Millennials (those born roughly since 1980 or so, depending on your definition) are the most progressive generation since FDR.
That's the headline from this fascinating infographic from Pew, which examines the voting preferences of various generational cohorts over the last two decades. We've heard this before of course. Pew grouped voters into categories not based solely on birth year, but also on the year in which a voter turned 18 -- noting under what President this occurred (fascinating concept). They then looked across the last 10 elections to see where deviations from the national average occurred.
Takeways --1) The obvious lede -- every election Millennials have voted in, they've skewed Democratic. Almost as important? Ditto for young Gen Xers (who turned 18 under Clinton) -- in every election except 2004 (when they skewed GOP) and 2000 (when they tracked with national averages), they skew Democratic as well.
2) Millennials and young Gen Xers deviated from the norm in 11 of 12 opportunities. This wasn't the case for all cohorts, many of whom often followed (or more likely, made up) the overall national average. Not these kids. They've happily departed, election after election. They're not falling in line with the average.
3) Fascinating difference between Gen Xers who came of age under Reagan/Bush vs. those who came of age under Clinton. The former group (today age 38-49) skewed Republican in 7 of 10 elections, and Democratic in only one (their earliest election in 1994). But the Clinton group (today age 30-37) skewed Democratic in 5 of 7 elections and skewed Republican in only one. Powerful argument that this is the fault line: voters age 37 and younger, vs. those 38 and older. Not Gen X vs. Millennial. Everyone born after Star Wars came out is basically a Democrat.
4) The idea that young, idealistic, naive voters tend to side with progressives until they age into mature, worldly realists and start voting for conservatives seems to be (at least partially) debunked by this chart. Only the Reagan/Bush Gen Xers exhibit anything like this behavior. Other groups were either a) more consistent over time, or b) inconsistent but in unpredictable ways, not just "older = more conservative."
Some limitations of note:1) The chart looks only at "likely voters in pre-election polls," not actual returns.
2) The actual size of each voting bloc is unclear, nor is the precise degree to which it deviated from an election's average. We do know, of course, that the Millennial generation is huge compared with Gen X, so its tastes and preferences are magnified.
3) There is obvious ambiguity involved. How much deviation was enough to earn a colored box is not clearly spelled out. Expressing each election as a binary "departed/matched the national average" is a useful (if imperfect) way to chart it, however.
4) The chart doesn't go back early enough to compare voting behavior over long voting lives for multiple groups.
In short, this chart seems to confirm much of what we've been talking about for years -- Millennials seem to consistently prefer progressive ideals, and predictably vote for Democratic candidates that (theoretically) espouse those ideals. This is not changing, and it's a bit of an historical aberration.
If you were a Republican strategist, this is just more heartburn. It's yet another reminder that our voters are going to be around a lot longer than their voters, and mobilizing them to get to the polls is 90% of the battle every election going forward. They already believe what we believe, and they've voted the way we've voted. The trend shows no sign of slowing, and history provides no reason to think that it will reverse itself anytime soon.
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Closing thought: The bottom of the chart seems to beg for an additional row -- for whatever generation will follow Millennials ("Generation Z" or the "Homeland Generation" or "Gen Next" or whatever pithy label ultimately sticks). Some folks have the oldest members of this generation around age 16 now; others think they're under 10. Either way, in the next 2-3 elections -- soon -- we're going to be talking about them. What will their preferences be? Are they rebelling against the views of the generation that preceded them (as personified by a parent, older sibling, etc.) or adopting and evolving similar beliefs? And what can we be doing today to ensure that they continue and amplify the trend of rallying behind progressive thinking and voting?
Rec list? Hey thanks team. I'm a sucker for a slick infographic. You too? Then please enjoy the following from PBS' Sid the Science kid. And you're welcome.