The media have claimed that conservatives must become more moderate or face permanent irrelevancy after the supposedly solid liberal Millennial generation of 18-29 year olds overwhelmingly supported reelection of Barack Obama.
These dire warnings reminded me of the media geniuses who proclaimed after Jimmy Carter’s Presidential victory in 1976 that the 18-29 year olds of the Baby Boomer generation would always vote as a liberal block. Four years later, Baby Boomers abandoned liberalism and began reliably voting as Ronald Reagan conservatives for the next three decades.
As Millennials’ support of President Obama has plummeted this year, it is liberalism that may again be facing decades of irrelevancy.
On Election Day in 2008, 37.4% of incoming freshman women and 30.5% men identified themselves as liberals or leftists, the most in 35 years. This corresponded four years later to 33% of Millennials describing themselves on Election Day 2012 as liberals. Given that Barack Obama lost a majority of the over 29 year olds’ vote by 50% to 48%, it was his 61% to 36% support among 18-29 year olds that swung the election in his favor. The media proclaimed that Obama’s reelection was proof the Millennials would power liberalism to dominate American politics for the many decades.
Support for Obama has fallen by 9% since Election Day, but it is the 15% collapse in support by Millennialsthat is driving Obama’s fall. Furthermore, first-year college students self-identifying as liberals has also dropped by 5 points to 26.4% for men and 32.4% for women.
The media failed to understand after 18-29 year olds of the Baby Boomer generation swept Jimmy Carter into the White House in 1976, that initial liberal views of youth do not necessarily lock a generation into a lifetime of liberal voting. Carter won heavy Baby Boomer support for his commitment to reestablish government “as good and honest and decent and compassionate and filled with love as are the American people.” But after 4 years of poor economic growth, high inflation, rising interest rates, continuing energy crises and the Iran hostage crisis; Baby Boomers shocked the media by abandoning Carter’s well-intentioned liberalism for the blatant conservatism of Ronald Reagan.
In David Brinkley's biography, Unfinished Business, the former Carter President is described as crying on election night because he had:
lost to a man he thought immoral to the core: an unprincipled but telegenic B-grade Hollywood cowboy who had ridden into the White House on such "patriotic" themes as abhorrence of government, xenophobia, and massive tax cuts." Reagan is different from me in almost every basic element of commitment and experience and promise to the American people," Carter had said at a town hall meeting in Independence, Missouri, two months earlier. Years later he would go further and state that “allowing Ronald Reagan to become president was by far my biggest failure in office.
Carter would not acknowledge that his loss of the Presidency was not about a failure to communicate as well as Reagan, but rather the failure of his liberal policies to give Baby Boomers a legitimate expectation that their economic future would improve. Carter promised to manage U.S. government resources efficiently to cushion the economic “malaise” the nation was suffering due to outside forces.
Ronald Reagan blamed that malaise on our own government’s bloated nanny state, whose high taxes and incompetent meddling in the private sector stifled American prosperity. Baby Boomers abandoned Carter’s compassionate malaise and voted for Reagan’s plan for prosperity.
Barack Obama’s convinced Millennials to vote for him as the outside change-agent to repudiate the failed economic and foreign policies of both political parties. His campaign manager David Axelrod emphasized in 2008 that America was looking for “the remedy, not the replica.” Hillary Clinton, and then John McCain were viciously mocked as Washington DC insiders beholden to powerful corporate elites. In 2012, the Obama campaign effectively mocked Mitt Romney as one of those corporate elites.
According to pollster John Zogby, Obama’s support from Millennials has suffered a big drop because he hasn't delivered the results he promised in his reelection campaign. Millennials had “high expectations and feel a sense of ownership because of their strong support."
While Obama won 61% of the 18-29 year olds’ vote in 2012, only 46% now approve of his job as President. “For young people, the failure to stop the rise of student loan rates and the NSA revelations weigh in heavily,” said Zogby. Coupled with continuing economic malaise, the Millennial generation appears to be abandoning liberalism.