When it comes to the number of potential voters, 2016 is shaping up to be a watershed year in Missouri politics.
Take at look at this chart of generational voters in 2008 and 2012:
(Source: Missouri Census Data Center)
Where Did the Millennials Come From?
Leaving biology out of it, it’s simple: 2016 will be the first election in which the entire Millennial cohort is old enough to vote. Plus Millennial-aged immigrants have increased their numbers.
A generation is roughly 20 years. The youngest Millennials were born in 1997. In 2012, Millennials born after 1994 were too young to vote. That’s 20 percent of the generation, or about 15 million people nationally. In 2016, the entire generation will be 18 by election day.
In Missouri, Millennial voters increase by 475,000 or 41 percent. Gen X was pretty much flat, as expected. Boomer population is down 136,000 and older generations (WWII and Silent) are down 140,000.
Put it all together: 2016 will see a 740,000 person shift from the most Republican-leaning generations to the most Democrat-leaning generation.
Why This Matters
The two most conservative generational groups, Boomers and the combined WWII/Silent generation, are declining in population. The conservative Generation X is stable. And the Democrat-leaning Millennials are growing.
According to Fusion.net:
Conservatives need to understand that if we do not engage and activate young voters in 2016, we will lose in big numbers. Saying “young people will never vote Republican,” is the same as saying, “we’ve already lost.” Millennial is the largest generation alive and the largest voting generation going to the polls.
A lot of conservatives seem to think the people who vote in 2016 are the same people who voted in 1980 and 2012. This fixed-population thinking gives rise to fantasies about voters who stayed home in 2012 because Mitt Romney didn’t inspire conservatives. Actually, the drop-off in Republican voters in 2012 was because they died.
Specifically, of the 9.8 million Americans who died between election day 2008 and election day 2012, about 5.38 million were Republican voters–which accounts for the entire difference in votes between Romney and McCain.
To win in 2016, Republicans must either win over a lot of Millennial voter or get a lot of those Millennials to stay home.
How to Win Millennials
Don’t pander. (Why GOP Pandering to Young Voters Backfires.)
Thirty-one percent of Millennials have not decided whether they lean Republican or Democrat. But that probably means they won’t vote. Still, Republicans could pick off a few of the undecideds to make the Republican-leaners a little tighter with the Democrat-leaners.
Of the 26 percent who lean Republican, candidates must make sure they go to the polls. At the same time, Republicans have to hope that events and candidates somehow discourage the 43 percent of Millennials who lean Democrat.
Besides terrorism, younger voters are most concerned about jobs and the economy. They also expect leaders to lead, not make excuses and point fingers. Most Millennials are not whining narcissists and separatists demanding “safe spaces” free from dissent.
Young people, like the rest of us, want leaders who lead.
That said, some Republican schtick will not work at all. Scoffing at wealth-inequality won’t fly. Instead, young people want to know how it got so bad and how we can flatten the curve.
Republicans should recognize that when wealth becomes concentrated in a few hands, things go bad. Depressions, world wars, insurrections, and revolutions happen.
Further, Republicans should be bold in explaining why wealth-inequality ballooned since 2008: Federal Reserve policy and federal government policy. By insulating the largest banks and corporations from their own failures, the government made an already skewed playing field nearly vertical. Moreover, government policy, both legislative and executive, has protected large incumbents at the expense of competition and smaller insurgents. That’s why the number of small banks has declined 14.1 percent since Dodd-Frank became law.
Government policy, student loan debt, and regulations also deny young people opportunity by discouraging entrepreneurship. In 2015, more companies went out of business than were started. That’s never happened before in my lifetime.
Republicans need to remind young voters that the surest way to level wealth distribution is to create a lot of new businesses. Sure, most will fail, but the ones that succeed will grow the economy, provide jobs, and give a new group of people a chance to experience the American Dream.
Republicans should also remind voters that no one’s dream is dependency on a government bureaucracy. The American Dream is to own your own life, according to Lee Presser. He’s absolutely right.
Our Myths Are Losers
If Republicans and conservatives are to win at the ballot box, we need let go of the myth of the discouraged conservative voter and embrace the reality of the rising Millennial power. We do that by speaking truth, even if that requires letting go of some of our favorite but false narratives like “wealth inequality doesn’t matter.”
Conservatives can win over a lot Millennials if we let go of our myths and face problems head on. Begin with the problems of Millennials, not conservative problems with abstract ideas. As Arthur Brooks of the American Enterprise Institute says, lead with the people we want to help.
One conservative myth–a myth we tell ourselves–is that it’s our job to protect the wealthiest Americans. It’s not. They don’t need our help.
Instead, we should have the courage to admit that our policies will help the 99 percent. Unlike our opponents, we don’t seek to hurt the rich, we just don’t seek to help them, either. Nor do we seek to create more millionaires. If that happens, great, but that’s not what we’re working toward.
Instead, conservative policies are meant to give everyone the opportunity to live a meaningful, productive life.
That message, backed by clear, sound policy, will win the Millennial’s heart and mind.