New Data Is Very Bad News For The GOP
The Harvard Youth Poll, which doesn't just poll Harvard students, shared some new data with Greg Sargent, who immediately thought of a Bob Dylan song that was written before anyone vaguely "young" was even born and which I doubt many young voters has ever heard-- even though they should. Ballad Of A Thin Man" was recorded in 1965. Chances are you're retired if you know the song. But anyone born after 1965, here's your chance to find out why Bob Dylan is one of the greatest songwriters who ever lived-- and why Greg Sargent referred to his song in a column about young voters:
“Consider,” wrote Sargent, “Youth turnout exploded during the 2018 midterm elections under Trump. Then in 2020, energized opposition to Trump among young voters was critical to his defeat. And in the 2022 midterms, surging youth participation helped fend off the widely predicted ‘red wave.’ Even some Republicans fear that expanding youth populations in swing states pose a long-term threat to the GOP… Young voters have shifted in a markedly progressive direction on multiple issues that are deeply important to them: Climate change, gun violence, economic inequality and LGBTQ+ rights.”
There’s both an opportunity and a danger here for Democrats. Progressives are mostly aligned with Democrats but Democrats— nearly as in thrall to big money as the GOP is— don’t always deliver and feel most comfortable with their lesser-of-two-evils strategy. That will only go so far and could turn off millions of young voters when they get the idea Democrats are playing them when it comes to the big issues, especially an existential one like Climate where the Democratic establishment has not been willing to jump all in.
Sargent reported that the director of the poll, John Della Volpe, refers to those issues as the “big four,” noting that “They all speak to the sense of precarity that young voters feel about their physical safety, their economic future, their basic rights and even the ecological stability of the planet. ‘This generation has never felt secure— personally, physically, financially,’ Della Volpe told me. Here’s a chart showing how opinion among 18-to-29-year-olds has shifted on those issues, according to data that the Harvard Youth Poll crunched at my request:
What we see here is that “today’s young voters are substantially more progressive on these issues than young voters were even five or 10 years ago. Sizable majorities now reject the idea that same-sex relationships are morally wrong (53 percent), support stricter gun laws (63 percent) and want government to provide basic necessities (62 percent). Meanwhile, support for government doing more to curb climate change soared to 57 percent in 2020 before subsiding to 50 percent this year. That small dip may reflect preoccupation with economic doldrums unleashed by covid-19. While that 50 percent could be higher, the issue has seen a 21-point shift, and the polling question asks if respondents want action on climate ‘even at the expense of economic growth.’”
[T]he pandemic likely drove home the vulnerability of millions to economic shocks as well as the woefully patchy social safety net in the United States. And red states are escalating their assault on LGBTQ+ rights, a national movement that appears to threaten big gains in this area that for these voters are likely typified by the Supreme Court’s finding of a right to marriage equality in 2015.
Then there’s the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade last year, which underscores the tenuousness of Americans’ social rights in the face of a determined reactionary movement to roll them back. Data provided by the Public Religion Research Institute shows that while 54 percent of young voters believed in 2010 that abortion should be legal in most or all cases, that’s up to 69 percent this year.
Demographer William Frey and his colleagues calculate that by the 2036 presidential race, Gen Z will represent 35 percent of eligible voters. “They’re growing up in a 21st century America that’s far more diverse, inclusive and globally connected than the 1950s and 1960s America of the GOP base,” Frey told me. “They’re going to shun the Republican Party as they get older.”
This might help explain why, as Politico reports, Republicans have grown alarmed by the growth of college towns in swing states. They fear the profusion of young voters in these states and the possibility that they’re tilting more Democratic due to the GOP’s rightward cultural lurch.
There are major caveats. President Biden’s approval among young people remains stubbornly low. There’s some evidence that the young voters who elected Barack Obama have become somewhat more conservative as they’ve aged, which could happen again. Young voters’ stances on issues don’t guarantee they’ll support Democrats over time.
Yet national developments could continue exerting a powerful pull on these voters. For example, the chart above suggests that Trump’s rise to the presidency might have accelerated their progressive evolution. The former president continues looming over our politics and will likely be the GOP nominee.
“That data clearly shows a Zoomer Trump effect,” Della Volpe, the author of a book about Gen Z, told me. “Every single variable has gotten more progressive.”
Republicans, Della Volpe concluded, should “take a step back and listen to what this generation is telling them.”
Republicans are doing the exact opposite, the latest being to propose taking Social Security away from these exact economically insecure voters. The Democratic Party may be lame, but on this count it is really lucky. On Tuesday, Yahoo Finance reported that several high profile Republicans— as well as a majority of House Republicans— want to cut Social Security. “DeSantis told Fox News that Social Security will need to be revamped by cutting benefits for future generations. ‘When people say that we’re going to somehow cut seniors, that is totally not true,’ DeSantis said. ‘Talking about making changes for people in their 30s and their 40s so the program’s viable— that’s a much different thing, and something I think there’s going to need to be discussion on.’”
That could be a death knell for the GOP with young voters (under 65). Meanwhile, Pence “has proposed privatizing Social Security by giving younger Americans ‘the ability to take a portion of their Social Security withholdings and put that into a private savings account.’ This is not a new idea, but it remains an unpopular one because it essentially amounts to gutting the current Social Security system in favor of a market-driven program.” And Nikki Haley, who may not be as well known, is still in the media because she’s running for president and usually polls over 5%. She “has proposed raising the Social Security retirement age for workers currently in their 20s and limiting Social Security and Medicare benefits for the wealthy, CNN reported. Raising the full retirement age— currently 67 years old for most Americans— also amounts to a cut in benefits because it delays when eligible beneficiaries qualify for the full payments they are owed. ‘What you would do is, for those in their 20s coming into the system, we would change the retirement age so that it matches life expectancy,’ Haley told Fox News in March.”
On Tuesday night, the DCCC stoked young voters’ fears of what the GOP is up to: “In their scramble to out-MAGA each other, GOP presidential hopefuls are continuing their war on the essential programs Americans rely on— threatening to end Social Security and Medicare as we know them.” And, right on cue, the Republican Study Committee is there to freak out young voters entirely. Last week, David Lehman reported that “The largest bloc of House conservatives offered up a fiscal blueprint Wednesday that promises to balance the federal budget in seven years, make GOP tax cuts permanent, and slash domestic spending. The plan offered by the 175-member Republican Study Committee would gradually raise the age at which future retirees can start claiming full Social Security benefits from 67 to 69, a politically fraught proposal that's all but certain to appear in Democratic campaign ads. The document also proposes a ‘premium support’ plan that would subsidize private insurance options that compete with traditional Medicare. That would be similar to budget plans proposed by Paul Ryan (R-WI) during his tenure in Congress that were panned by Democrats and some Republicans, including Trump.” This is what voters think about privatizing Social Security:
Far right extremist Ben Cline (R-VA) “said the group has proposed gradually raising the Social Security retirement age, but not for current retirees or those nearing retirement. He said those now aged 59 would see an increase in the retirement age of three months per year beginning in 2026. The retirement age would reach 69 for those who turn 62 in 2033. While any financial fix will require a bipartisan compromise, Cline said, ‘We are taking action, whereas the White House and Democrats refuse to acknowledge that Social Security and Medicare are facing insolvency.’” Actually what the White House and Democrats want to do— as do most Americans— is lower drug prices and raise taxes on the very rich to shore up the social safety net, by, for example, “raising Medicare and Social Security payroll taxes on high-income earners.” The Republicans are fighting against these things even though not only are those proposals supported by most normal people, they’re even supported by most GOP voters! In fact, most voters say they are less likely to support a candidate who votes to raise the retirement age:
As for the changes to Social Security the Republican Study Committee is demanding of the Republicans’ weak and easily-pushed-around speaker, they may be popular in the House Republican conference and among the fat-cat contributors who finance GOP politicians’ careers, but the voters absolutely hate them:
UPDATE By Charlie Sykes On Our Gerontocracy
This morning, Sykes wrote that “everybody is (or should be) saying about what happened with Mitch McConnell yesterday. Imagine if that had happened to Donald Trump. Or Joe Biden. Our politics would be upended in the blink of an eye. The margin is that thin. But this is what living in a gerontocracy is like. McConnell is 81 years old. Trump will be 78 on election Day. Biden, as we all know, will turn 82 next November. Nobody is getting any younger. One trip, one fall, one stumble. One moment when a political leader simply freezes in mid-sentence, goes blank, and has to be escorted away from the podium for a wellness check. And the presidency would hang in the balance… [W]e need to have a conversation about our political Elder Culture. ‘The leadership of both major parties has shown repeated problems with aged and infirm members,’ noted Reason’s Nick Gillespie. ‘Our Constitution is 234 years old. Our leaders don't have to be.’ Apparently, however, they do. Both parties seem to be locking themselves into a rematch of octogenarians, despite the risks, even as public concern seems to be rising. This month's Harvard CPAS/Harris Poll found growing unease among Democrats about Biden’s age. Eighty-five percent of Republicans and 71 percent of independents said they have doubts about Biden's mental fitness… Biden, simply put, is too damn old to be as formidable a candidate as this moment in American history demands… Meanwhile in the GOP, someone else is decompensating in real time: