Republicans have a built-in advantage in midterm elections, one that comes from their voters tending to be wealthier, whiter, more likely to own a home, and older — all groups more likely to vote than the electorate as a whole. In other words, if nothing in particular distinguishes a midterm election, Republicans will probably do better than Democrats. In a year when Republicans are angry (such as 2010 or 2014), they’ll win a huge victory, and for Democrats to have a good year, they have to be extra-mad (as they were in 2006).

This election, however, is a highly unusual one. Most people agree that, given what we know now, Democrats will probably win the House, although Republicans have a chance to hold it, while the opposite is true of the Senate. FiveThirtyEight, for instance, gives Democrats an 86.5 percent chance to take the House, and Republicans an 82 percent chance to hold the Senate.

But there’s also the possibility that the “blue wave” could be even larger than it looks right now. If that’s going to happen, it will take large turnout on the part of young people.

Which, if you know anything about turnout, you’d say isn’t all that likely. In midterm elections, turnout among those under 30 is generally around 20 percent. But a new poll from the Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics shows that it’s at least a possibility.  The big headline on the poll is that 40 percent of young people say they will “definitely vote.” Of course, some of them might be kidding themselves, but in previous iterations of that poll, the number was far smaller; in 2010, for instance, it was only 27 percent. And if they do turn out, the young people are going to turn out heavily against Republicans. Not only do they say they’ll support Democrats by a 66 to 32 percent margin, they can’t stand President Trump and they’re liberal on policy issues:

President Trump’s job approval among young Americans stands at 26 percent, with no statistical difference between all Americans under 30 and likely voters. Eleven percent (11%) reported that they are “sure to” reelect the President in 2020 if he is on the ballot, eight percent (8%) indicate that there is “a good chance,” nine percent (9%) say that it is “possible,” nine percent (9%) say it is “unlikely,” and 59 percent say they “will never” vote for him.
The IOP poll, the 36th release in a series dating back to 2000, also indicates strong levels of support among young Americans under 30 for a federal jobs guarantee (56% support, 63% among likely voters), eliminating tuition and fees at public colleges and universities for students from families that make up to $125,000 (56% support, 62% among likely voters), and for Single Payer Health Care (55% support, 67% among likely voters).
Activating voters' fears is a long tradition in political ads, and 2018 is no different, Post Opinions writer Paul Waldman explains. (Gillian Brockell, Kate Woodsome, Danielle Kunitz, Paul Waldman/The Washington Post)

So the likely voters are more liberal than the young population overall. But that won’t really matter if they don’t get to the polls, and the truth is that we just don’t know whether they will. As Amy Gardner reports, young people are being deluged on social media with messages telling them how important it is to vote, from their peers and celebrities such as Taylor Swift, but we have no idea whether that pressure will produce results. It may be working, but it’s also possible that the messages have increased what pollsters call “social desirability bias,” in which poll respondents give the socially acceptable answer regardless of what they actually think or will do. So it could be that many young people are saying they’ll vote, but won’t.

But I’d like to point to one other interesting finding here: that the likely vote for Trump in 2020 among the young is well below what it was in 2016. According to exit polls, Hillary Clinton beat Trump by 55 to 37 percent among those under 30, but now you’ve already got 59 percent saying they’ll “never” vote for him, and the anti-Trump vote could go higher.

That matters not just for 2020, but beyond. It might be tempting to think that young people are always liberal, but they aren’t. In 1984, for example, Ronald Reagan crushed Walter Mondale among young people by double digits, and in 1988 the scintillating George H.W. Bush won voters over 30 by 53 to 47 percent.

Unless they change their minds in the next two years, young people could come through for the Democratic candidate in numbers comparable to 2008, when Barack Obama won young voters by more than 30 points. Long term, that’s a problem for the GOP, since once people establish a party identity in their youth, they tend to stick with it for their whole lives. Which means that whether they turn out this year or not, Donald Trump may be alienating an entire generation from the Republican Party.


Post Opinions writer Paul Waldman dissects the current climate in political ads. (Kate Woodsome, Danielle Kunitz, Paul Waldman/The Washington Post)