Millennials are on the rise, both on the left and the right. But their trajectories have been very different.
The young left has had unquestioned triumphs, including Tuesday’s New York primary, where a 28-year-old Latina and Democratic Socialist, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, defeated a 20-year Democratic incumbent congressman and supposed heir apparent to Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). The activism of the anti-gun-violence Parkland students is another example of young people on the left being energized.
Nonetheless, it’s clear that the right has been far more successful in recruiting millennials than the left.
This trend is discussed by this week's Radio WhoWhatWhy guest, journalist Michael Hobbes. Hobbes is the author of a couple of compelling recent stories about these issues, including “The Right-Wing Millennial Machine,” and “Generation Screwed.” They are important touchstones for understanding today’s youth politics.
While the number of millennials who identify with the right is a small percentage of the population, the number of young people within Republican politics is disproportionately large. It’s no accident that the three youngest US senators are all Republicans and that Republican members of Congress are, on average, much younger than Democrats.
Donors on the right have been funding a resilient leadership pipeline, while the left has focused on individual causes. As Hobbes points out, the right is building a monolithic political infrastructure, while the left is busy supporting existing institutions.
Hobbes tells Jeff Schechtman that 20-something voters should not be seen as political outliers but rather as people who care about the same pocketbook issues everyone else cares about: the cost of housing, the price of education, wages, and healthcare. These are all issues that have directly impeded the social mobility of young people.
Hobbes, an important new millennial voice, shatters the myth that our debates today are a war of ideas. We are long past the point where anyone is being persuaded, he says. The right understands this, the left does not. The electorate is simply too bifurcated, and information is too siloed. Success for both sides will come from expanding their base, building organizations, and motivating and turning out voters. The endless 12-point plans laid out, for example by Hillary Clinton, no longer have value in today’s political environment. It’s not about trying to convince people, it's about advocacy.
What the right has learned so well about recruitment is that if you grab them by the wallet, it’s a lot easier for their hearts and minds to follow.