Millennials Bolt Obama for GOP in Midterms

Long term, the future American electorate isn’t sold on either party.

The Mock Senate takes a vote. Enthusiastic students at a Harvard University sponsored model Congress session in a Boston, MA. hotel.
National Journal
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Ron Fournier
Oct. 29, 2014, 5:59 a.m.

In a stun­ning turn­around, likely voters in the so-called mil­len­ni­al gen­er­a­tion prefer a Re­pub­lic­an-led Con­gress after next week’s elec­tions, and young His­pan­ics are turn­ing sharply against Pres­id­ent Obama.

A new na­tion­al poll of 18-to-29-year-olds by Har­vard’s In­sti­tute of Polit­ics shows that young Amer­ic­ans are leav­ing the new Demo­crat­ic co­ali­tion that twice elec­ted Obama. The news is little bet­ter for the GOP: These voters, who more than any oth­er vot­ing bloc rep­res­ent the fu­ture of the Amer­ic­an elect­or­ate, gen­er­ally hold Re­pub­lic­ans in the low­est re­gard.

The long-view IOP find­ings sug­gest that neither party is poised to win the largest gen­er­a­tion in U.S. his­tory—a prag­mat­ic, de­mand­ing, re­l­at­ively nonideo­lo­gic­al elect­or­ate raised in an age of ter­ror­ism, war, and gov­ern­ment dys­func­tion.

“Mil­len­ni­als could be a crit­ic­al swing vote,” said IOP Dir­ect­or Mag­gie Wil­li­ams, pro­ject­ing the latest res­ults on fu­ture elec­tions. “Can­did­ates for of­fice: Ig­nore mil­len­ni­al voters at your per­il.” Wil­li­ams is a Demo­crat and a former ad­viser to Hil­lary Clin­ton.

In the short term, the news is worse for Demo­crats than Re­pub­lic­ans.

  • Mil­len­ni­als who told the IOP they will “def­in­itely be vot­ing” Tues­day favored Re­pub­lic­ans over Demo­crats, 51 per­cent to 47 per­cent. That is a re­versal of Septem­ber 2010 res­ults, when the IOP found Demo­crats favored over Re­pub­lic­ans among young likely voters, 55 per­cent to 43 per­cent.
  • Obama’s job-ap­prov­al rat­ing among mil­len­ni­als de­creased from 47 per­cent in April to 43 per­cent, his second-low­est rat­ing in the IOP sur­veys. Among young Amer­ic­ans most likely to vote, his job-ap­prov­al rat­ing is just 42 per­cent.
  • Obama’s job ap­prov­al is be­low 40 per­cent on sev­er­al is­sues, in­clud­ing the eco­nomy, health care, the fed­er­al budget de­fi­cit, and for­eign policy. Nearly six of 10 young Amer­ic­ans dis­ap­prove of Obama­care.
  • Among the one in four mil­len­ni­al voters who say they def­in­itely will vote Tues­day, Re­pub­lic­an-lean­ing con­stitu­en­cies are sig­ni­fic­antly more en­thu­si­ast­ic about the elec­tion than Demo­crats.
  • Just 49 per­cent of young His­pan­ics ap­prove of Obama’s job per­form­ance, the low­est since IOP began track­ing in 2009. That’s a big drop from six months ago, when his rat­ing among young His­pan­ics was 60 per­cent, and five years ago, when 81 per­cent of His­pan­ic mil­len­ni­als ap­proved of Obama’s per­form­ance. Only 17 per­cent of His­pan­ic youth plan to vote Tues­day, far smal­ler than the non-His­pan­ic per­cent­ages and likely a re­flec­tion of frus­tra­tion over stalled im­mig­ra­tion re­form.

Dis­clos­ure: I’m a mem­ber of the IOP’s seni­or ad­vis­ory com­mit­tee, a po­s­i­tion that gives me an ap­pre­ci­ation for the 26 mil­len­ni­al sur­veys pro­duced since 2000. The latest Know­ledge­Pan­el sur­vey, con­duc­ted with the Gov­ern­ment and Aca­dem­ic re­search team of GfK, in­volved 2,029 18-to-29-year-old U.S. cit­izens between Sept. 26 and Oct. 9.

John Della Volpe, dir­ect­or of the IOP sur­veys, said the sweep of the work con­vinces him that Demo­crats and Re­pub­lic­ans are los­ing the next gen­er­a­tion. “Both parties should re­in­tro­duce them­selves to young voters, em­power them, and seek their par­ti­cip­a­tion in the up­com­ing 2016 cam­paign and bey­ond,” he said.

For in­stance, mil­len­ni­als hate gov­ern­ment grid­lock. Asked on “whom do you place the most blame re­gard­ing the polit­ic­al grid­lock in Wash­ing­ton,” a whop­ping 56 per­cent said, “All of them.”

Con­gres­sion­al Re­pub­lic­ans were blamed by 22 per­cent, com­pared with 13 per­cent who blamed Obama and just 5 per­cent who blamed Demo­crats in Con­gress.

While the GOP holds the up­per hand Tues­day among likely young voters, mil­len­ni­als over­all are more in­clined to ap­prove of Demo­crats in Con­gress than Re­pub­lic­ans, 35 per­cent to 23 per­cent.

Less than 10 per­cent of mil­len­ni­als identi­fy them­selves as tea-party sup­port­ers. Mil­len­ni­als nar­rowly fa­vor Demo­crats over Re­pub­lic­ans to handle the eco­nomy, im­mig­ra­tion, for­eign policy, race re­la­tions, and even health care.

Young voters tra­di­tion­ally split between the two ma­jor parties, as they did in 2000 and 2002. Two wars and Hur­ricane Kat­rina un­der an un­pop­u­lar Pres­id­ent George W. Bush drove mil­len­ni­als to Obama’s prom­ise of change and can-do bi­par­tis­an­ship. He didn’t live up to his hype, and by 2013, many young voters were walk­ing away from Obama and Demo­crats amid rev­el­a­tions about the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s do­mest­ic spy­ing pro­grams and the botched launch of Obama­care.

The latest poll un­der­scores Della Volpe’s be­lief that “young people are re­turn­ing back to pre-Obama roots of be­ing a swing-vote con­stitu­ency.”


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