The 2016 democratic party candidates desperately need to turn their attention to the millennial and white working class vote in order to have a serious chance at taking the general election. With numbers showing voters under age thirty making the difference between whether key battle states will be red or blue, a candidate’s ability to mobilize voters from these groups will literally turn the election on its head.
A Civic Youth study showed Mitt Romney’s loss in 2012 fell squarely with voters under the age of 30. With millennials and the white working class each making up just over 30% of the overall voter population; had Romney gotten even just half of these votes in Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania, and Virginia he would have won the general election. Now eight years later, millennials who were ten to seventeen years old at the time President Obama was first elected are now eighteen to twenty seven years old. In Episode 3 of The Grind I discuss how the state of the economy, on top of the progression of time has created a legion of new working class voters who are replacing aging baby boomers and changing the agenda of the white working class to a more socially progressive yet economically conservative demographic.
A USA Today/Rock the Vote poll showed issues like minimum wage, student loan debt, and paid leave were top issues for millennials. Similarly, minimum wage, expanded Earned Income Tax Credit, and jobs were top issues for the white working class according the Center for American Progress. So while Clinton has been busy hitting the nae nae for African-American votes and Sanders may presume his socialist platform automatically appeals to the non-college educated majority; in order to win these votes the democratic candidates need to tone down pandering and focus in on economic issues. NPR highlighted several working class white families from Pennsylvania supporting Trump largely because they cling to his economic rhetoric. Similarly across the country disenfranchised working class Americans are clinging to Trump to fill the distance between the extremes of Bernie’s free college for all and Hillary’s less than optimist outlook on what we can do as a country.
Even if the democratic candidates are able to win the economic hearts of the millennial white working class, another crucial key here is going to be mobilizing voters to the polls as both demographics appear to be unenthused about the voting process generally. White non-college educated voters turn out only in modest numbers at best for general elections; and a Harvard University poll conducted in 2014 showed that a mere 23% of voters ages 18- 29 were “definitely going to vote” in the mid-term elections which only foreshadow what turnout will look like in general election years.
Although the general election currently seems to be any man’s (or woman’s) game the winner will surely come down to who best connects with the burgeoning millennial white working class. Clinton and Sanders would do well to take a page from President Obama’s campaigns where he took the time to host youth town halls to talk about the issues and as result pulled the largest amount of under 25 youth support in exit poll history.