Food for Thought: Positive voting trends among women and young people counteracted by threatened voters

By Alliance President Terry Gips

As this excellent NY Times OpEd points out, there are some profound emerging voting trends that have countervailing impacts. Young people are voting increasingly Democratic (65%), along with women and non-religiously affiliated groups (especially atheists and agnostics). Meanwhile, there have been Republican gains among white, religious, working class and even some ethnic groups and they’re voting at a higher rate. For example, white evangelicals made up 14% of the population in 2020 but were 22% of voters.

What’s happening? “The white backlash to the growing strength of liberal constituencies not only prompted conservative voters to back Republicans by higher margins; they also turned out to vote at exceptionally high rates to make up for their falling share of the electorate,” according to the Times. So while the long-term demographics favor Democrats, it helps explain why there hasn’t been a more fundamental shift in the overall balance of power.

According to Eastern Illinois University political scientist Ryan Burge, “Every time a party (the Democrats, in this case) tries to appeal to a new set of voters, it leaves the other part of its flank exposed. The opposite party then swoops in and takes over that part of the electorate. Thus, parties continue to try and make their tent bigger, which inevitably pushes other folks out of the tent to be scooped up by the opposing party.”

Millennial and Gen Z voting

Millennials (born between 1981 and 1996) and Gen Z (born in 1997 and after) have become decidedly more Democratic over time, according to data from the Cooperative Election Study. This defies the adage that voters become more conservative as they age.

Catalist found that among young voters that favored Democrats in 2022: “Gen Z and millennial voters had exceptional levels of turnout, with young voters in heavily contested states exceeding their 2018 turnout by 6% among those who were eligible in both elections.”

While young voters were historically evenly split between the parties, they are increasingly voting for Democrats,” according to Catalist. They noted that 65% of voters between the ages of 18 and 29 supported Democrats. What’s more, “Many young voters who showed up in 2018 and 2020 to elect Democrats continued to do the same in 2022.”

A new study found that “Millennial/Gen Z donors are overwhelmingly supporting Democrats and left-leaning organizations and causes, with 85% of these donors with left-of-center DIME (Database on Ideology, Money in Politics and Elections) scores. And of those who donate to Democrats, they are giving disproportionately to support progressive candidates and causes. This trend is largely driven by the leftward turn among young professionals and college graduates.”

Women voters

Catalist found that, “Women voters pushed Democrats over the top in heavily contested races, where abortion rights were often their top issue. Democratic performance improved over 2020 among women in highly contested races, going from 55% to 57% support. The biggest improvement was among white non-college women (+4% support).”

Religious and nonreligious voters

The Cooperative Election Study found atheists voted 87% for Biden versus 9% for Trump and agnostics favored Biden 80% to 17%. Together, atheists and agnostics make up roughly 12% of the population. Burge says, “Atheists are the most politically active group in American politics today.”

According to Burge, the rapid rise of the nonreligious has raised Democratic prospects, but, he noted, “it’s not like all the nones have shifted to the Democrats. Republicans have gotten 40% of the increase, too.”

The other side — white and white Christian votes

According to Geoffrey Layman, a political scientist at Notre Dame, “As whites’ and white Christians’ numbers have declined, their sense of threat and anxiety over losing their dominant position in American society and culture has increased, making conservatism and the Republican Party (particularly Republican candidates like Trump who promise to restore that dominant position) more attractive to them.”

Layman cited 2000 and 2020 data from American National Election Studies: “White working-class people, white evangelicals, white Catholics and white Christians in general all voted significantly more Republican in 2020 than in 2000.” White people with no college education: 56% for Bush in 2000, 68% for Trump in 2020. White evangelicals who regularly attend church: 75% in 2000, 89% in 2020. White Catholics who regularly attend church: 56% in 2000 vs. 67% in 2020.

Layman points out that, “as the pro-Democratic sociodemographic trends continue, it will become increasingly difficult for the G.O.P. to stay nationally competitive with a base of just white working-class people, devout white Christians and older white people. The Republicans are starting to max out their support among these groups.”

Republican strategy

So, what is their strategy? Gains among racial and ethnic minorities, according to Catalist.  “The level of Hispanic support for Republican House candidates rose from 29% in 2016 to 38% in 2020, where it stayed in 2022. In a separate report on the 2020 election, Catalist found Black support for Republican candidates rose by three points from 7% in 2016 to 10% in 2020.”


What does this all mean? According to Layman, “demographic and socioeconomic trends that seem to bode very well for the Democrats and very poorly for the Republicans have not yet had the expected effects because there has been a countermobilization toward the GOP among the declining groups.” He concludes, “Those countervailing trends have left the two parties in about the same competitive balance as in 2000.”

It’s sad that the country’s polarization means that as one group finally feels its rights are being recognized that another group feels deeply threatened. The result is we are facing a stalemate on critical issues that threaten sustainability and the future of the planet.

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