Published January 9, 2020
By Gary Pearce
As a card-carrying (Social Security and Medicare) Baby Boomer, I’m ready for Millennials and Gen Z to take over.
“OK Boomer” is their all-purpose putdown for people my age who make clueless and/or condescending comments about “these young people today,” especially given the mess we’ve made of things: virulent racism, rampant intolerance, raging economic inequality, unrestrained immigrant-bashing, corrupt politics, and global climate catastrophe.
I’d say our work here is about done. How could the kids do any worse?
In fact – to a political liberal like me – it looks like they could do a lot better.
Polls show that Millennials (born 1981-1996) and Gen Z (1997-on) are more liberal, more tolerant of others and more determined to overcome social, political and economic problems than my generation.
They’re more negative about President Trump and Republicans. They’re more likely to register Independent, but they’re more likely to vote Democratic.
A Pew Research Center survey found that 64 percent of Millennials and 70 percent of Gen Z believe “government should do more to solve problems.” Only 49 percent of Boomers agree.
Only about three in 10 Millennials and Gen Z approve of Trump, compared to 43 percent of Boomers and 54 percent of the Silent Generation, the cohort born 1930-45.
Don’t be surprised. The younger generation is paying off college loans instead of making house payments, struggling to make it in a stagnant-wage gig economy, paying high premiums for health insurance (if they can get it) and…retirement? Did you say “retirement”? Don’t make them laugh.
Politically, the knock on young voters – always – is that they don’t vote. That may be changing.
Pew found that in the 2018 midterm elections, a good one for Democrats, “millennial turnout surged to 42 percent, a full 20 percentage points higher than the cohort’s rate in 2014.”
Boomers and the older Silent Generation still vote at higher rates than do younger voters. But the number of younger voters is growing. In 2018, for the first time ever, Millennial, Gen Z and Gen X (born 1965-1980) voters outnumbered Boomers and Silents.
The trend looks good for Democrats. Exit polls in 2018 showed that Democrats won 58 percent of voters aged 30-44 and 67 percent of those under 30. Democrats and Republicans tied among voters 45 and older.
The generation gap is obvious in the Democratic presidential race. Young voters turbocharge the campaign of Bernie Sanders, the oldest and most left-wing candidate. Elizabeth Warren has a strong following. A politically active young Democrat in Raleigh told me that his friends overwhelmingly support Warren.
This activist says Joe Biden leaves his peers cold. He represents the past to them. They’re no more enthused about the youngest candidate, Pete Buttigieg, who strikes them as an old person’s idea of what a young politician should be.
There are many divides in American politics today: racial, economic and religious versus secular. The two biggest divides could be age and education. That in turn contributes to an urban-rural divide, as educated young people gravitate to cities and rural areas are dominated by older and less-educated residents.
President Trump’s famous base is in small towns and rural areas, among angry whites in the South and in declining manufacturing areas and, of course, with the rich and the corporate elite.
The Democratic dilemma for 2020 is whether to contest Republicans for those maybe-Trump voters, especially women, or to mobilize what might be an emerging majority of younger, urban voters.
Here’s my vote: OK Millennials. OK Gen Z. Take the wheel. Set a new course.