However, before Democrats start celebrating on the presumption that they do better with young voters, they should remember: “It’s not the first time the younger generations outvoted their elders: The same pattern occurred in the 2016 presidential election.”
The number of older voters continues to grow, but at a slower rate than for younger generations. Republicans are sustained in part by greater turnout that compensates for mortality. In other words, “the number of votes cast by Boomer and older generations increased 3.6 million. Even this modest increase is noteworthy, since the number of eligible voters among these generations fell by 8.8 million between the elections, largely due to higher mortality among these generations.”
Fewer older voters but higher turnout means Republicans are living on borrowed time:
Baby Boomers, those ages 54 to 72 in 2018, had their highest-ever midterm election turnout (64%, the same rate as the Silent Generation) and cast more votes than they ever have in a midterm (44.1 million). Still, they had a relatively smaller turnout increase than the younger generations (53% of Boomers turned out in 2014). Overall, Boomers cast 36% of ballots in last year’s election — their lowest share of midterm voters since 1986 — because of mortality, while the younger generations are still growing due to naturalizations and adults turning 18.
Turnout alone cannot stop the erosion of the older, whiter and more conservative generations’ dominance. The attempt to suppress voting among poorer and nonwhite voters (who tend to be younger and also more progressive) should be seen for what it is: a last-gasp effort to extend older and whiter generations’ disproportionate power in a country becoming more secular, more diverse and more progressive.
More specifically, the percentage of conservative evangelicals — on whom the Republican Party is increasingly dependent — is shrinking as well:
General Social Survey data analyzed by Ryan P. Burge of Eastern Illinois University, Americans claiming “no religion” — sometimes referred to as “nones” because of how they answer the question “what is your religious tradition?” — now represent about 23.1 percent of the population, up from 21.6 percent in 2016. People claiming evangelicalism, by contrast, now represent 22.5 percent of Americans, a slight dip from 23.9 percent in 2016.
Younger and more diverse voters, fewer of whom are religiously affiliated, are replacing older, whiter and more religious voters — including white evangelicals. If white evangelicals voted in the same proportion to their percentage of eligible voters, they would be only 15 percent of the electorate; instead they are 26 percent.
Unless progressives and moderates want to wait a decade for evangelicals’ share of the electorate to recede to its actual share of the population, they had better do a few things.
First, more of these voters must be registered to vote by, for example, allowing automatic or same-day registration. Fifteen states and the District already have approved automatic registration.
Second, it’s essential to increase access to ballots by techniques such as voting by mail. At least twenty-two states have some form of voting by mail.
Third, voting machinery must be secured from foreign interference, tampering and malfunction. Unfortunately and not coincidentally, the Trump administration has resisted fully funding such efforts.
And fourth, politicians have to engage and motivate younger voters. Older, whiter and more religious voters have been whipped up by fear of immigration, antiabortion fervor and white resentment. Younger voters may be motivated by climate change, women’s loss of physical autonomy and/or President Trump’s brutal immigration policies. Investing in outreach and engagement of younger voters will begin to erode the advantage that older, whiter and more religious voters currently hold.
Of course, it is fear of that very loss of political dominance (as well as loss of cultural primacy) that Trump tapped into and that keeps his voters in a frenzied state. The “solution” may not be to try to convert the unconvertible (who are immune to reason and marinated in Fox News propaganda) but rather to outvote them. That’s the task for Democrats in 2020 and beyond. Sure, in the long run, demographics will sink the current GOP, but (to paraphrase the quote attributed to John Maynard Keynes), in the long run our democracy could be dead.