For obvious reasons, the broadly liberal demographic trends in American politics have received much less attention since the 2016 election. Yet the fact remains that America is politically sorted by generations in a way it never has before. The oldest voters are the most conservative, white, and Republican, and the youngest voters the most liberal, racially diverse, and Democratic. There is absolutely no sign the dynamic is abating during the Trump years. If anything, it is accelerating.
The most recent Pew Research Survey has more detail about the generational divide. It shows that the old saw that young people would naturally grow more conservative as they age, or that their Democratic loyalties were an idiosyncratic response to Barack Obama’s unique personal appeal, has not held. Younger voters have distinctly more liberal views than older voters:
One could probably quibble with the overall definitions of which voters have liberal views and which have conservative views. What’s telling here is the comparison between generations. By Pew’s given definition, younger voters are wildly more liberal than older ones. The youngest voters have nearly five times as many voters with liberal views than with conservative views. The oldest voters have one and a half times more conservative than liberal voters.
Correspondingly, the Democratic lean of millennial voters is as strong as ever:
In the upcoming midterm elections, millennials are providing a huge share of the Democrats’ edge, with older generations splitting their vote relatively close:
In previous elections, especially those without a president on the ballots, millennials showed up in far lower numbers than older voters. So far they indicate a much stronger interest in voting:
Democrats are benefiting from what political scientists call “thermostatic public opinion,” in which preferences about the size of government tend to swing in the opposite direction of which party controls the presidency. Some of the liberal trends in public opinion are a simple reaction to Trump. But there are also longer-standing trends on some social issues. Within generations, opinion on the role of immigrants is moving left and has been since early in President Obama’s first term:
Likewise, opinions about race — and the degree to which racism plays an important role in holding back African-Americans — are also moving left. This is a triumph of activism by Black Lives Matter and other groups calling attention to racism:
It is hard to focus on this trend at a moment when Republicans have full control of government, and are heading into an election where gerrymandering gives them a large advantage in maintaining Congress. But this fact runs headlong against a much longer deterioration of the conservative position within the electorate. Many conservatives supported Trump precisely because they were panicked about this trend. So far, Trump is merely accelerating the demise they feared.
In the long run, as John Maynard Keynes quipped, “We are all dead.” But over the long run, the Republicans are especially dead.