By Louis Mayeux –
Georgia Democrats will need more than changing demographics to deliver them from the political wilderness, an Emory professor says.
“I think that the purpling of the state …I just don’t see it happening,” said Mark Bauerlein, author of “The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future (or, Don’t Trust Anyone Under 30).” He’s also a senior editor at First Things, a journal of religion and public life.
Bauerlein teaches English, but intently observes politics and electoral numbers. As the title of his book shows, he’s particularly interested in the social media generation of 18 to 29 year olds. While young people support Democrats, they lack strong party loyalty and political engagement, he says.
Nor will Georgia Democrats find a winning strategy in narrowing their appeal to blacks and Hispanics, he says.
“I just don’t trust projections of political identity based on race in the future that much,” he said. “Projections into the future based on identity demographics start getting to be a little bit based on wish fulfillment rather than facts.”
While African-American voters back Democrats, Bauerlein sees their political engagement waning as the Obama administration ends.
“When Obama leaves the White House, black turnout is going to go down,” he said. He also believes Hispanic and Asian voters will turn more conservative.
Bauerlein especially sees support for Democrats eroding among those under 30.
“Half of the photos taken on Instagram are selfies – that tells a lot about them and their friends,” Bauerlein says. “They lead social lives. They’re not going to have much allegiance to a political party. That’s an old people’s game.”
Bauerlein in a New York Times op-ed article last week said young voters’ support for Democrats dropped in the recent election, in which the Republicans regained control of the Senate. Republicans surged by tying Democratic opponents to Obama’s policies. In the Georgia Senate race, Republican David Perdue followed that strategy in defeating Democrat Michelle Nunn. She and Democratic governor’s candidate Jason Carter fell short of runoffs, despite their reported strength from changing demographics.
The Democrats’ showing here and nationally indicates that women’s rights and other social issues don’t connect with young voters, Bauerlein said.
“The world they live in is filled with social media, Facebook and texting, Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift. They encounter so little social conservatism. The war on women – they just don’t see it. On college campuses, 60 percent of the students are females, and females take most of the AP courses.”
The young voters don’t remember the women’s movement , Roe v. Wade and the rise of evangelicals such as Jerry Falwell, he said. Many of their professors are women.
“It’s not that they’re becoming less liberal, but that they don’t see that those issues matter,” he said. “…It strikes them as irrelevant. It’s just noise.”
Nor do they follow global events. “They’re more interested in their own Facebook page than they are in American foreign policy. For them, life is very individual.”
They do worry about student debt and the shortage of good jobs. “They don’t see themselves getting ahead,” he said. “They don’t think about the political world. They think about not having opportunities.”
But the GOP can’t count on young voters. “They’re more unpredictable and capricious,” Bauerlein said. “They’re not going to align themselves with a political party. They’re too wrapped up with their own little lives.”
In Georgia’s election, 18 to 29 years olds made up just 10 percent of the electorate, according to CNN exit polls. Those 30 to 44 showed a 26 percent turnout, while voters 45 to 64 totaled 44 percent.
Nunn drew 58 percent of the votes of 18 to 29 year olds, which Bauerlein said was better than Democrats did nationally. Carter gained support of 52 percent of the younger voters, while winning GOP incumbent Nathan Deal attracted large numbers of older voters. Perdue received 53 percent of the votes from those 45 to 64. Both Nunn and Carter drew 23 percent of white voters, while receiving overwhelming black support.
Young voters favor candidates who make a strong personal connection, such as Obama, Bauerlein said. Youth perceived Obama as hip and cool, but Hillary Clinton, considered the Democratic front-runner for the 2016 presidential nomination, lacks that appeal, he said.
“She doesn’t talk about rap music like our president does,” Bauerlein said. “They love a president who watches ESPN Sports Center every night.”