Millennials Could Be a Force in the Midterms—If They Vote

September 26, 2018 Updated: September 27, 2018

In a party obsessed with identity, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) may be doing more to hurt than help. She is white, affluent, upper-class, older, and, to many, represents the establishment that her party collectively distrusts.

Twenty-eight-year-old congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was noncommittal when asked about voting for Pelosi for House speaker if the Democrats take back control of the chamber. And some others in the party have been talking about replacing her with Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina to show black voters that the party does care about them. 

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (L) and congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. (Somodevilla/Getty Images (L) and Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images)

Her counterpart in the Senate, Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), has a similar problem, although he’s not up for reelection till 2023. But their collective age, 145, may put their party at a disadvantage when appealing to a younger generation of voters who are more diverse than in any before and are more likely to take to the streets than to the voting booth for issues that they care about.

Three years ago, the census reported that millennials, which the census defines as 18 to 36-year-olds, were larger than any other generation alive, and a plurality—46 percent—identify as Democrat, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll of 16,000 registered voters ages 18 to 34. Sixty-two percent said they preferred Democrats running for Congress this year, a Pew Research survey of 21- to 37-year-old registered voters found.

“The Democrats will win if the millennials that they’ve been working on will turn out and vote the way they want,” said George Barna, founder of research and polling organization Barna Group. “Millennials do not have a good track record in terms of turnout. They have a lot of passion, but we haven’t seen them actually put that into action in the voting booth.”

George Barna, founder of research organization Barna Group, at the Values Voter Summit in Washington, on Sept. 22, 2018. (Holly Kellum/The Epoch Times)

Indeed, only 23 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds participated in the 2014 midterms, according to the census, and about 51 percent participated in the 2016 elections, according to Pew.

Voter turnout across the board is lower for midterms than in presidential election years, and young voters are no exception. Millennials (21- to 37-year-olds, according to Pew) were eligible to vote in the past four midterms, but only about 20 percent turned out, compared to the national average of 42 percent.

Shifting Tide

While Millennials, however they’re defined, lean largely Democratic, the tide may be shifting.

The Reuters/Ipsos poll found a 9-point decline in the number of Millennials who identified with the party compared to two years earlier. In the first three months of 2016, 55 percent identified with the Democratic Party, compared to only 46 percent now. That’s only one poll, but anecdotal evidence lends credence to it.

Brandon Straka, a Nebraska-born hairdresser who lives in New York City, decided to walk away from the Democratic Party after President Donald Trump was elected, starting the #WalkAway movement.

Like many liberals, he wondered what the world had come to when his candidate, Hillary Clinton, lost the presidential election. But his views started to change when he then spoke with people back home who had supported Trump.

A friend sent him a video compilation of things the media had said about the president that weren’t true, and Straka began to do his own research. The narrative around Trump that he had come to believe unraveled, and so did his faith in the Democratic Party, and liberalism in general.

But it wasn’t just the false narratives that turned him off; it was the silencing of dissenting opinions and ideas with loud, and sometimes violent, reactions that made him ultimately turn away.

“I reject a system which allows an ambitious, misinformed and dogmatic mob to suppress free speech, create false narratives, and apathetically steamroll over the truth,” he said in his political coming-out video.“I reject hate.”

Shortly after he published his testimonial, other people began publishing theirs as well, including Grammy-nominated Argentinian composer Al Conti.

It’s hard to say how big the #WalkAway movement has become. Straka’s two Facebook pages, the “The Unsilent Minority” and “WalkAway Campaign,” have 88,966 and  86,639 followers, respectively. Straka’s video on Facebook has 2.5 million views, and the same video on Youtube has 340,000. Whether there are enough to make a difference in the polls may become clearer on Oct. 27, when the #WalkAway movement hosts a march in Washington.

Straka says his movement isn’t about getting people to vote for a particular party or candidate, and he encourages people to do their own research on issues and stand up for their truth. If these #WalkAway never-again-Democrats are leaving the party, there’s no guarantee they’re joining the Republican Party, or that they’re planning to walk into the voting booth. The only trend that can be surmised from the movement is a move away from identification with the Democratic Party.

Republicans in Favor?

While the Reuters/Ipsos poll doesn’t show much difference in Millennials who identify as Republican compared to two years ago, a Gallup poll taken this month shows a more favorable view now, among all age groups, of the Republican Party than in the past seven years.

That falls in line with what Charlie Kirk has been seeing since the 2016 presidential election. At 24, he is the founder and executive director of Turning Point USA, a nonprofit founded to organize and educate around issues like free speech, limited government, and free market economies on high school and college campuses. The organization, which has a presence on 1,300 U.S. campuses, has seen its membership increase by 40 percent since the 2016 presidential election.

Charlie Kirk, founder and executive director of Turning Point USA, speaks at the High School Leadership Summit, a Turning Point USA event, at George Washington University in Washington on July 26, 2018. (Samira Bouaou/The Epoch Times)

“Since the election of Donald Trump, we’ve seen just limitless amounts of students come out of the woodwork and support the organization, and our ideas and the events we’re having on campus are having record turnout,” Kirk said.

Much like Straka, Kirk says students are engaging with Turning Point USA members because they want to hear another perspective, and they don’t want to be told what to think. He credits Trump’s candidness and lack of political correctness as starting a conversation that many didn’t feel comfortable having before.

“There are a lot of students who don’t want to live in a politically correct box,” he said. “And we’re present saying you shouldn’t be afraid to hear something you disagree with—it’s healthy.”

Millennial Turnout

“The good news is, Trump really motivates Republicans. The bad news is, he really motivates Democrats,” said Lee Chatfield, a 30-year-old Republican in Michigan’s House of Representatives. “We saw many first-time voters for Trump. The question remains, are the first-time voters in ’16 going to return to the ballot in ’18.”

Chatfield, who chairs the Michigan House Republican Campaign Committee, says what he and other Republicans in his committee are doing to get the Millennial vote is to first get them in the habit of voting.

Whether it’s because of Trump or that Millennials are becoming older and more civic-minded, they are ostensibly more motivated to vote this year than in past midterms. A Pew poll found that 62 percent of Millennial registered voters say they are looking forward to the midterms, compared to 46 percent in 2014 and 39 percent in 2010.

TargetSmart, a Washington-based political research company, found that voter registration among 18- to 29-year-olds was up 4 percent in this year’s primaries compared to 2014; there’s a similar trend for those ages 30 to 39.

“The state-by-state analysis shows that younger voters are poised to have an outsized impact in key battleground races,” Tom Bonier, CEO of TargetSmart, said in a release.

Those states are going to be crucial in deciding the makeup of Congress, which Republicans currently have a majority in: a 51–49 edge in the Senate and a 236–193 advantage in the House. If Democrats take over, it’s likely they will be at loggerheads with Trump, who has already gone head-to-head with them on issues like immigration, Obamacare, and confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

While Millennials generally don’t give Trump high ratings, the president’s policies on the economy are likely to help them in the long-term. The things that millennials seem to agree about are wages, job growth, and income inequality, according to a GenForward survey.

Whether an improving economy will be enough to motivate them to vote, though, remains to be seen.

Follow Holly on Twitter: @HollyGailK