If the political preferences of young voters are any sort of sign of what the future holds, Donald Trump better win this year, or his kind of politics is going to expire along with the older voters whose cultural resentments he has galvanized. The more we learn of millennial leanings in this presidential election, the clearer it is that their Democratic tilt in the last two presidential cycles is becoming persistent. The latest evidence is a USA Today/Rock the Vote poll of voters under 35 showing Clinton leading Trump 56-20. The same survey shows millennials identifying with the Democratic Party by a massive 50-20 margin, with 17 percent identifying as indies.
While this survey has a larger sample of millennials than others, the numbers are not really out of line with what earlier polls have shown. The latest Economist/YouGov tracking poll has Clinton leading 59-27 among under-30 voters and 55-28 among those ages 30 to 44. The most recent ABC/Washington Post survey showed a more modest 52-40 Clinton lead among voters under 40, but there’s not much doubt about which way the wind is blowing. By way of comparison, Barack Obama won under-30 voters 66-32 in 2008 and 60-37 in 2012. If the consolidation of former Sanders voters in her column continues, there’s no reason she could not come close to those margins. Add in her dominant performance among minority voters and it’s clear the so-called Obama coalition is at least temporarily staying in place in the first post-Obama election.
There are two reservations that are often expressed about Clinton’s lead over Trump among younger voters. The first is that she may lose an awful lot of votes to the Libertarian and Green parties. The USAT/RTV survey shows Clinton leading 50-18-11-4 among millennials in a four-way race. Economist/YouGov has her at 41-22-18-7 among under-30s. Unless Gary Johnson makes the debate thresholds (very unlikely) or the major-party contest gets out of hand (making minor-party “protest” votes more attractive), the combined Libertarian and Green vote is likely to decline by November, perhaps dramatically. In any event, Trump seems doomed to a low — quite possibly historically low — percentage of the millennial vote in any configuration.
The second concern about HRC’s youth vote involves an alleged lack of enthusiasm, particularly among former Sanders voters. At this point I will make the standard observation that unenthusiastic votes count exactly the same as enthusiastic votes. The USA Today poll does show that a slightly higher number of millennials indicated they won’t vote at all as compared to earlier surveys. But the Clinton campaign’s “raise the stakes” messaging designed to induce fear and trembling at the thought of a President Trump is not just aimed at swing voters or detachable Republicans; young voters, and particularly young Bernie voters, are another prime target.
However it all turns out, though, Republicans ought to be concerned about their long-term standing among young voters, who started moving decisively into the Democratic column in 2004. At some point, the combination of Democratic voting habits and generational disdain for Republicans as the south end of a northbound political dinosaur will solidify into something permanent.