Washington Post columnist Philip Bump explained that there's a strange divide in looking at "young voters" and their impact on elections.
This month the Census Bureau released data showing the demographics of the electorate in the 2022 midterm elections. It didn't show much of an increase from the 2018 midterms, and much less than 2020.
But other pollsters and voter data firms have highlighted the impact of the Millennial Generation and now Gen Z for years. Bump explained the way measurements generally work. They look at "young voters" as those 18-29. But that isn't Gen Z and the Millennial Generation. Catalist’s assessment of the midterms charted “Gen Z and Millennial voters had exceptional levels of turnout.”
So, both can be true. Most Millennials are aging out of the "young voters" category. Meanwhile, older generations are aging out through "unhappy natural means." So, the share of the electorate is showing the more progressive younger generations are taking over their share of the electorate.
"There’s a standard pattern to voter turnout that’s captured by the Census Bureau," wrote Bump. "The youngest voters tend to turn out at decent rates before the percentage drops off. Over time, as voters get into the habit of voting and, probably more importantly, have more stable careers and housing, turnout ticks upward. Until, again, that natural denouement."
Bump showed two charts, one looking at turnout by age and another looking at turnout by generation. In both 2016 and 2022, there were a significant number of voters in the lower 20s, but not as many from the late 20s to their 40s. But when you look at the generational data, it reveals that Gen Z came out in droves over Millennials that drop off until their late 30s.
Turnout among Millennials was once impressive in the era of the Barack Obama campaigns, which courted young voters starting in the Iowa Caucus, where he scored his first surprise win. At the time, Millennials were coming of age, and as the children of Baby Boomers were the largest generation in history (80 million). They were also the first generation to lean more Democratic.
Writing for Salon in 2014, Tim Donovan explained that the extremely low participation rates among young people were a reflection of both voter ID laws also because they were "unmotivated by the Democrats' message — party operatives should be plenty worried when looking to 2016 and beyond." The prediction turned out to be true, and the party did little to stop it.
"Universally, Democratic candidates didn't bother to address the (very real, very serious) problems that are on the minds of many millennials: the racist and costly drug war, ballooning student loan debt, long-term unemployment, flat wages at sh---y retail and restaurant jobs, and an imperiled climate," Donovan wrote. "Democratic strategists seemed to assume that running as the Not-Republican Party would carry them to victory among young voters."
But Donald Trump and the epidemic of gun violence changed everything for young voters who watched as the GOP slipped further to the fringe, prompting Black Lives Matter protests, The March for our Lives, LGBTQ+ equality, and other causes led by those under 30. Gen Z is now the largest generation at 90 million members, the jobs company Adecco Staffing charts.
Like Millennials, however, Democratic strategists might lose another opportunity to harness the progressive power of a key voting bloc.
"If Democratic strategists thought they could simply ignore the needs of Millennial voters because we find Republican politicians to be noxious, hopefully, this election taught them a lesson they won't soon forget," Donovan complained. Bump's numbers show they didn't. Instead, his data shows Democrats have watched as the once enthusiastic generation that propelled the first Black U.S. president in history to the White House have fallen into the cynicism of the generations that came before it. Millennials have been forced into one recession after another, high costs of education, costly childcare, and cuts to veterans' benefits after being tasked with fighting and dying in a decades-long war.
Columnist Andrew Van Dam categorized Millennials as "the unluckiest generation in U.S. history" facing "the worst economic odds, and many will never recover."
It's no surprise that Millennials have given up. The only issue that specifically targeted them was Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-VT) student loan legislation, which was adopted by President Joe Biden.
But as Gen. Z took to the streets, the new younger Democratic Party embraced the young voters, prompting many to run for local and congressional offices themselves.
The sheer numbers show just how powerful the generations are, Bump explained.
"Catalist’s analysis shows that Gen Z and millennials made up 23 percent of the electorate in the 2018 midterms and 26 percent last year. Gen X (born 1965-80), middle-aged people (sigh) who are steadily voting more heavily, saw their percentage of the electorate increase, too. The group that dropped off was, predictably, the oldest voters," he wrote.
As one Politico headline put it "That Gen Z midterm boost for Democrats might be real" and it might stay if the Democratic strategists take it seriously this time around.
Bump closed by explaining: "It’s important to remember that these trends are unfolding slowly, with both parties having time to adjust and respond to them. But there’s no question that the long-expected shift away from the baby boom and older voters has been underway for some time. What Catalist’s analysis suggests is that this shift helped turn the Democrats’ 2022 from a bloodbath into a papercut."