The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

A bright spot for Republicans among millennials: Young white men

President Trump poses for a photo with White House interns on July 24, 2017. (Tasos Katopodis/European Pressphoto Agency)

The most significant revelation in a new Pew Research Center analysis of partisan identification is the extent to which Democrats and Republicans no longer resemble one another demographically. Nearly 4 in 10 Democrats are nonwhite, while 83 percent of Republicans are white. Six in 10 Republicans are whites without a college degree; only a third of Democrats are. A third of Republicans are white evangelical Christians; a third of Democrats are religiously unaffiliated.

Pew’s data highlighted two consistent trends: Women are much more likely to identify as Democrats than Republicans, while men are more split. White Americans (as was probably obvious from the paragraph above) are more likely to identify as Republican, and nonwhite Americans as Democrats — no group more so than black Americans.

Understandably, the widening gap on education in Pew’s data attracted a great deal of attention. College-educated Americans are much more likely to be Democrats than Republicans — and to an increasing extent.

To some extent, this overlaps with age. Older Americans are less likely to have college educations. Pew breaks out its age categories into generations, a subjective distinction but one that makes it easier to talk about age groups.

Americans born before 1946 are more likely to be Republican than Democrat by a nine-point margin. Boomers, the post-World War II generation, lean slightly Democratic. Generation X, slightly more so.

And then there are millennials.

That gap between Republican and Democratic identification is generally seen as very bad news for Republicans. After all, millennials will be around a lot longer than people who were alive during World War II. Given that at no point have they preferred Republicans to Democrats, it suggests significant long-term problems for the GOP.

One reason millennials lean more Democratic is that the group is also more racially diverse than older Americans. But the Democratic advantage among millennials exists even within groups that, overall, tend to identify as Republicans: men and whites.

But that’s a little misleading. Millennial men includes nonwhite men; white millennials includes women. If we isolate white, male millennials, the picture changes.

Young white men identify as Republican.

We’ve seen this evidenced elsewhere. In January, PRRI and MTV released a report looking at the political views of young Americans. That focused on the post-millennial generation, which is yet to be named. (MTV likes “Founders,” which, hmm.)

Many of the findings center on race:

  • More than half of white men (and white women) in this age group believe that discrimination against whites is as significant as discrimination against other groups.
  • Fewer than half of young white men say black people face a lot of discrimination.
  • A quarter of young white men say white men face a lot of discrimination.
  • Opinions of Barack Obama were much lower among young white men. More than half of white men in this group expressed a favorable opinion of President Trump.
  • Half of young white men favor building the U.S.-Mexico border wall.

There’s an existing question of the extent to which the increasing racial divide between the parties overlaps with increasing partisan animosity. Trump’s election was clearly dependent to a large extent on issues that intersected with race. (In nearly every state, voters most worried about the economy preferred Hillary Clinton in 2016 while those most worried about immigration or terrorism backed Trump.) The Republican candidate was successful after stoking racial fears; even before the election, most Americans thought Trump’s rhetoric appealed to bigotry.

The PRRI data suggests that this is not simply a function of older white Americans worried about the shifting demographics of the United States. The Pew data suggests that younger white men are more likely to support Trump’s party than any other part of their generation.

This survey still presents a worrisome future for the GOP as the nation grows less white and as millennials increasingly make up more of the electorate. (Per Pew’s definitions, millennials and Gen Xers cast more votes in 2016 than older generations.) But the party’s appeal to white men, a group that makes up a plurality of its membership, continues.