An astounding exit poll statistic isn’t getting enough attention in the morning-after analysis of the 2014 election. In some ways, it’s the only statistic that matters: Eighteen-to-29-year-old voters comprised 19 percent of all voters in 2012; this year, they made up less than 12 percent.
Can I just say “wow” about that?
It’s an even more astounding stat when you consider that the total number of voters dropped by 30 percent from 2012 to this year. That actually means that somewhere around half as many 18-29 year olds voted this year than in the presidential election. They were a much smaller portion of a much smaller overall number.
The magnitude of the drop very likely determined the results in many close races, simply because Democrats are much more popular among 18-29 year olds than they are among older voters. In fact, this year’s Exit Poll shows that Democrats won that youngest voters’ demographic, by 54 percent to 43 percent. The older the demographic, the better the Republican percentages. Once you get to the 65-plus group, the Dem:GOP split is more than a complete swing, from 54:43 to 41:57.
The drop in Millennial turnout itself isn’t so surprising. As NBC News pointed out yesterday 18-29 year olds made up a similar portion of all voters in the 2010 midterms.
But there were some important distinctions this year. For one thing, other supposedly low-midterm-turnout groups didn’t drop off nearly as much as Millennials did. Blacks, Latinos and single women showed up in slightly smaller numbers (which may be more attributable to the fact that all three of those groups skew to the young side, than to anything else). Whatever the case, the drops among those groups weren’t enough to alter more than a handful of results.
Another big difference is that the oldest age group (65-plus) comprised a significantly larger portion of the overall vote in 2014 than in 2010 (37 percent vs. 32 percent). In other words, the most conservative age group was much larger this year relative to the most liberal age group.
Democrats can take solace in three pieces of good news here. One is that the groups that supported them in recent years still favor them. Sure, Republicans did a bit better this year among Latinos and single women, but that’s to be expected when all voters (including Latinos and single) skewed older and when most of the exciting contests were in conservative states.
The second piece of good news is that Millennials are likely to come out of hibernation in 2016, giving Democrats yet again a commanding demographic advantage in the next presidential election.
Finally, it’s likely that Millennials will vote more regularly as they settle down and raise families. Meanwhile, the GOP’s favorite group, to put it bluntly, will continue to die off.
For now, however, the failure of so many Millennials to vote in midterms is a real problem, and not just for the Democrats. It’s as if we’re two countries right now — neurotically swinging from right to left every two years, and then back right again. The presidential elections may more closely reflect the will of the people. After all, the demographics of presidential-year voters more closely resemble the demographics of citizens. But legally it doesn’t matter a third of the Senate and all of the House faces re-election every two years, and midterms feature more than twice as many contests for state offices than the presidential years do.
So, we can expect the dysfunction to continue in 2018, 2022, et cetera. Or at least until those ungrateful whippersnappers start voting.