When people think of demographic change in America, they are most likely to think of the rise of racial minorities and the decline of whites. And this is indeed a large and important trend.
Yet, despite this “browning of America” and the presumed disadvantage this poses to the GOP since they do so poorly among minority voters, the Republican party remains in a strong political position due to increased support they have managed to cultivate among whites. Many Democrats fear, and Republicans hope, that this approach can stave off the effects of minority voter growth indefinitely.
But what if the most fundamental demographic change of all—generational replacement—was going to present Republicans with a new breed of whites who were hostile to or at least much less interested in what the GOP has to offer? That would indeed be a problem for Republicans’ default strategy for dealing with demographic change.
But that’s exactly what’s happening. Data are accumulating indicating that younger generation whites are very different than older generation whites. Consider the 2016 election where Trump built a victory on his support among white voters, especially in key swing states. Nationally, he carried whites by 55-39 but Clinton carried white Millennial generation voters (approximated here by the 18-29 year old age category) by 48-42. In Florida, white Millennials supported Clinton by 49-43; in Iowa by 47-40; in Michigan by 50-41; in Pennsylvania by 50-41; and in Wisconsin by 54-37.
White millennials also solidly favor the Democratic party in terms of baseline partisanship and are overwhelmingly sympathetic to immigrants and oppose building Trump’s wall along the Mexico border.
This is definitely a different breed of white people. And the differences extend to both college-educated and noncollege whites. Across states in 2016, Clinton ran around 25 points better among white college Millennials than among white college voters as a whole and 25 points better among white noncollege Millennials than among white noncollege voters as a whole. These are huge differences with huge implications. By 2020, Millennial and younger generation voters will be over half of eligible voters and by 2032 these generations will be two thirds of all eligible.
Faced with such a tsunami of young minority and liberal white votes, what will the Republican party do? Their current plans do not appear to make allowances for a different breed of white people. But they’d better because the new breed is coming fast and is likely to blow apart their default strategy of relying on the white vote and the white vote alone.