Before getting to 2008, note the 2000 election, when the young stayed home in droves (again after staying home in 1996 – Bill Clinton might as well have been Reagan for his policies…) as Al Gore assumed Clinton’s mantle and had the awkward optics for the young of his explicit song-lyric policing wife Tipper. Gore losing that election by a hair was down to a staggering inability to inspire voters to turn up at the polls and should never have been so close.
Young voters came back with a vengeance however in relative terms in 2004, however, inspired by new energy in the primary season on the left with huge youth enthusiasm for Democrat Howard Dean, and apparently also inspired by a deep dislike of George Bush Jr. after his first term (sounds familiar – plenty of echoes like these in 2020.) In that election, despite the Democrats fielding a real compromise dud somewhat like Joe Biden in the form of John Kerry (although he did have some Vietnam War era protest bona fides attractive to some), the youth voted 54-45 in favour of Kerry in an election Bush won by 3 points overall.
Youth voter enthusiasm rose to the highest since 1992 in the 2008 election, when the economy was cratering into the global financial crisis and the Democrats anointed the progressive-seeming African American Barack Obama to lead the way. But with weak control of the Senate in his first two years and no control for the remaining six years of his eight years as President, Obama’s mandate and platform was frustrated at every and youth cynicism grew. After the 2016 primary season, the political energy was all Trump’s as the Democratic youth were devastated by the Democratic primaries booting their man, a real Social Democratic Bernie Sanders, in favour of the most uninspiring of lobby-money grubbing insider of all insiders, Hillary Clinton. And she still won the popular vote by over 2 percent! But the 18-29 youth vote stayed low.
Cue 2020, a real turmoil year for youth, with the Covid-19 devastation and its “k-shaped” recovery hurting the young and basic service job the worst, with rising inequality again as every bailout favours the already wealthy and keeps the young farther and farther away from the first rung of participation in the housing market. Often highly educated and saddled with ludicrous amounts of student debt, the young’s voice seems suppressed by a rigged system and gerrymandered political map and the electoral college in which the rural voter in Wyoming has more than three times more power in the electoral college than a California voter. Young voters will turn up in this election – and they will support Joe Biden because they hate Trump even more than the young voted Kerry in 2004 as they hated Bush Junior.
The practical point: Millennials are the largest US generation