Tuesday’s midterm elections can be summed up in four words: The reckoning has come. An estimated 113 million voters, an impressive 49 percent of the electorate, turned out in numbers closer to the 2016 presidential election than the 2014 midterms. Indeed, this is the highest turnout rate for a midterm election since the 1960s.
With (most) of the ballots counted, it’s clear that the Democrats resoundingly took control of the House of Representatives, seven gubernatorial mansions, over 300 state legislative seats and also added to their ranks in state and local races throughout the country. While Republicans expanded their majority in the Senate and arguably ended the rural Democratic Party, Americans delivered an unmistakable message of disapproval to both Donald Trump and the GOP itself. Fueling that judgment? Millennials, young voters and women.
Republicans are now left to ask the questions of how and why did this happen? To quote Shakespeare: The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.
For several years, GOP leaders were warned of a growing problem: Millennials, the largest generation and portion of the workforce in the United States, were not connecting with the Republican Party.
For several years, GOP leaders were warned of a growing problem: Millennials, the largest generation and portion of the workforce in the United States, were not connecting with the Republican Party. Unless major changes were made, the party was likely to suffer severe consequences at the ballot box.
Party leaders dismissed warnings of the looming demographic crisis. When they were forewarned about how the Women’s March could be as dangerous to Republicans in 2018 as the Tea Party was to Democrats in 2010, they ignored that problem too.
And it was these demographics — young voters (classified as voters 18-29), millennials (people born between 1981-1997) and educated women — that delivered big for Democrats across the country during Tuesday’s midterm elections. While there is still a great deal of data to come, the preliminary data clearly shows that young voters and millennials were particularly impactful. In 2014, just 19.9 percent of voters aged 18 to 29 and 26 percent of Americans under 40 cast their ballots. In the 2018 midterms, an estimated 31 percent of young voters showed up at the polls, a 55 percent increase that was nearly double the overall voter turnout increase. Democrats won the youth vote by 35 points, a significant shift from their 11-point margin in 2014.
At the same time, Democrats won the overall women’s vote 59 to 40 percent, a substantially larger margin than the 4 points they won it by in 2014. What powered this newfound energy? The most-abundant renewable energy source on the planet: anger.
The actions, or rather inactions, of the Republican Party to mitigate this surge were abysmal. The party’s attitude toward avoiding calamity was akin to an airline pilot playing a game of chicken with a mountain. They dismissed millennials and young voters using two flawed arguments: They don’t vote and, when they ultimately do, they will have become conservative because they have “responsibilities” like having a job and paying taxes.
However, there were multiple signs that millennials and young voters in particular were going to vote this year. Poll after poll showed an increase in enthusiasm among this sector of the electorate and voter registration data saw a significant uptick in registration.
As for the claim that millennials will vote Republican as they age and assume responsibilities such as having jobs and paying taxes? It is a bunch of malarkey. The oldest millennials are now 37, have jobs, pay taxes and are busy worrying about how to pay for their kids’ college educations — and they themselves likely faced or still face massive student debt, which only heightens these concerns. Despite being marginally older, they still feel that the Republican Party does not represent them or their values, so they are continuing to support Democratic candidates.
Making matters worse, the Republican Party seems to believe that the way to win over millennials is to promote figures like Charlie Kirk, Candace Owens and Tomi Lahren, who are the Baby Boomers’ idea of a millennial Republican. Each of these demagogues believe that the best way to expand the GOP is to shamelessly promote themselves while “owning the libs,” in the process pushing the kinds of divisive rhetoric and ideas that make millennials turn away from the Republican Party in the first place. Even many millennial Republicans find their antics and 280-character-at-a-time, right-wing Twitter infomercials to be intellectually lacking and outright vacuous.
Making matters worse, the Republican Party seems to believe that the way to win over millennials is to promote figures like Charlie Kirk, Candace Owens and Tomi Lahren.
Continuing to rely on these soapbox orators and their obtuse drivel to bring millennials and young Americans to the GOP will continue to lead to the opposite effect. Instead, these dunces should be cast out in favor of more thoughtful conservatives who have proven they can speak to and work with audiences other than the GOP base.
While it is too early to tell if Tuesday’s results are indicative of a durable, long-term shift of the electorate, it certainly makes clear that the Republican Party has a significant amount of work to do when it comes to women and millennial voters.
However, based upon comments already made by President Donald Trump and Republican leaders, the prospect of a course correction looks grim. Instead, it seems that the strategy is to become even Trumpier, which the American people, particularly women and millennials, have already made clear is not their cup of tea. Although Trump celebrated the outcome of the midterms, he could potentially be headed for another electoral disaster in 2020. And if that happens, Republican leaders will only have themselves to blame.