Opinion | Campaign

Millennial momentum means trouble for the GOP

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If you believe the political past is a forecast of the future, you really need to read the Pew Research Center's analysis of the 2020 presidential vote.

The research vividly portrays the opportunities that await the Democratic Party and the obstacles that the GOP will likely confront down the line.

Pew matched the data of the people it polled during the 2020 campaign to public records to examine the behavior of Americans who officially cast ballots. The actions of these validated voters speak volumes about the future of American politics.

The most encouraging sign for Democrats was the generational change of the guard. The 2020 election was a watershed moment in contemporary American political history.

For the first time in a presidential election, members of the Silent Generation (born between 1928 and 1945) and Baby Boomers (1946 and 1964) cast fewer ballots than the younger group that includes Millennials (1981 and 2002) and the people in Generation X (1965 and 1980).

As the "boomers" continue to age and the Millennials mature, younger Americans will inherit the dominant political power of their predecessors. These generational shifts occur regularly in politics and produce shocks to the political system every few decades.

The Millennial generation first flexed its muscles with the election of Barack Obama in 2008. Authors Morley Winograd and Mike Hais predicted the rising power of these young voters in their seminal book, "Millennial Makeover," published in 2008.

Millennial support for the presidential primary campaigns of Bernie Sanders in 2016 and in 2020 transformed the Democratic Party into a progressive party and paved the way for the election of Joe Biden and the defeat of Donald Trump last November.

Last fall, Biden won the overwhelming support of Gen X-ers and Millennial voters. Half of the Americans who voted for the new president were under the age of 50. Only two in five of the people who cast ballots for the former president were that young.

The only age group that supported Trump "bigly" were members of the Silent Generation. But the proportion of the electorate from that age group declined by half from 2016 to 2020. This change deprived the former president of some of the support he had in his first presidential campaign.

The rise of Gen X-ers and Millennials is a ticking time bomb for Republicans if younger voters maintain their political allegiances through life and the GOP doesn't make significant changes in the platform and policies that it offers to younger Americans.

A Pew analysis published in 2019 suggested the difficulties facing Trump's reelection campaign and demonstrated the need for Republicans to makeover their message to Millennials.

The big fault line in American politics is the battle between the two largest age groups in the electorate. The chasm between the ascending coalition of Millennials and the descending generation of boomers is as wide as the Grand Canyon.

The GOP is on the wrong side of this great generational divide. The party's sometimes seeming hostility towards people of color, its denial of climate change and its opposition to government action plays well to its declining base of seniors but is poisonous to the rising generation of younger voters.

Republican race-baiting is certainly not the answer to the burning questions facing younger voters. A large majority of Millennials told the Pew pollsters that racial and ethnic diversity is good for society and not a threat to the nation.

Climate change denial is a non-starter. More than half of the Millennials believe that climate change is a result of human activity and not natural causes.

Finally, the GOP walks a dangerous path when it beats up on big government. Most Millennials believe government should do more to solve problems and not simply rely on businesses and individuals to fix things.

Time marches on but the GOP is stuck in the mud. The culture war leads the party back to the past rather than advancing Republican fortunes in the future.

Republicans are fighting a pointless rear-guard action to resist the onslaught of change. The GOP can slow it down, but it can't obstruct the path to progress forever.

The short-term forecast for Democrats is cloudy. The party will need to fight for its life to maintain control of Congress in 2022. But the future looks sunny if it is smart enough to maintain the loyalty of young voters.

Demography is destiny, and it leads the way to Democratic dominance unless the GOP can reverse this troubling temporal trend.

Brad Bannon is a Democratic pollster and CEO of Bannon Communications Research. His podcast, Deadline D.C. with Brad Bannon, airs on Periscope TV and the Progressive Voices Network. His Twitter handle is @BradBannon.

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