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Catawba College political science professor Michael Bitzer has another good analysis of voter registration trends in North Carolina. This time, he notes that Millennials and Generation Z now make up the largest bloc of registered voters in the state. That said, they’re still not the major voting force in the state.
A few things come to mind. First, registered voters are not the same as likely voters. Likely voters tend to be older. They’re people who find themselves with more obligations and responsibilities, like kids, mortgages, aging parents, college loans, etc. So looking at Bitzer’s numbers, the combination of Baby Boomers and Gen X is driving the electorate.
Second, we’re heading for a shift that will benefit Democrats, but it won’t happen quickly. Somewhere between the Baby Boomers and Gen X, loyalty to party began to break down. Seventy-six percent of boomers still register by party, but only 69 percent of Gen Xers do. By the time Millennials come into play, a plurality, 40 percent, register unaffiliated.
The younger voters disproportionately abandon the GOP. From Gen X to Millennials, Democratic registration dropped from 37 percent to 35 percent, but Republican registration plummeted from 32 percent to 24 percent. Election results indicate that the Millennials who register unaffiliated heavily favor Democrats. They just don’t vote as much.
Baby Boomers came of age in era of social change and national turmoil. They were shaped by divisive national debates including the civil rights movement, women’s rights movement, the Vietnam War, Watergate, the Cold War, disco and leisure suits. Now, they’re in charge of the country and they’re still fighting about everything. It’s the only thing they know how to do.
In contrast, Gen Xers came of age during the Reagan years. They learned that greed is good. Welfare queens are bad. America is the greatest power on earth. They came of age during a time of massive tax cuts, welfare reform, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of the Soviet Union, the tech boom, Studio 54, the Iran-Conra scandal and the Clinton impeachment.
They want more money and less government. They’ll overlook personal and political failings as long as they don’t affect their bottom lines. Think Paul Ryan.
As a political force, the Millennials are still coming of age, but when they start voting, watch out. Most of them started their adult lives right as the tech bubble was bursting. They’ve never seen a really good economy. Their first national experience wasn’t a success like walking on the moon, but 9/11, an event that left a permanent scar on the national psyche.
Then they saw the nation stumble into two wars with no plan to get out. Their peers were asked to serve and die for these adventures. In 2007, they watched the economy collapse as they were coming out of college with a bunch of debt and no prospects. Meanwhile, they’re inheriting a $20 trillion debt that they had no part in creating.
These Millennials will shape the future but they probably won’t start voting in droves for another decade. They will reject the GOP’s social conservatism and austerity budgets, but they’ll also likely be more fiscally responsible than the Democrats of today. They don’t like either party (really, though, who does?) but they’re more likely to transform the Democratic Party into a vehicle of their liking, if they don’t start a party of their own.
Today, we’re led by the Boomers who are still fighting the battles of the 1960s and 1970s and the Gen Xers who are shaped by the excesses of the 1980s and 1990s. However, the Millennial generation will start transforming our country over the next decade.
While they have little love for either party, they look a lot more like modern Democrats than modern Republicans. They’re more educated, more diverse, more tolerant and less religious. They may not vote in numbers large enough to determine elections today, but they’ll be the driving force in the not-too-distant future.
Thomas Mills is founder and publisher of PoliticsNC.com, Before starting the website, he spent 20 years as a political and public affairs consultant.