Last year, Harvard’s Institute of Politics suggested that younger voters were “swinging” back to the Republican party. More notably, the IOP contended, the Republicans were the party of choice among those who “definitely” intended to vote in the midterms. Taking stock of this prediction, I noted that, while I was open to being convinced that there had been some movement, I wasn’t sure whether it would apply outside of the 2014 midterms:
It is one thing for the Republican party to be winning those who are “definitely” voting in “the midterms,” but it is quite another for the Republican party to be on the brink of “winning the youth vote” per se. We do not know, for example, what young people will think when a general election comes along. Perhaps Millennials see presidents as being substantially different animals than congressmen? We do not know who will be running in 2016, and which issue will be at the forefront of the campaign. Perhaps “definite” voters’ preference for Republicans is the product of a temporary desire for change that will not translate to the White House two years hence? We do not know, either, whether young people just want to see some more balance in the government. Perhaps Harvard’s numbers are the simple product of the political pendulum, and, after a couple of years of bolder conservative pushback, the enthusiasm will wane? As always, time will tell.
Well, time is starting to be asked. Today, the New York Times features a similar study, commissioned by the same Harvard team, in which it is suggested that there has been some movement in the presidential realm as well.
young voters still predominantly back Democrats when it comes to presidential elections, according to a new poll by Harvard University. But their edge is starting to shrink.
Indeed, 55 percent of those polled, which included likely voters from ages 18 to 29, preferred a Democrat to maintain control of the White House in 2016, compared to 40 percent who wanted a Republican. But that is a far cry from the 67 percent of millennials who voted for President Obama in 2012. The I.O.P. nationwide poll was conducted online by GfK March 18 to April 1 with a random sample of 3,034 adults aged 18 to 29. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3 percentage points.
“The margin at the moment looks much more like the 2004 race than the Obama campaigns,” said John Della Volpe, the director of polling at the Institute of Politics at Harvard. “If Republicans can hold the Democrat nominee to less than 60 percent of the young vote nationally, their chances are dramatically improved for a Republican electoral college win, in my opinion.”
Perhaps most encouraging for Republicans is that the younger half of the millennial generation, those from 18 to 24, offers an opportunity to make inroads.
All of the usual caveats apply. We do not know who will be the Republican nominee. We do not know whether Hillary will successfully parlay her “first woman!” message into a historic victory. We do not know how the economy will be doing by November 2016. Still, if this is the case, the Democrats’ road will be a little narrower than expected. The GOP, remember, does not need to win all young people or all Hispanic voters or all of anyone at all. Rather, it needs to win enough to “top up” its existing advantages and to puts its electoral college numbers over the edge. It is usually asserted that demographic change will push America in one direction only, and that this is a direction that conservatives will not like. Add forty percent of the young vote to 2012’s total, though, and the Right’s challenge looks a little less daunting.