-democracy group. This makes robust youth turnout even more unlikely than it already would have been.

As Brownstein reports, voter turnout among under-30s rose from 13 percent in 2014 to 28 percent in 2018. And a Studied at Tufts University found that voter turnout among under-30s also increased from 39 percent in 2016 to 50 percent in 2020. Without that surge, accompanied by a steady rise in the proportion of under-30s in the electorate, Republicans would almost certainly control Congress, and Donald Trump would still be President.

Slightly closer to 2014 than 2018, turnout among young voters is more likely in 2022, especially given the restrictions on “convenience voting” (such as early voting by letter or in person) enacted by so many Republican-controlled state governments that are likely Inexperienced voters have more impact than others.

However, there are some glimmers of hope for the Democrats. High levels of youth turnout in 2018 and 2020 could help prevent turnout in 2022 from falling back to 2014 levels, as earlier votes correlate somewhat with future votes, even at mid-term. And one factor that boosted all manner of Democratic turnout in 2018 — the bad politics, unsavory racism and sexism, and authoritarian disdain for democracy represented by Trump — is not entirely absent in 2022. That’s one thing the ex-president and his most bitter partisan opponents fully agree on: the tremendous desirability of a Trump-o-centric midterm election. Many Republicans, including those who love men, want a long vacation until mid-November. But he is biologically almost incapable of remaining inconspicuous.

The bottom line is that generational change in the electorate is more likely than ever to help the Democrats, but not until 2024. What happens in the midterms of 2022 is far more doubtful. Biden’s party needs some real-world good news by November and, if at all possible, an increasingly ruthless Trump restlessly preparing for 2024 with his usual mix of threats and self-aggrandizing lies.

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Laura Coffey

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