Young People These Days.

Barack Obama cleaned up among voters aged 18 to 29.  In 2008, he won 66 percent of them; in 2012 he won 60 percent of them.[1]  Now, a series of polls suggest that many young people don’t like Donald Trump.[2]  In one poll, people under 35 preferred Hillary Clinton (52 percent) to Trump (19 percent).  Another poll reported that people under 40 preferred Clinton over Trump by two-to-one (roughly 60 percent to 30 percent).

However, the situation is more complicated than that.  A generational divide appears in the polls.  For one thing, the Democratic advantage among young people is dropping.  It has fallen from 66 percent in 2008 to 60 percent in 2012 to at best 52 percent in 2016.  Indeed, one poll reported that among people aged 19 to 26, while a mere 9 percent preferred Trump, only 11 percent preferred Clinton.[3]  Young people want “that hopey-changey thing.”   Either failing to deliver on it or looking like you don’t believe in it in the first place can hurt a candidate.

The same poll reported that 31 percent preferred Bernie Sanders.  Young people lean left.  Their big concerns appear to be related to the distribution of benefits from the economy: the cost of college; student debt that results from that cost, and the “economic inequality” that makes it difficult to pay off that debt.  The poll that reported Bernie Sanders drawing 31 percent of those aged 19 to 26 years, also reported that 58 percent saw socialism as a more humane system than capitalism, while 33 percent saw capitalism as a more humane system than socialism.  That’s bad for Republicans without being good for mainstream Democrats.  Yet another poll reported that Trump was favored over other Republican candidates by 26 percent of the 18 to 34.  (OK, the poll didn’t report how many Republicans are 18 to 34.)

This preference could have long term consequences when looking forward.  At least one study suggests that the most important period for setting political preferences comes between the ages of 14 and 24 years of age.  “Events”—impressions, really—that happen at age 18 are three times as influential as things that happen at age 40.  So, would a Donald Trump candidacy sink the Republican Party for a whole generation by alienating young people?

However, the same theory can be applied looking backward.  One poll showed that Clinton and Trump running a dead-heat among voters over 40 years of age.  If their formative political experiences came between ages 14 and 24, then, for those aged:

40-50: born 1965-1975; formative experiences from 1979-1999.

50-60: born 1955-1965; formative experiences from 1969-1989.

60-70: born 1945-1955; formative experiences from 1959-1979.

If any of this is true, then—at least in psychological terms–there is a good chance that the election of 2016 will be about our troubled past.  To seek the dark cloud around any silver lining, this might mean that the election will be about flunked wars; unsettling technological change  that never seems to work to the advantage of the country that creates so much of it; economic upheaval that profits the few; scandal-plagued presidencies; now-ancient grievances; and big talk from politicians that rarely turns into effective action

            Despite the rhetoric about a “great America,” it will not be about the possible futures of our children.  They will not thank us.  Nor should they.

[1] Why the drop in support of almost 10 percent among this age group?  Did a bunch of them age-out and become more conservative?

[2] Toni Monkovic, “Lasting Damage for G.O.P.?  The Young Reject Trump,” NYT, 24 March 2016.  Well, Trump’s got a thick hide.  He’ll survive.

[3] So, pretty much a dead heat.  Just in a race for the bottom.

American Opinion on Clinton versus Trump.

A recent poll reported that 66 percent of Americans think that Hillary Clinton has the right experience to be president, 58 percent think that she has the temperament to be president and 37 percent think that she is honest and trustworthy.  Thud.[1]  Even with the pervasive (63 percent) doubts about her honesty and trustworthiness, on this basis, Hillary Clinton would beat Donald Trump 50 percent to 41 percent.[2]

Another poll reported that 55 percent of Americans would never vote for Donald Trump, while 47 percent would never vote for Hillary Clinton.  That means that 45 percent of Americans might be willing to vote for Donald Trump, while 53 percent might be willing to vote for Hillary Clinton.[3]  Again, Clinton has the bulge on Trump, even if she is in moral Spanx.

Yet a third poll reports that almost half (48 percent) of Republicans who do not support Donald Trump say that they probably or definitely would not vote for him if he becomes the Republican nominee.[4]  What will these Republicans do?  Will they vote for Clinton to make sure something worse doesn’t happen?  This seems unlikely, given how deeply she and her husband are despised among Republican voters.  Will they just be won over by whatever charm offensive Trump launches between now and the election?  That might happen.  Trump already has begun to throttle back on his rhetoric and to reject further debates in which he might fly off the handle and say something true about Ted Cruz.  Will they turn out in the usual numbers to vote for everyone except the presidential candidate?  Although lots of Republicans are not enthusiastic about this year’s candidates,[5] this seems like the most reasonable conjecture.

What might these numbers mean?  In 2014, 43 percent of Americans self-identified as political Independents, 30 percent as Democrats, and 26 percent as Republicans.[6]  In 2015, 42 percent self-identified as Independents; 29 percent self-identified as Democrats; and 26 percent self-identified as Republicans.[7]  (Still, the Independents are going to have to vote for either the Republican or the Democrat candidate.)

If 29-30 percent of Americans self-identify as Democrats and if Clinton pulls 53 percent of the vote, then she would pick up an additional 23-24 percent of the vote beyond Democrats.  If 42-43 percent identify as Independents, then Clinton would pull well over half of them, while Trump would pull 18-20 percent of the total.  If 26 percent of voters self-identify as Republican and he also picks up the 18-19 percent of voters who are non-Clinton Independents, then he would have 44-45 percent of the vote.  That matches up with the number who say they might be willing to vote for Trump.  But he doesn’t, based on these polls.  He tops out at 41 percent in the most recent poll numbers.  These numbers (45 percent – 41 percent = 4 percent, but this 4 percent comes entirely from the 26 percent who are Republicans, so 4 x 4) suggest that about 16 percent of Republicans will sit out the presidential vote.  Not much, but maybe enough.

So, wake me when this nightmare is over.  “Which one?” you ask.

[1] How can they think this?  See: Kimberley Strassel, “Hillary’s real e-mail problem,” WSJ, excerpted in The Week, 25 March 2016, p. 14.  I’ve got a bridge that might interest you.

[2] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 25 March 2016, p.19.

[3] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 18 March 2016, p. 19.

[4] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 11 March 2016, p. 17.

[5] Only 39 percent of Republicans who are not Trump supporters claim to be “more enthusiastic” than in years gone by.  This offers a sense of the size of the Cruz-Rubio vote within the Republican Party.  See: “Poll Watch,” The Week, 11 March 2016, p. 17.

[6] “Noted,” The Week, 23 January 2015, p. 16.

[7] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 22 January 2016, p. 17.

Public opinion and foreign policy.

Back in April 2014, almost half of Americans (47 percent) thought that the United States should be “less active” abroad.[1] That included both Republicans and Democrats (45 percent each, which suggests that Independents were still more likely to favor caution). However, markedly more Republicans (29 percent) than Democrats (12 percent) or all Americans (19 percent) thought that the US should be “more active” abroad. The Republican “don’t knows” amounted to 26 percent, compared to 43 percent for Democrats and 34 percent for all Americans. Thus, there was a more intense division of opinion among Republicans than among Democrats, while Democrats were more uncertain about the right course of action.

By August 2014, Americans were generally feeling surly about the country’s situation. The vast majority (71 percent) felt the country to be “on the wrong track,” and well over half (60 percent) felt it to be “in decline.”[2] A lot of this had to do with the still-unsatisfactory economic recovery and with the continuing dead-lock between the legislative and the executive branches, but some of it probably arose from foreign policy issues as well. In the wake of the rapid advance of ISIS in western Iraq, as well as in light of other domestic reverses (like the ObamaCare roll-out fiasco in Fall 2013), only 42 percent of Americans believed that President Obama could “manage the government effectively,” while a stinging 57 percent thought that he could not. That left only 1 percent who weren’t sure.[3]

A year and a half later, the course of events had shifted opinion among both Republicans and Democrats.  The rise of ISIS from Summer 2014 on, the terrorist attacks in Western countries, and the controversial Iran deal all worked to polarize opinion. The events sent many Republicans back toward a traditional policy of engagement. By December 2015, only 32 percent of Republicans wanted to “focus more at home,” while 62 percent favored being “stronger abroad.” That left only 6 percent saying that they “didn’t know.” The same events sent many Democrats toward a policy of disengagement. Among Democrats, 69 percent now said that the US should “focus more at home,” while only 23 percent favored being “stronger abroad.” That left only 8 percent saying that they “didn’t know.”

Partly, this may be a reflection of the dissolution of established verities. Only 44 percent of Democrats sympathized with Israel in its war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip in Summer 2014, while only 51 percent of Americans overall sympathized more with Israel than with the Palestinians. In contrast, 73 percent of Republicans sympathized with Israel. Whatever the merits of Israel’s policy, the actual implementation of blockade, bombings, and artillery fire in an urban area crowded with women and children as well as missile-firing militants made for gruesome television viewing.

Or perhaps it was just the return to a presidential election campaign that caused many Democrats and Republicans to adopt policies in knee-jerk opposition to their rivals’ policies. For example, in March 2015, 53 percent of Republicans supported automatic registration of all eligible voters. Then, Hillary Clinton endorsed this proposal. Soon, only 28 percent of Republicans supported automatic registration of all eligible voters.[4]

In any event, American voters will get a clear choice in November 2016.

[1] “Behind Shifting GOP Mindset,” WSJ, 4 February 2016.

[2] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 22 August 2014, p. 17.

[3] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 8 August 2014, p. 15.

[4] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 19 June 2015, p. 15. Still, only a minority (48 percent) of Americans supported the idea, while 36 percent were opposed.