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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Dems Challenged to Navigate Gender Split Among Young Voters

In “Young men and women are diverging politically. That could shape the 2024 election,” Ronald Brownstein writes at CNN Politics:

“Democrats are facing the threat of a gender gap that could imperil the traditional advantage among younger voters that the party has enjoyed for decades and that President Joe Biden likely needs to defeat former President Donald Trump.

While Democrats are counting on a big backlash among younger women against the rollback of abortion rights to help propel Biden, a backlash among younger men against changing gender roles could help lift Trump.

Brownstein argues that, “while cultural attitudes may help Biden overcome economic discontent among younger women, an amorphous but insistent sense of cultural marginalization may reinforce Trump’s economic inroads among younger men. Further,

Researchers say democracies across the Western world are experiencing a widening partisan and ideological gap between younger men and women. In a much discussed article earlier this year, Financial Times columnist John Burn-Murdoch pointed to survey data in a variety of countries showing that young men were far more likely to identify as conservative than young women. “In countries on every continent, an ideological gap has opened up between young men and women,” he wrote.

That gap has widened in the US, too, though the evidence shows that it is growing more because young women are ideologically moving to the left than because young men are moving to the right. Merged annual results from NBC polls conducted by a bipartisan team of Democratic and Republican pollsters document the trends.

Brownstein explores compelling evidence that young men, as a whole, are trending more towards conservative policy preferences than young women, who are leaning somewhat leftward. Brownstein does note that “Women now account for about 60% of all four-year college graduates and nearly 65% of graduate degrees, according to the latest federal statistics.”

However, most of the data presented does not differentiate between college educated young people and students and young non-college workers.  He  presents some data noting differences based on race. There may also be some significant geographic differences, and it would be good to see some details in the swing states in particular. All of that should matter to Democratic ad makers in crafting ads and deciding where the ads will be placed.

Brownstein notes, for example, that “In this year’s survey, young men were 15 points more likely than young women to support building Trump’s border wall, 12 points more likely to say same-sex relationships are morally wrong and 11 points more likely to say Israel’s response to Hamas in Gaza has been justified. Still, in each case, only a minority of younger men endorsed those conservative viewpoints.”  Racial, education and geographic breakdowns among these young voters would likely show some stark differences.

None of this is to argue that Democrats should discount the grievances of young male voters of all races and education status, and Democrats have plenty of work to do to win over young working-class white males in the longer run. But the data Brownstein shares does indicate quite strongly that Democrats should do all that they can in 2024 to maximize turnout of young women voters to offset as much as possible the losses among their young male counterparts.

Karlyn Bowman and Ruy Teixeira report that “In the 2022 exit poll, married and unmarried voters were almost mirror images of one another. Fifty-eight percent of married voters supported GOP House candidates while 59 percent of unmarried respondents voted Democratic. Married men and women did not differ significantly from one another: 59 percent of married men and 56 percent of married women voted GOP. But there was a large gap in the unmarried category: A bare majority of unmarried men, 52 percent, voted for GOP candidates; only 31 percent of unmarried women did.”  That may change somewhat this year because of the Dobbs decision, but don’t count on it. In any event, Democrats should invest substantially in turning out women voters, particularly young women voters of child-bearing age.

Democrats should not underestimate the treasure Trump has given them in video clips of him bragging about how he was responsible for re-shaping the Supreme Court via the Dobbs decision to destroy the Roe v. Wade consensus, particularly in light off the disastrous consequences.

In addition, Brownstein notes that “The good news for Biden is that younger women turned out at much higher rates than younger men in 2020; in fact, the gap between female and male turnout that year was wider for younger adults than in any other age group, according to analysis of Census Bureau data by William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Metro thinktank. But Biden has so little margin for error in the battleground states that the level of erosion among younger men that he’s experiencing in polls still poses a grave threat to his reelection.”

But Democrats should not assume that women will turn out in significantly greater numbers. Instead they need to energize the female demographic to insure an even larger turnout.

“Given the risk that Biden won’t match his 2020 performance with young men,” Brownstein concludes, “he has an urgent need to rekindle that flagging enthusiasm among young women. “He’s got to make up for the defection of young men by winning young women by more, and he’s got to get every young woman he can out to vote,” said [Celinda] Lake, the Democratic pollster.

Biden’s best hope of avoiding a catastrophic decline in his youth support is that the number of young women Trump repels exceeds the number of young men he attracts.”

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