Rethinking the Millennial Vote Ahead of 2020

The ‘demographic destiny’ Democrats hoped for with a younger and more diverse generation is in serious jeopardy. Democrats have lost significant support from Millennials over the past twelve years. The share of young people today who identify as liberal has plummeted a remarkable 41% since 2008 according to Harvard Youth Poll data. The share of young moderates has more than doubled over the same time period. Just 27% of today’s 18 to 29-year-olds now consider themselves liberal. Meanwhile, the share of young people who consider themselves moderate has more than doubled, from 19% in 2008 to 45% in 2019. White Millennials in particular returned to the GOP after a short-lived stint as Democrats in 2008 and have been consistent Republicans ever since. Generation Zers – those born after the mid-1990s – are significantly more conservative than Millennials were at the same life stage, despite being the most racially diverse group in history. English-speaking Hispanics are increasingly self-identifying as white, and voting in line with white Americans. The 2020 election offers a huge opportunity for the GOP to swell their ranks with Millennials critical of the Democratic Party’s failures, and offer solutions to the many issues still plaguing younger Americans.

Millennials entered adulthood during the 2008-era financial crisis, and faced significant difficulties with employment, student loan debt, and moving out on their own. The recession that marked their earliest adult years has subsided, but it appears to have left many Millennials with a deep distrust of institutions, and a feeling of resentment toward the older generations they think were responsible for the crisis. Even though youth unemployment, High School graduate unemployment, and minority unemployment numbers hit historic lows in 2018, many Millennials still face economic and social problems that lead to resentment and distrust. A 2019 Harvard Institute of Politics poll, showed just 38% of young voters and 48% of young likely voters think the Democratic Party cares about their needs. Millennials also mistrust virtually all institutions, with less than 50% saying they trust the federal government, the UN, Congress, the president or the Supreme Court. Their angst isn’t entirely inappropriate. Many Millennials are still struggling to reach the success and stability of previous generations.

  • Only 3% of the national wealth is held by Millennials. This is a meager number compared to the percent held by their parents and grandparents at the same life-stage.
  • Millennials are saddled with a collective $497.6 billion in student loan debt, working out to an average of $33,000 per person.
  • Twenty-two percent of Millennials nationwide still live at home with parents in 2019. This is nearly double the number in 2001, and in states like California and New Jersey, the rates are greater than 40%.
  • ‘Diseases of despair’ – drug, alcohol, and suicide deaths, have increased astronomically in young adults since 2007. Drug deaths increased 108%, alcohol-related deaths increased 69% and suicides increased by 35%, according to DCD data.

Clearly, portions of Millennials are still suffering, economically, physically and socially. The Democrat Party’s main message of ‘your life sucks, and it’s someone else’s fault’ was powerful in shaping their political views. Millennials were sold the idea that Wall Street, Millionaires and Billionaires, Big Business, Evil Health Insurance conglomerates, and Trickle Down Economics, were the causes of their early adult-hardships. They were sold the idea that Big Government was the solution, with universal healthcare, wealth redistribution, salary caps, and minimum wage guarantees for all. This is one reason why quasi-socialist candidates like Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Andrew Yang, who position themselves as outsiders, appeal to Millennials. They offer a message that leaves Millennials blame-free, villainizes success, and promises to re-balance the wealth scales, regardless of merit, effort, or economic realities.  

Mistrust in Institutions Has Hurt the Democratic Party

This particular villain-victim dichotomy isn’t set in stone however, and doesn’t always play out the way Democratic Party elites hope. In 2016, Bernie Sanders, who campaigned largely against the Democratic Party, won more young voters than Clinton and Trump combined, and he is still the first choice for Millennials. Prior to the 2016 Presidential election, Market Research Foundation and Norman Analytics and Research conducted two online focus groups among Millennial segments in Virginia, and found that many Millennials blame government for neglecting Americans, shipping jobs overseas, and wasting time and resources in foreign meddling. A sizable portion of Millennials living at home with their parents into adulthood were also much more likely to favor Trump, who has made bringing jobs back to the U.S., reducing U.S. entanglement overseas, and putting America First, the bedrock of his Presidency.

Thirty-four percent of the living-at-home Millennial segment said they supported Trump compared to just 21% who supported Clinton and 38% who were undecided.  Among the Living Independent segment, support was nearly even with Clinton (27%), Trump (24%) and undecided (33%). What is more:

  • Sixty-three percent of Millennials agreed the Government needs to take action to bring jobs back to the United States – a central theme of Trump’s Presidency so far.
  • Fifty-three percent of Millennials agreed if the government spent as much time dealing with economic problems at home as it does on the problems of foreign nations, our economy would be much better off. This is another issue where Trump has focused a significant amount of his Presidency.
  • Fifty-two percent of Millennials said political parties are less important now, and that they would vote for someone from the “other side” if that person represented their values.

In a score of tight races in the 2018 mid-terms, the 18 to 24-year-old age cohort proved instrumental in Republican victories. The 2018 Florida governor and senate race, Pennsylvania governor and senate race, Texas senate race, Georgia governor race, and Wisconsin senate race, all drew significant Republican support from younger voters. One of the races that captured this shift was the Indiana senate race, where Republican state lawmaker Mike Braun defeated Democratic incumbent Joe Donnelly with the support of Indiana’s youngest voters. Braun tied with Donnelly for the under-twenty-five segment 47% to 47%, and more voters under age 25 voted for Braun than those in every other age cohort under 40, as shown below.

White Millennials are Significantly Less Liberal than Everyone Thinks

Millennials share several defining early-life experiences, but they are still a hugely diverse group, and a majority of white Millennials are actually conservative. Let’s start with one of the most partisan and defining elections, 2016. Clinton won the youth vote by a landslide by all accounts, right? While it’s true that Clinton won 55% of 18 to 29-year-olds to Trump’s 37%, Trump beat her handedly among white Millennials. That wasn’t an anomaly either, it was a continuation of a consistent trend that was briefly interrupted by Obama in 2008 but quickly corrected by 2012.

Obama secured white Millennial loyalty for Democrats briefly, twelve years ago, with 54% of the white youth vote. By the end of Obama’s first term, young whites clamored back to the GOP to support Mitt Romney, and they have more or less remained there. In 2016, young whites 18 to 29 voted for Trump over Clinton by a margin of 48% to 45%. For comparison, 83% of young Blacks and 70% of young Hispanics supported Clinton. Trump’s success among young whites is even more pronounced among the youngest whites. Trump won white 18 to 24-year-olds by a margin of 8 points according to some estimates. A 2018 Reuters poll showing a steep decline in Millennial support for Democrats driven predominantly by young whites held a bleak premonition for Democrats. White 18 to 24-year-olds voted for Democrats at lower rates than Millennials in their late twenties and early thirties, validating the trend that younger whites are even more conservative than slightly older whites. Keep in mind, a significant share of Hispanics, especially those who speak English at home, identify as white and vote in-line with how other white Americans vote.

While Millennials were initially vulnerable to the Democrat Party’s capitalism blame-game, misguided attempt to socialize healthcare, and occasional redeeming positions on foreign policy, their loyalty to Democrats is dwindling. Both the Democrat and Republican parties have shifted significantly since the peak of liberal-youth fervor in 2008. This realignment is driving Millennials away from the Democratic Establishment, toward third party candidates. With the right strategy Republicans can pick up a portion of these disenchanted Millennials. Today’s GOP embodies a more U.S.-based focus than in the past, calling for troop withdrawals, border security, national autonomy, and a rekindling of American enterprise that is appealing to Millennials who waited for ‘hope and change’ from Democrats. It is important to rethink the Millennial vote in the current political context, acknowledge where conventional wisdom and the mainstream media were wrong, and recognize the opportunity to appeal to specific segments of Millennials in 2020.