Earlier this year, as the conventions were displaying two sharply different visions of the country’s future, Democrats were talking about the possibility that the GOP’s nomination of Trump might create a historic opportunity to persuade younger voters that the Democratic Party is the one firmly aligned with diversifying America. Meanwhile, it might also cement their views of the GOP as unremittingly hostile to cultural, social, and demographic change. Some Never Trump Republicans watched the conventions and agreed that for this reason, the nomination of Trump might alienate a new generation of voters, with catastrophic consequences. As you’ll recall, leading GOP strategists also reacted to the 2012 outcome by resolving to modernize the party to make it appear less hidebound and trapped in the past to young voters — unaware, of course, that Trump was already feverishly plotting to seize control of their party.
Now, it’s looking as if this analysis was right — at least in predicting that Trump would indeed alienate these voters. Beyond Trump, it’s possible that many are already hardened against the GOP after having come of age during the debacles of the George W Bush presidency and after having witnessed the party’s failure to evolve on gay rights and other cultural issues well into the 21st Century. But with Clinton struggling among them, and with larger than expected percentages considering minor party candidates, we can no longer be sure what is going to happen with these voters over the long term. This seems particularly true of the younger millennials, who loved Barack Obama but aren’t feeling it for Clinton.
My strong sense is that millennials will likely come home to Clinton in substantial numbers, if not quite at the levels Democrats might hope for. But the broader point is that, even if Clinton does win, the political loyalties of these voters — and efforts to engage them, particularly in midterm elections — will be topics of concern that long outlast this election, given the long term stakes. The party leadership during the Clinton presidency, should she win, will undoubtedly have to make ministering to these voters a major aspect of their agenda, including innovations in communicating with younger voters in the digital age. I hope to have more in a future post on what the Clinton campaign and Democrats are thinking and doing on this score. But I just wanted to plant a marker on the idea that this could be a big, consequential story going forward.
In other words, while 2016 is important, so is 2018. And if Millennial turnout two years from now and six years from now is anything like 2014's dismal showing, the Republicans will continue to control everything but the White House for a long, long time to come.
It's also important to note that by 2018, Millennials will be the largest bloc of eligible voters in America, with the very youngest of them (those born in 2000) ready to cast ballots. How many of them will bother to show up to vote, well, that will determine where America goes.