Several small trends are beginning to take shape on the political landscape – and if they grow, they represent risks as well as opportunities for the GOP.
1. Trump’s Endorsement Means Less to Voters Than Outsider Status
In last fall’s contentious Alabama Senate special election to fill the seat vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Trump initially endorsed the establishment pick, Luther Strange. But despite a Trump endorsement and a cool $10 million dollars from the Senate Leadership Fund to send Strange into the General election as the GOP pick, Alabama voters were not interested. Who caught their attention and walked away from the Republican primary with almost 55% of the vote? The tough-talking former judge, Roy Moore, famous statewide for his embattled effort to keep a monument to the 10 Commandments at the state’s supreme court. If the 2017 Alabama Senate primary was the 2016 Presidential primaries, Luther Strange was Jeb Bush, the establishment pick, Mo Brooks was Ted Cruz, the conservative darling, and Roy Moore was Trump, the embattled outsider. Despite allegations of sexual misconduct that eventually lost him the election to Democrat Doug Jones, Moore’s immense support in the primary and sustained popularity in Alabama underscore the point that Trump’s endorsement means less than the guy who is Trump-like.
This trend of voters favoring the unconventional outsider isn’t confined to the GOP. Just think of first-time candidate Conor Lamb’s win in the special election in Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District earlier this year. Despite the seat being held by Republican Tim Murphy since 2003, and Trump’s endorsement of the GOP pick, Rick Saccone, Conor Lamb etched out a win. Lamb even thanked Trump supporters, who he says helped elect him. Lamb isn’t a conventional liberal, he ran as a moderate by Democrat standards and focused on pragmatic solutions to PA voters, and it paid off.
Will outsiders and Trump-like candidates continue to snatch elections from the establishment picks? More importantly, will these candidates win when they get into the general elections? One race to watch is the battle for Pennsylvania governor. The tough-talking Trump-esqe trash removal millionaire Scott Wagner secured an easy victory over softer competitors in the GOP primary. Wagner goes head-to-head with Democrat Tom Wolf this November.
2. The Midwest is Growing Younger, and More Male
It’s no surprise the median age in the U.S. is rising – according to recent census data, 66.7 % of the nation’s counties had an increase in median age in 2016 and two counties had median ages over 60: Sumter, Fla. (67.1 years), and Catron, N.M. (60.5 years).
However, one geographic region is growing consistently younger, and more male. Approximately half of the nation’s 531 counties that were getting younger between April 2010 and July 2017 were in the Midwest. This trend doesn’t seem to be reversing anytime soon. Back in 2014, Census Bureau Director John Thompson noted:
“We’re seeing the demographic impact of two booms. The population in the Great Plains energy boom states is becoming younger and more male as workers move in seeking employment in the oil and gas industry, while the U.S. as a whole continues to age as the youngest of the baby boom generation enters their 50s.”
How should these findings inform GOP strategy for the mid-terms and 2020? Preliminary research reveals that young, white, working class males are shaping up to be one of the most conservative groups ideologically. This is great news for conservatives running in the plains states, however there is a major stumbling block: midterm voters are historically older, married, and hold at least a Bachelor’s degree. The question for the GOP is, can ideologically conservative young men from the Midwest be persuaded to vote in the midterms and remain engaged in 2020?
3. Younger Voters are Defecting from the Democrat Party
A national Reuters/Ipsos survey of more than 16,000 registered voters ages 18 to 34 shows support for Democrats over Republicans for Congress has dropped by roughly 9% over the past two years, to 46% overall.
The survey found:
- 26% of those surveyed this year did not lean toward either Democrat or Republican candidates, up from 18% in 2016.
- Republican support has remained fairly stable since 2016 at approximately 28%, while Democrats have seen their support drop in favor of third party candidates.
- The most notable drop in support for Democrats was in young white males. In 2016, they favored Democrats 48% to 36%, but this year they favored Republicans over Democrats 46% to 37%.
This is on top of preliminary analysis showing the very youngest voters (those under age 22), may be one of the most conservative age groups since WW II.
There is no doubt the waning support of younger voters spells trouble for Democrats in November, but the question remains whether the GOP can persuade them to vote Republican over third-party choices, or simply staying home.