Young Voters Spring (Contradictory) Political Surprises
A Commentary By Michael Barone
What's with young voters? It's a question prompted by two surprising and perhaps contradictory developments that are out of line with conventional wisdom and prevailing expectations among political observers.
One is the sharp difference in opinion between young voters and their elders on the Hamas atrocities against Israel. A post-Oct. 7 poll by Quinnipiac University showed respondents under 35 disapproving of Israel's response to Hamas' atrocities, 52% to 32%, while those over 35 approved by a wider margin.
Young voters' views are out of line with President Joe Biden's strong rhetorical support of Israel, which has been attacked by multiple young staffers, media personnel and activist leaders. There's evidence it is costing him young people's votes.
The other development is a shift, compared to 2020, away from Biden and toward former President Donald Trump among black and Hispanic people under the age of 45, according to a New York Times/Siena College poll focusing on six target states.
Analyst Nate Cohn points out that nonwhite respondents under 45 said they favored Biden over Trump, 68% to 29%, in 2020, but they now say they would favor him by 49% to 42%.
Among nonwhites over 45, support for Biden fell by a smaller amount, from 73%-26% to 63%-29%. Movement among white respondents was about the same among those under 45 and statistically insignificant among those above 45.
These two developments seem to be pointing in opposite directions, with young voters veering left on Israel/Hamas and right on Biden/Trump. My tentative explanation is that we're looking at different halves of the young age cohort, with the college-educated (or -indoctrinated) voter standing to the left of the larger electorate and noncollege young people (black, Hispanic and Asian as well as white) moving to the right.
The leftward lurch among college-indoctrinated young people is something I have picked up in city elections. Just as we've seen since the 1970s a graduate student proletariat dominant in university towns from Cambridge, Massachusetts, to Berkeley, California, in the last decade, we've seen an emerging barista Left in large central cities.
The New York Times' superb interactive map shows the neighborhoods where such voters predominated in New York City's decisive June 2021 mayoral primary -- in lower-rent neighborhoods within commuting distance of Manhattan, such as Astoria, Queens, and Williamsburg and Bushwick, Brooklyn. These are the same places where white voters favored Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) over Hillary Clinton in the April 2016 Democratic presidential primary.
In 2021, these areas were the base for left-winger Maya Wiley, while more affluent whites in Manhattan favored the more centrist Kathryn Garcia. But both were narrowly edged by the black former police officer Eric Adams, who carried almost all black and Hispanic precincts.
The race was similarly tight but the result different in Chicago this year. In the March primary, centrist former schools chief Paul Vallas carried the white ethnic bungalow wards and affluent Lakefront precincts, while incumbent Lori Lightfoot carried the black South and West sides.
But former teachers union official Brandon Johnson won a runoff spot by carrying racially mixed lower-rent wards north of and inland from the high-rent Gold Coast. And in the April runoff, he added just enough votes from black precincts to edge Vallas, 52% to 48%. That puts a leftist who wants to raise taxes and cautions against calling violent criminals a "mob" at the head of government in a city wracked with violent crime.
That doesn't seem to bother barista leftists in marginal-wage jobs who choose to live in edgy, high-crime neighborhoods such as Bushwick, where, tragically, young residents were recently killed. One suspects that such neighborhoods have been seeing many more Hamas than Israeli flags.
Outside university towns and the hip neighborhoods of central cities, barista leftists are relatively scarce and dispersed widely over culturally less congenial landscapes. Meanwhile young people with little or no exposure to campus indoctrination and not much interest in or knowledge of political issues are scattered around the country, with whites predominant outside major metropolitan areas and blacks and Hispanics in modest-income exurbs and suburbs.
Such voters haven't been attracted by Biden Democrats' COVID-era handouts, college loan forgiveness and support for transgender teenagers. Instead, they're increasingly attracted to Trump specifically and Republicans generally for reasons explained by two books that, with fortuitous timing, were just published this week.
In "Where Have All the Democrats Gone?," John Judis and Ruy Teixeira examine how the Democratic majority they predicted, with fair accuracy, two decades ago has been split by white and nonwhite working-class voters' aversion to the exotic preoccupations of the party's increasingly dominant and incessantly noisy college graduate bloc, barista leftists included.
And in "Party of the People," Republican consultant Patrick Ruffini describes the formation of a Republican "multiracial working class coalition" that is "eroding one of the core pillars of the Democratic coalition, the nonwhite working class."
Young people are springing some surprises on what has been looking like a stale contest between two septuagenarians who are the two oldest men to enter the presidency. More surprises may be in store.
Michael Barone is a senior political analyst for the Washington Examiner, resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and longtime co-author of The Almanac of American Politics. His new book, "Mental Maps of the Founders: How Geographic Imagination Guided America's Revolutionary Leaders," will be released Nov. 28.
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