It’s no secret Donald Trump has uttered a countless number of eyebrow-raising statements throughout his campaign for the presidency. He’s called Barack Obama the founder of ISIS, touted the size of his manhood during a debate, and the list goes on.
Trump makes it clear this is the YOLO election, and he’s the YOLO candidate. “You only live once” means giving no thought to the consequences of one’s actions, and it sums up the candidate’s campaign strategy pretty well. For Trump, YOLO translates to random, erratic midnight tweets and a crisis response strategy that can be boiled down to “LOL just kidding.” It’s a tactic perfected by toxic ex-boyfriends across this great nation that consists of making the recipient feel crazy for not “getting” something that wasn’t a joke to begin with.
Call the leader of the free world the founding member of a terrorist organization? LOL it’s called sarcasm? Call for the assassination of your political opponent? LOL, it’s just a joke. Invite a foreign enemy to hack into our state department. LOLOLOLOLOL.
But the drivers of the YOLO election aren’t the millennials who have embraced the acronym — it’s their parents.
Trump doesn’t inspire the young, so why does he inspire the old?
A Morning Consult poll from July showed white older voters favored Trump by a significant margin. Trump has a 16-point lead with white voters over the age of 65 and similar leads with voters ages 45 to 64. Even those between 35 and 44 years old tend to favor the businessman by a smaller, but still significant, 5 points.
Meanwhile, younger voters, while incredibly diverse in many ways, have one thing in common: a distaste for Trump. The same Morning Consult poll gave Clinton a 17-point lead with voters under the age of 29. An August McClatchy-Marist poll of 1,132 young adults ages 18 to 30 put Trump in last place — not just after Democrat Hillary Clinton, but after Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein.
Of course, polls are just polls; they can’t predict whether or how young people are going to vote. But it begs the question: Why are so many older voters backing Trump? We’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the gender and race of Trump supporters, but what about their age?
David Grasso, media editor at GenFKD, an advocacy organization fighting for millennial-first reforms in education and the economy, believes the generational divide comes from two very different generations having very different world views. Millennials came of age during gloomy economic times defined by low interest rates and high unemployment, so there is no past for them to romanticize.
“Older voters are more pessimistic about the future because they’ve seen a slow and steady decline in opportunity and seen the middle class destroyed,” Grasso told Vox. In other words, millennials see the world half full, with room for improvement, naturally, but have generally held a more positive view of the future. That’s not exactly what Trump is selling.
“We feel like there are solutions to the problem, and holding politicians accountable, if anything, is an expression of optimism,”Grasso added. Trump is running a campaign that doesn’t have the inspiration-factor that young voters are looking for, which can partly explain the youthful and grassroots support for Bernie Sanders.
What may be driving older voters to Trump are generational differences in policy concerns. A Morning Consult poll showed that older voters tend to prioritize national security — something very few millennials place at the top of their priority list — over the economy, which will affect young voters for decades to come, if not already. Trump’s aggressive language around foreign policy and Cold War-esque approach to fighting terrorism could be appealing to an older generation of voters who feel worried about the future.
It’s not that millennials aren’t afraid of terrorism, but for many of them it’s been a fixed variable for most of their existence. For many voters under the age of 30, it’s difficult to conceptualize a pre-September 11 world because they witnessed the September 11, 2001, attacks at the beginning or midpoint of their lives. But for older voters, Grasso said, “terrorism was never on their radar.” This means “we view things differently because that is the new normal for us.”
Of course not all older voters have a rosier view of the past, because, well, racism. For older folks who are not white, there is no better past to go back to, and that could explain why race hugely determines whether an older voter backs Trump.
Tara Dowdell, former Apprentice contestant turned political consultant, says that nostalgia for the past explains the appeal for white Trump supporters. “For some [older white voters],” Dowdell said, “they were born at a time when black people sat at the back of the bus and when there weren’t developing communities of Asians — when their boss wasn’t necessarily a woman, their boss was a white guy in a factory line, and a woman’s place was in the kitchen.” Trump’s campaign slogan “Make America Great Again” glamorizes this past and offers a solution to resentful older white voters who feel like they have lost something.
And then there’s the YOLO factor. In a lot of ways, older voters have been promised a lot from both parties for most of their lives, and many of those promises have not materialized. The anger factor that so many pundits have described as powering Trump’s campaign can also be described as a disregard for the future of our political system, something that may come easier to voters who have fewer years ahead.
“There’s a segment of the population, in both parties, but far more so Republican, that wants to punish both parties. And they see Donald Trump as a punishment,” Dowdell said. “Because they’ve felt mistreated by the political system for so long, they want to see it burn to the ground.”
Millennials may not love Clinton, but do they hate Trump more?
According to Pew, the 2016 election will be the first time millennials will make up an equal proportion of the electorate as baby boomers — making them the “largest generational voting bloc.” But will they turn out? Young voters helped catapult Obama into office both in 2008 and again in 2012. Eight years after a historic youth voter turnout, neither Trump nor Clinton have close to the level of popularity of any candidate on record. But could a candidate who embodies everything millennials oppose be the thing that drives them to the polls in November?
After all, research shows that people are more likely to vote against someone than for someone. Given the millennial generation love for hate-watching, maybe this is the election when they coin the term hate-voting, too. Millennials didn’t show up to hate-vote against Brexit, and look at how that turned out. And if you think the comparison with Britain’s independence from the EU is far fetched, let Donald Trump make it for you.
As University College London student Jack Lenhard wrote in a June essay for Vox, the disastrous consequences of Brexit will not be felt by the people who voted for it en masse. In fact, a poll showed that the overwhelming majority of millennials, 72 percent to be exact, voted to stay in the union, while those over the age of 45 voted overwhelmingly to leave. And, of course, millennials will have to deal with the consequences of their parents’ decision. Many British millennials expressed their frustration on social media, like one Twitter user who asked: “We've lost our future because you wanted to re-live your romanticised past?
American youth should learn from the mistakes of their peers across the pond. After all, when it comes to this presidential election, you only vote once.
Correction: An exchange between Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz was inaccurately reported at the beginning of this article. It has since been removed for clarity.