New data from the Pew Research Center shows that Zoomers, Millennials and Gen-X have outweighed the Baby Boomers in election participation. Millennials alone are poised to overtake Boomers as a share of the electorate.
Due to their overwhelming size as a generation, Boomers have long enjoyed a dominance over the body politic. In 2000, Boomers accounted for nearly 7 out of 10 eligible voters. In 2012, Boomers still accounted for half the electorate.
Moreover, the conventional wisdom that the elderly are more reliable as voters than the young has made the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) one of the most powerful lobbying groups in the nation.
But the growth in votes from the younger generations since 2014 clocked in at 26.4 million, compared to only 3.6 million growth in Boomer votes. Zoomers alone, who were not old enough to vote in 2014, cast 4.5 million votes. And by 2020, Boomers’ share of the electorate will fall below four-in-ten.
There’s also considerable energy among America’s youth. Zoomers have engaged in headline-grabbing acts of protest both over climate and gun violence in recent years, and Millennials bear the burden of the 2008 recession and current student debt bubble more acutely than their counterparts.
But the conventional wisdom remains the response to the young electorate. For instance, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California) infamously dismissed youth climate change activism based on her being older and having won a big election. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) similarly dismissed the youth climate proposal Green New Deal as “the green dream or whatever.”
This isn’t a problem exclusive to politicians. Pollsters sample Baby Boomers more heavily than other generations fueled on the mistaken impression that Boomers still make up such a large part of likely voters so as to prohibitively dismiss younger Americans.
This has led to polls that almost exclusively sample Americans over 50 producing results that conventional wisdom expects — in the case of one CNN poll that dramatically undersampled young Americans that translated to high support for former Vice President Joe Biden in the 2020 primary.
In the 2016 Democratic primary, legendary pollster Nate Silver famously miscalled Michigan as being a nearly sure-fire win for Clinton, when the state ultimately went to Bernie Sanders. Both Silver’s mistake in 2016 and CNN’s 2020 Biden result are fueled by this misconception that young people won’t vote coupled with the fact that Sanders supporters are overwhelmingly young.
This means, more than usual at this stage of a primary, polling might be unreliable because pollsters are operating off political assumptions that just aren’t true anymore.
Outmoded assumptions about who votes and mistaken assessments that 2016 youth turnout was a fluke have contributed to a culture of unreliable polling and less reliable political maneuvering, as politicians and pollsters race to gain favor with a voting bloc that, for the first time in a very long time, will not decide the next Presidential election.
This isn’t the only flawed conventional wisdom politicians chase, either. The myth of moderate voters deciding elections and the way moderates poll with Boomers, together, create a dangerous distraction for the media and elected officials to chase, ignoring the power of young people in the upcoming primary.
Katelyn Kivel is a contributing editor and senior legal reporter for Grit Post in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Follow her on Twitter @KatelynKivel.