When the general election votes are tallied on November 3, the year 2020 will be recognized as the baby boomers’ last hurrah. For the first time in roughly 30 years, voting will be dominated by those under the age of 40. It will be the millennials and the Gen-Z-ers who tip the voting scales, a group much more racially diverse than the baby-boomers and a group more wed to ideas than parties.
As a group, they now constitute 40 percent of the electorate. If they turn out to vote, as expected, they will likely paint a picture of a changing nation, one in which they directly respond to issues such as climate change, diversity, a changed workplace and inequities at a variety of levels.
They are expected to vote because, more than any generation, they have felt the impact of both the Great Recession in 2007 and the economic disaster of Covid-19. If elections are about the economy, then millennials and Gen-z-ers have more grievances than the baby boomers and the silent majority [parents of the boomers.] They are the ones whose futures have been put at risk.
This evolution from the old to the young has happened quickly, but it’s less the age than the ethnicity that is so striking. Of the cohort over the age of 60 roughly 75 percent are white. But half of the population under the age of 20 are non whites. We have eight sizable states, including Georgia and Florida, in which half the voters under 40 are not white. Forty-four percent of the eligible voters in Texas are black or Hispanic. That is a thunderous change from generations prior.
There is also a vast difference in educational levels. Roughly 25 percent of the baby boomer generation has a college degree or higher. Among millennials the figure jumps to almost 40 percent. That’s particularly relevant for women; 43 percent of them have degrees compared to 36 percent for men.
Research shows that whereas millennials and Gen-z-ers are drawn more to ideas than parties, gender, education and race are the biggest predictors of which party’s candidates they support, the obvious edge in this example going to the Democrats.
It was 2018 when the advantage of the age gap became apparent; it was the first election in which the two younger generations outnumbered the two older generations. It was the election that saw the Democrats sweep to a majority in the House. And it was the election in which the turnout of voters aged 18 to 29 doubled from 2014 to 2018.
It’s anyone’s guess what happens Nov. 3. We’ve been surprised before. It was the baby boomer generation that was supposed to step from the ills of Vietnam and Richard Nixon to a better place. And we did not. Moving nations is Sisyphean in nature.
Surely the power of Donald Trump’s example, twined with the new, and more diverse demographic guard, give us hope for a better, more sustainable future.
by Emerson Lynn