Rand Paul and libertarians won't save the Millennial vote for Republicans, by @DavidOAtkins

Rand Paul and libertarians won't save the Millennial vote for Republicans

by David Atkins

In the last couple of years there's been a concerted pushback on the notion that Millennial voters will be reliably Democratic in the future. The argument generally centers on the idea that 1) Millennials tend to be disturbingly libertarian/conservative on some economic issues, and 2) since white Millennials are almost as likely to be conservative on those and a few social issues as their elders, it's more about race than about age.

There are problems with both of those arguments: yes, Millennials lean libertarian/conservative when asked vague questions about government spending, regulation and deficits--but that's not surprising given the awful, empty rhetoric on these fronts spouted across all spectra of American politics. But when you actually delve into the weeds of each and every given policy position, from single-payer healthcare to immigration reform to the minimum wage, Millennials really are more liberal even on economics than than their forebears.

Moreover, social issues don't just wave themselves away. The Republican Party knows it needs to moderate itself on social issues in order to have a future with women, younger and minority voters. But its base simply won't allow it to do that.

Finally, the fact that Millennials are less white than previous generations isn't a "yeah, but" thing. It's part of the point of the emerging Democratic majority. First off, we know that white Millennials are significantly more liberal than their older counterparts by anywhere from 5 to 10 percentage points. 54% of white Millennials still disapprove of Barack Obama, but those numbers are at over 60% in every other generational category. 59% of white voters cast ballots for Mitt Romney, and he still lost. The oldest of the Millennial generation, depending on how you define it, are now in their late twenties or early thirties. Even if a bare majority of Millennial whites do lean conservative on a few issues, that's still awful news for Republicans, who either need to make up huge ground with minority groups or increase their share of the white vote by large numbers in a browning population.

Another hypothesis out there is that hip new libertarians in the Republican coalition will save the younger vote. That's wrong, too.

Alan Abramowitz at Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball looks at the numbers and concludes:

An analysis of data from the 2012 American National Election Study raises serious doubts about the claim that a candidate with libertarian views would have strong appeal to younger voters. In fact, the data indicate that younger voters tend to hold relatively liberal views on social welfare as well as cultural issues. Only a small minority of voters under the age of 30 can be classified as libertarians. Moreover, both younger and older Americans who hold libertarian views already vote overwhelmingly for Republican candidates, so nominating a candidate with a libertarian philosophy would be unlikely to gain many votes for the GOP.


Our results thus far indicate that younger voters would not be especially attracted to a candidate holding libertarian views. Moreover, the results displayed in Table 3 show that the vast majority of young libertarians in 2012 were already voting for Republican candidates: 76% of younger libertarians, along with 82% of older libertarians, reported voting for Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential election. In addition, young libertarians overwhelmingly identified with the Republican Party and favored Republican House and Senate candidates by wide margins. Among libertarians under the age of 30, those who identified with or leaned toward the Republican Party outnumbered those who identified with or leaned toward the Democratic Party by 74% to 17%. Of these young libertarians, 75% reported voting for a Republican House candidate in 2012 and 81% reported voting for a Republican Senate candidate.


Based on these results, nominating libertarian candidates would be unlikely to improve the Republican Party’s performance among younger voters because these voters are much more likely to be liberals than libertarians and because the vast majority of those who do hold libertarian views already identify with the Republican Party and vote for Republican candidates. In order to increase their party’s appeal to younger Americans, Republicans would need to nominate candidates who are considerably more liberal on both economic and cultural issues than the party’s recent presidential nominees or the vast majority of its current congressional candidates.

One of the most important reasons why the libertarian philosophy holds little appeal for most younger voters is that a disproportionate share of voters under the age of 30 are nonwhite. According to the 2012 ANES, nonwhites made up 40% of voters under the age of 30 compared with 25% of voters age 30 and older. Moreover, the nonwhite share of younger voters is almost certain to increase over the next several election cycles based on the racial composition of the age cohorts that will be entering the electorate in the future.

The libertarian philosophy of limited government holds very little appeal to nonwhite voters in general, and it holds even less appeal to younger nonwhite voters. Only 4% of nonwhite voters under the age of 30 were classified as libertarians compared with 23% of white voters under the age of 30. In contrast, 69% of younger nonwhite voters were classified as consistent or moderate liberals compared with 49% of younger white voters. These results suggest that the limited appeal of libertarian ideas to younger voters is likely to diminish further over time as the nonwhite share of this age group continues to grow.
Basically, the GOP is still in a very difficult position. Rand Paul won't help them, and younger whites won't save them, either.