Democrats typically dread midterms. The reason, at least recently, is that the constituencies that typically propel them to victory in presidential years are more likely to stay home in midterm years. One of those constituencies has been young adults, a group that has been the deciding factor in the last two presidential elections, but who are thought to either be disengaged or disillusioned during the midterms.
“Our voters . . . get excited about general elections,” President Obama said at a spring fundraiser in Houston. “They don’t get as excited about the midterm elections.”
As Obama made clear, Democrats came into this year knowing full well that they faced an uphill battle. But their thesis was that if they worked hard enough to focus on “their” demographic and put some excitement in “their” voters then they could nullify some of the larger political headwinds they were facing.
Their thesis was wrong.
Young adults don’t belong to any one party. While it is true that Democrats are on a winning streak with the youth vote, starting with Bill Clinton’s edge over George H.W. Bush in the 1992 election, the recent margins won by President Obama far exceed historic norms.
In the first election where 18-year-olds were eligible to vote, some 52% of voters under age 30 cast their ballots for Richard Nixon. Prior to Obama, it was Ronald Reagan who held the record for winning the highest proportion of young voters at 59% in 1984. Indeed, in the 2000 election, George W. Bush only lost young voters by 2 points, while at the same time losing senior citizens (aged 65 and older) by 4 points.
Now, after years of mismanagement by Democrats in the Senate and President Obama in the White House, the needle of youth support tends to be pointing back toward Republicans. A new poll from Harvard University shows that millennial voters prefer a Republican-led Congress after next week’s elections. The poll’s authors write:
A new national poll of America’s 18- to 29- year-olds by Harvard’s Institute of Politics (IOP), located at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, finds slightly more than half (51%) of young Americans who say they will “definitely be voting” in November prefer a Republican-run Congress with 47 percent favoring Democrat control – a significant departure from IOP polling findings before the last midterm elections (Sept. 2010 – 55%: prefer Democrat control; 43%: prefer Republican control). The cohort – 26% of whom report they will “definitely” vote in the midterms – appear up-for-grabs to both political parties and could be a critical swing vote in many races in November.
Part of the reason no doubt is the plummeting job-approval of President Obama. The president’s approval rating among Millennials now sits at 43 percent, a 4 percent fall from April, and now mirrors his support from the population at large. The president’s approval, in turn, seems to be based on plummeting support for his handling of issues like the economy (36 percent), health care (37 percent), the budget deficit (31 percent) and foreign policy (35 percent).
Over the past eight years Democrats, under President Obama’s leadership, have clearly taken youth support for granted. They asked Millennials to show up and vote in election years, but the party subsequently did nothing to promote the priorities of youths, and in some cases Democrats even worked against the interest of young adults, especially in the drafting of Obamacare.
The trick for Republicans will be to not look at this poll as surefire proof that Millennials will soon be in their corner, but instead use it as an opportunity to reach out to young people in new ways. As Harvard Institute of Politics Director Maggie Williams concludes, “The IOP’s fall polling shows that young Americans care deeply about their country and are politically up-for-grabs. . . Candidates for office: Ignore millennial voters at your peril.”