Ok, Z: Get real about Bernie
For understanding America, the Pew Research Center is the gold standard for independent, nonpartisan, objective delving into public opinion on politics and policy. PRC’s findings are often cited by conservatives and liberals alike to gird their positions.
(Disclosure: I had the honor to do work for the Center and its parent, Pew Charitable Trusts.)
But a recent Pew voter analysis, “Gen Z, Millennials and Gen X outvoted older generations in 2018 midterms,” gave me pause (or paws, as a cat or dog might say).
The “three younger generations,” Pew said, cast 62.2 million votes, or 51%, compared to the 60.1 million Baby Boomer and senior votes. To me, this implied that younger Americans (who lean progressive), are edging older Americans (who lean pragmatic) into the dustbins of history and senior lifestyle communities. Message for 2020 Democrats: Old, feh; young, yay.
My question: Why does Pew’s analysis lump Gen X (1965–80) with the “younger generations,” when top Xers are already in 50s? Most are mid/late 40s. Even Millennials (1981–96) — a generation even bigger than the Boomer tsunami — are starting to turn 40.
When you add the 40–55 Gen X with Boomers and seniors, with a dollop of aging Millennials, the 2018 voter turnout tells a different story for 2020. Not how young America is fantasizing about a Bernie Scandinavian utopia, but how adult Americans want decent, sensible leaders and workable solutions to fix our healthcare, infrastructure, divided country and everything great about America that Trump is breaking.
That’s how the Democrats retook the House in 2018. Like Willy Sutton robbing banks because that’s where the money is, Democrats in 2020 should go where the voters are. Like many smarter than me have said.
All to say, sorry Gen Z — with all due regards for the Bernie surge, and how you’re loud, passionate, proud and mean as MAGAs, you can’t deliver the votes. Except, as many have said, to ensure Trump’s reelection. Four reasons:
1. Many “young” are old.
I know it’s ageist to mention age. And according to hilarious memes and gift shop coffee mugs, “It’s not how old you are, it’s how you are old.” And “age is just a number.” Except when it comes to voting life.
The stretch from 40 to 55 — even in our 30s, as the 1990's Boomer “Thirtysomething” TV series celebrated — is when “adulting” gets deadly serious.
This is when — as 30-40–50ish comedians and bloggers joke or whine about — we worry about career, family and buying sporty lifestyle SUVs (since you can’t get the kids to soccer or cart groceries relying on public transit, Ubers and scooters). We save for the kids’ college and our retirement. We also make the biggest purchase and take the biggest tax write-off in our lives, buying a home.
Adult is also when we pay the most local, state and federal taxes, ask what happened to our paychecks, and while not knee-jerk anti-government unless we’re ignorant, wonder if we’re getting our money’s worth.
While some adults might dream about universal single-payer government healthcare to magically fix our system’s ills, the majority worry about losing employer care. Or if covering themselves, they’re curious about Medicare buy-in.
2.We get less “progressive” as life goes on.
Life sucker-punches our sense of “what should be” with “what is.” As the old saying goes, “If you’re not a liberal when you’re 25, you have no heart. If you’re not a conservative by the time you’re 35, you have no brain.”
Even the coiner of the 1960s protest quip, “Never trust anyone over 30” — the environmental and New Left Berkeley activist Jack Weinberg — has disavowed the phrase. (After he turned 30 in 1970. He’s now 80.)
While Bernie is old and appeals to the young, they’re both meshuga with the free healthcare and college.
3.The youth don’t really matter.
Sorry to say, Gen Z Bernie fans, while you’re the Greatest Generation at wrangling data, you don’t have the numbers to beat Trump. Not even close.
In the 2018 midterms — amid the celebrated historic turnout for every cohort—the young cast a mere 4% of American votes, per Pew.
While the 18–29 voter turnout surged from 20% in 2014 to an historic 35.6% in 2018, the youth vote was still trounced by every older cohort: 30–44: 48.8%; 45–64: 59.5%; 65+: 66.1%.
Kids, get over yourselves.
4.The youth sound and fury on social media signifies ehhh, not so much.
The older people are, the less they use social media and back progressives like Bernie, and the more they like pragmatics like Buttigieg.
Per the Quinnipiac polls on Jan. 13 and 28, while the 39% of the 18–34 cohort favored Bernie, only 19% of 35–49ers did, which dropped to 9% for the 50–64 set and and 7% for 65+. At the time, Joe Biden led Sanders by 25 points among folks 50 to 64. When it came to who could beat Trump, 44% picked Biden and just 19% said Bernie. Which makes sense.
Suffice to say, Gen Z, if your Bernie were the Democratic nominee today, Trump would be reelected in waddle as he crows about beating the impeachment rap and ramps up his abuse of power as Republicans cower. And sets back everything Bernie Bros care about and dream of.
Is this what you want? To reelect Trump? It’s less than 300 days until the election. It’s time to get real, turn out, and make your vote count by letting go of Bernie. The adults in your life are counting on you.
Jeffrey Denny is a Washington writer.