Grow Up, Progressives!
The next generation is young, left, and not voting... yet.
By Phillip | 9/8/20
On Monday, Democratic Senator Ed Markey easily defeated Representative Joe Kennedy in the primary battle for the Massachusetts Senate seat. At a cursory glance, this appears to be a routine race: incumbents nearly always win, both men are white, and while progressive, they share similar nearly identical policy positions. However, the race gained nationwide coverage following Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez’s endorsement of Markey and shows the growing power of the Democratic left.
When Kennedy entered the race, he led by 17 points and was the consensus favorite as a quintessential “Kennedy”: young, handsome, and charismatic. Many Democratic insiders believed that Markey should retire instead of being embarrassingly forced out by a young upstart. Shortly after, A.O.C. and the Sunrise Movement, a group of young climate activists, both endorsed Markey. Nancy Pelosi took up arms on the other side, endorsing Kennedy: a startling deviation from her promises to defend incumbents in the House.
With the parameters set and neither the moderates nor progressives wanting to show any signs of weakness, both set to working on the campaign. Markey released an ad featuring only Ocasio-Cortez speaking, a play that might be risky in the rest of the country but which mobilized young voters in Massachusetts and the progressive movement everywhere. In the final days of the campaign, Markey led by nearly 11 points as Kennedy grew increasingly desperate for traction.
Markey’s come from behind victory showed how “bold climate action is a winning message in tough races” (John Podesta), as it appeals to a rising constituency: young progressives. With less than half of American children under 15 being white, the country appears to be veering toward a solid progressive majority unless Republicans make ardent changes to court people of color. There is one potential problem: these radical lefties and progressives may eventually grow up to be the “Boomers” and “Karens” of the next generation. So the question we must ask is, “How will the views of young people change as they grow up?”
Of course, our political views, like many traits, are influenced by both genetics and the environment. Genetics influence our personality traits like “openness to experiences”, which determines whether we are open to change and progress or prefer “standing athwart history yelling stop” (William F. Buckley). Our family and friends also influence us; I am a Democrat, just like nearly all my extended family and friends. And despite all our small variations in ideology, it might be a bit bizarre if I were a Republican.
One hypothesis is that the climate we grew up in shapes our political views. This view is supported by most of the evidence that suggests that each generation skews either Democratic or Republican. Most of our political views are solidified by events that happen in our formative years, from 14 to 24. For example, those born in 1952 grew up under the era of Democratic presidents and Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, which caused them to be slightly more liberal.
Another hypothesis is that as we grow up, we become more conservative: typified by the difficult-to-attribute quote, “Not to be a republican at 20 is proof of want of heart; to be one at 30 is proof of want of head” (in this quote, lowercase republican refers to the system of government rather than the party). However, while our political views do change as we grow older, there is no consistent pattern of a drift towards Republicans as we age.
An additional factor is that America is becoming less and less white. By about 2045, white Americans will only be a plurality as opposed to a majority. And if the Republican party continues to rely on white nationalism to turn out their base, an overwhelming amount of Black and minorities will vote Democrat despite some identifying as “conservative.”
The Republican alliance between plutocrats, or people using their wealth to wield influence, and white nationalists was sustainable as long as only one of them was unpopular. But as young people grow up and minorities gain in number, the GOP will no longer be able to run on a platform of cutting Medicare and keeping “them” out. We’ve already begun to see this dynamic play out; Republicans will be forced to change, beyond having people of color at their convention, or else exacerbate unfair advantages such as the electoral college, voter suppression, and gerrymandering to win elections. So keep reaching voting age, young people!