We’ve been hearing plenty about how candidates for president need to stump to Millennials to get elected in 2016.
Well it’s not true. They don’t, and they didn’t.
After a large score of presidential primaries, the 2016 election is resoundingly not about Millennials. In fact, it looks more and more like it’s about that still very engaged and dominating electorate: Baby Boomers. Those age 45-64 are dictating what is happening in America this time around.
Tuesday’s latest round of primaries included major events in Florida and Ohio, plus showings in Illinois, Missouri and North Carolina. All of these states have substantial sample sizes; together, they give a relatively accurate picture of what the national electorate is thinking. And the proof showed, over and over, that the young end of the electorate is not doing the big thinking.
Let’s start with the Republican party, where Donald Trump is the kingpin after sweeping nearly every state Tuesday. Across the board Trump received huge support from the age 45-64 electorate, which includes both Generation-Xers and Baby Boomers. An average of 44 percent of GOP voters Tuesday were age 45-64, and they liked Trump about 44 percent of the time. Plus, those older than 65 composed 25 percent of the electorate and preferred Trump at the same clip.
Meanwhile the youngest GOP voters (age 18-29) represented only 12 percent of the electorate Tuesday. And they were all over the place – they liked Trump at about 35 percent in Florida and Illinois (Marco Rubio was close in Florida; Ted Cruz was close in Illinois), preferred Cruz in Missouri and North Carolina (overwhelmingly so), and of course, took John Kasich in his home state of Ohio (again, overwhelmingly).
Of course – and this must be repeated with each exit poll – when citing 18-29 we’re acknowledging a range of 12 years, while with 45-64 we’re acknowledging 20 years. Still, the 45-64 contingent dominated the voting, and the 65+ contingent – nearly on par with the 18-29 – doubled the young vote.
In the end, young Republican voters didn’t know what they wanted.
Trump speaks more to disenchanted older white voters. His “Make America Great Again” shtick, aimed at those older Americans, leaps over Millennials and lands somewhere in the early 1960s. But he’s running away with the vote. Cruz – who seems to be preferred by many young voters – speaks anti-establishment without the “let’s get America back to before Millennials were born” talk. But it probably won’t matter now.
So, in essence, Millennial Republicans don’t have a preferred leader (they may not have had one anyway). Trump could signal a Goldwater-like sea change in GOP politics, but we don’t know that yet: Millennials have yet to have a real voice of any value in that party.
Over in the Democratic party, Millennials hopped onto the Bernie Sanders train early. Sanders – speaking out about distribution of wealth, aiming primarily at class imbalance but striking a surefire tone with Millennials angry about student loans and living poor – gained a huge following of Millennial voters prepared to make noise against establishment candidate Hillary Clinton.
But Sanders is slipping away. Clinton on Tuesday took every race except Missouri, which is still too close to call (though Clinton was leading there, too). She’s showing to be the obvious candidate now, but again, she’s not the Millennial choice.
Tuesday a significantly larger percentage of the Democratic vote came from young people, as the 18-29 cohort composed about 17 percent. And overwhelmingly the Millennials voted for Sanders, mostly at a tune of 80-20. Only in Florida was Sanders’ win significantly more narrow (65-34), but on a large scale, we’re back to numbers we saw way back in Iowa. The ground Clinton appeared to make up has disappeared with Millennial voters.
But, again, it doesn’t matter. Clinton is winning the vote, mostly because of overwhelming support among the 45-64 and 65-and-older electorates. Clinton also has some support in the 30-44 group, which includes some Millennials, but there’s much more volatility there.
In short, Millennials won’t get their choices in 2016. They’ll have to choose between a GOP outsider and a Democratic insider. Or they could choose the third option – neither.
But that won’t matter, Millennials. In the end, the 2016 election will be, yet again, about who wins the Baby Boomer vote.
Maybe Millennials will get their say in eight more years.