If you’re under 35, odds are you were upset by the results of the 2016 presidential election. That’s not because young voters had any particular love for Hillary Clinton — she did slightly worse with them than Barack Obama did in 2008 and 2012 — but because millennials’ dislike of Donald Trump has been off the charts.
The situation is reversed when it comes to older voters. Voters over age 45 broke for Trump over Clinton by about 9 percentage points. And that outcome fits a broader trend in American politics: Younger voters strongly favor Democrats, while older voters strongly favor Republicans.
Those political sentiments seem to be driving attitudes about the economy. We’re still weeks away from Donald Trump’s inauguration, but Trump’s win has already made older Americans more bullish on the country. As highlighted on Twitter today by Bloomberg’s Joe Weisenthal, the consumer confidence ratings of people over 55 have soared since November 8, reaching their highest level since before the 2008 financial crisis:
People over 55 haven't felt this good about things since 2007 pic.twitter.com/1gr60Pm9xh— Joe Weisenthal (@TheStalwart) December 27, 2016
Meanwhile, millennials’ views of the American economy have darkened considerably. As Weisenthal notes, millennials’ consumer confidence ratings have plummeted since the election:
Here's your chart of the day: Consumer Confidence for young people dives, while Consumer Confidence for old people surges pic.twitter.com/arONYqyOY1— Joe Weisenthal (@TheStalwart) December 27, 2016
Of course, changing economic conditions on the ground can’t explain what’s happening here. The stock market has gone on a rally, but certainly nothing has happened in the past few weeks that would have made older Americans much richer while also impoverishing the young.
Instead, the charts are an obvious consequence of what’s happened in the political arena. On November 8, one camp — older voters — seized almost complete control of the federal government. And they’re apparently feeling good about it.
Older voters have been trying to elect Republicans for years now
A lot of attention has been paid to the “graying army” of white voters fueling Trump’s victory, and understandably so. As the Atlantic’s Molly Ball wrote right before the election: “Despite the stereotype of the Trump supporter as a prime-aged working man, Trump’s campaign has actually been fueled primarily by support from the elderly. ... Trump has run a campaign aimed squarely and frankly at old people’s nostalgia, fear of danger, and anxiety about social change.”
But despite all the campaign overtures, the early results suggest Trump actually didn’t do better at all among older voters than other recent Republican presidential candidates. True, they were his best age group. But that was also the case for Sen. John McCain in 2008, who won 53 percent of voters over 65 that year. Similarly, in 2012, Romney did even better and won 56 percent of that oldest demographic group.
This year, Trump hit a slightly lower but roughly similar target, taking 52 percent of the oldest voters with relatively steady turnout from the previous two cycles:
This shouldn’t surprise us. Over the past decade, older voters have consistently moved to empower the Republican Party’s officeholders. In 2006, 2010, and 2014, voters over 65 overwhelmingly supported Republican politicians — while the youngest voters flocked to Democratic candidates, even in midterm elections where Republicans won across the board.
In 2016, Hillary Clinton did worse among young voters than Barack Obama did in 2012 or 2008. (Obama won around 60 percent of voters 18 to 29, and Clinton won closer to 55 percent.) But as with most recent Democratic candidates, young voters were still overwhelmingly her best age group, supporting her by a whopping 18-point margin:
Bernie Sanders’s unprecedented popularity with young voters during the Democratic primary made Clinton look like their enemy, and it’s possible — if not quite likely — that he would have done better among the youngest voters than she did.
But that shouldn’t obscure the broader pattern: Younger voters overwhelmingly prefer Democrats, while older voters disproportionately prefer Republicans. Clinton’s loss means that most younger voters will see their preferred party shut out of all three branches of government — for the first time in many of their adult lives.