After the British Brexit vote and before the American election in November, I wrote that Brexit should be a warning to young Americans: Grumpy boomers may have won it, but millennials simply failed to show up.
I suggested it was a preview of what might happen in the American election: the complete surprise shocker revolution of the older generations, the boomers and seniors, rejecting the changes that have happened in their respective countries in the last decade. It's not a fight to retain the status quo; it's an attempt to turn back the clock, to return things to the way they were.
It was a warning to Americans, and I was right to worry; the millennials didn't turn out to vote for Hillary Clinton and the boomers turned out en masse to vote for Trump.
However it’s interesting to watch how the millennials got the message in the recent British election. They showed up in a big way, up from about 40 percent turnout to 72 percent and while Labour didn't win, the ruling Conservatives were knocked out of majority government and Theresa May is avocado toast. She's still prime minister, but for how long?
The problems of young voters don't vary that widely
In 1992, after a Conservative victory, Rupert Murdoch's Sun ran a headline, "It's The Sun Wot Won It," which pretty much claimed that it was the power of the newspaper that turned the tide. In 2017, the tabloids and the popular newspapers were out in force viciously attacking the Labour party and supporting Theresa May, but the world has changed. Young people don't read the tabs; they look at their phones. This time around, Labour ran a brilliant modern media campaign. In this case, it’s the millennials "wot won it." The tabs were outgunned by Facebook and smart targeting, a voter registration drive and a get-out-the-vote campaign that ran like clockwork. The problems of young people in Britain are not that different from those on this side of the Atlantic, as Torsten Bell of the Resolution Trust told the Guardian:
"In the past two decades, young people have seen the dream of home ownership pushed further out of reach – the number of young families owning their own home has halved since the 1990s in places as far-flung as Bristol, Manchester and Leeds. This is not just a London problem," he said."Young people experienced the tightest pay squeeze in the wake of the financial crisis – with real pay falling by 13%. A decade on, they are still moving jobs less frequently than they used to, and those born in the late 1980s are the first cohort in living memory to earn less than the one born 15 years before them," he added.
And while Labour was energizing young voters with proposals to tax the rich and make university tuition free, the Conservatives were alienating older voters with crazy things like the "dementia tax." (Unlike Obama’s death panels, this was real: old people would lose most of their assets to pay for their care. As every Republican politician knows, old people are entitled to their entitlements.) As the Guardian story notes:
It seems obvious that millennials, even just taking an impressionistic view of the party’s manifestos, would consider Labour to be "on their side". The shock was that so many of them were among the two million people who registered to vote before the poll and went into the polling booths to mark their preference. But the young must stay vigilant: another lesson of the campaign was that there are vast numbers of older voters who still demand that the government fund their retirements with universal benefits.
It's likely that the next American election will be like the recent British one; the young people realize that their votes matter, and the old people react to the likely cuts in Obamacare, food stamps and other programs they depend on. And I predict a major sweep through all levels of government.
To paraphrase JFK, it's time to pass the torch to a new generation.