The Corner

Politics & Policy

Politics Is Fluid, the Sun Rises in the East

President Trump greets supporters at a rally in Moon Township, Pa., March 10, 2018. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Mairead notes a Reuters-Ipsos poll that shows, among other things, that “in the last two years, Millennial support for Democrats over Republicans on the generic congressional ballot dropped around 9 percentage points, to 46 percent.” Per the research, one big reason for the change is the economy: “The same young voters,” Mairead records, “are almost evenly split on the question of which party takes better care of the economy, with 34 percent favoring Democrats compared to 32 percent favoring Republicans — a twelve-point jump for the GOP since 2016.”

This, I think, is interesting. Not because it suggests that the GOP is in for a glorious mid-term season. It’s not. And not because it provides a good reason for the GOP to wave away its problems with the young; per the same poll, just 28 percent of Millennials back the GOP. Rather, it’s interesting because it demonstrates that our politics remains as fluid as ever.

Sometimes, we forget this. President Trump is currently being criticized for suggesting that the Democratic party’s growing enthusiasm for de facto open borders is the product of its belief that more immigration will lead to more Democratic victories. As usual, some of the criticism is warranted; Trump seems only to have a sledgehammer in his arsenal and is manifestly incapable of nuance of any kind. But he’s not entirely wrong. There is a strand of progressive thought — a growing strand, I’d venture — that holds that the Left’s long-term victory is all but assured by the passage of time. In this view, all progressives have to do in order to take and keep power is wait for their opponents to die. In this view, conservatism is the philosophy of the old and the white and the male, and, as America becomes more brown and the elderly slowly disappear, so too will their creed. Young people tend to be Democrats, and so do non-whites. Before long, then, a supermajority is surely inevitable.


Eh. The problem with this view is obvious: namely, that both people and circumstances change. This concept is all too often lost on the political press, which has a terrible habit of assuming that what is true now will be true forever more. In 2004, Bush’s winning strategy was destined to marginalize the Democrats for a generation. That, quite obviously, didn’t happen. In 2008, Barack Obama’s massive victory spelled the end of the GOP and the death of conservatism. That didn’t happen either. And why would it? Just four years elapsed between Goldwater’s blowout loss and Nixon’s winning the White House in ’68. There were only six years between Watergate and Reagan’s first victory. Just two years sat between the financial meltdown of 2008 and 2010’s blowout GOP mid-term victory. Memories are short, and politics are dynamic, and voters don’t care about your theories. In 2014, Millennials shifted away from the Democrats. In 2016, they went back. Now, they’re losing interest again. Pity the man who sets his predictions in concrete.

People change — in the both the short and long terms. Once, Italian immigrants were considered non-white. Today? They’re so white they’re to blame for Trump. Consider this example from Reuters’s write-up:

Ashley Reed, a white single mother of three in New Hampshire, said a teenage fascination with Democrat Barack Obama led her to support his presidency in 2008. But her politics evolved with her personal life.

Reed, now 28, grew more supportive of gun rights, for instance, while married to her now ex-husband, a U.S. Navy technician. She lost faith in social welfare programs she came to believe were misused. She opposed abortion after having children.

This is an absolutely classic scenario. It is a little hackneyed to point out that people tend to become more conservative as they age, but it’s also broadly true. As voters get jobs, have kids, get married, and so forth, their views shift — sometimes dramatically. To assume that voters are impervious to personal experience — and to external political change — is to indulge in a peculiar form of identity politics, in which one’s worldview is held to be wholly contingent upon one’s immutable characteristics. It is, put another way, anti-political.

This matters, not least because it leads us to some false assumptions. After the Parkland shooting, the mainstream press simply took it as a given that the young people they saw at the gun-control marches were representative of their contemporaries as a whole. CNN proclaimed a “revolution!” Gun-control groups promised generational salvation. “The kids are alright,” said the believers. Polling, though, showed a different story. In fact, young Americans are not any more strongly in favor of gun control than are older voters — and in some cases, such as on the question of whether to ban so-called “assault weapons,” they are less so. In March, Dianne Feinstein wrote a Medium post imploring America to “Listen to Young People, Ban Assault Weapons,” even as polling showed that young people were the cohort least likely to support such a proposal. Why, one wonders, did she not know that?


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