The 2018 midterm elections are over and whether there was a blue wave depends a lot of the expectations you had going into Tuesday. One question was the extent to which there would be a backlash from strongly anti-Trump young people, who warned that they would show up and send a message. Usually, turnout among young voters is poor, so such threats can be shaken off, but this time exit polling contains bad news for Trump and Republicans
The first part of the bad news for the Trump GOP is that young voter turnout was “yuge.” According to an exit poll analysis by Tom Bonier, a Democratic strategist with the firm TargetSmart, the share of voters ages 18-39 increased 6% in 2018 over the last midterm election in 2014. Every demographic showed up to the polls in much larger numbers than 4 years ago, including voters aged 50+, but whereas only about 50% more voters over 50 voted in 2018, participation by those 39 and under nearly tripled. CNN’s exit polling gives an even higher number for the 18-39 age bracket.
The second piece of bad news is that young voters, who traditionally lean left, were even more likely than usual to support Democrats. NPR reports Bonier’s findings as follows: “Roughly two-thirds of 18- to 29-year-olds voted for Democrats today. In the previous two midterms, that number was closer to a simple majority. Exit polls show that in 2014, 54 percent supported Democrats and in 2010, 55 percent supported Democrats.” CNN’s exit polling shows similar results.
Of course, anyone who thinks this election is the most important of their lifetime (like everyone since 2008) might consider the short-term win of getting President Trump worth the cost of long-term losses as young people begin to take over the largest share of the vote from aging Baby Boomers. On the other hand, anyone who takes the long view about the electoral success of a conservative party in America will find their fears confirmed.
Trump’s 2016 victory comes with the danger that the GOP will be unusually toxic to the rising generation of voters. Older generations tend to vote for more conservative parties, so there is likely to be a shift, but picture starting from a 10-point deficit with millennials and Gen-Zers. That is probably the worst case scenario, but there is no interpretation that isn’t bad.
Even if Trump is temporarily toxic, he will be on the ballot in 2020 and, should he win, will be president in 2022. It isn’t hard to envision an Obama-era Democratic Party sort of electoral disaster, where the president continues to win, while his party suffers losses. (Yes, Republicans picked up Senate seats, but Democrats won’t always be defending the vast majority of seats. That performance is unlikely to recur.)
Eventually young people won’t be young anymore. Young Christians, typically reliable Republican voters, have loosened their ties to the GOP, which no hang by the single thread of pro-life values. For some, the weight of all the other issues with the Trump era Republican Party is too much. They’ve become independent, even voted Democrat. For now, the sheer number and turnout rates of older Republicans keep the party relatively successful at the ballot box. The trade-off appears to be a long-term loss of the younger generation and perhaps their openness to move right in the future.