Can Republicans Pull Off a Millennial Comeback?


Before the start of this month, the prevailing narrative in the media (even among many conservative commentators) was that the millennial generation was an army of socialists-in-training. Pundits pointed to the rise of Bernie Sanders as evidence that millennials detested capitalism and would bring our economy to ruin if ever empowered.

I attacked this “Communist Millennials” hypothesis here and here, arguing instead that millennials are actually radically pro-free market. And now, new polling data shows just how overblown these McCarthy-esque fears were. The Republican Party has significantly closed its “millennial gap” with Democrats — and they are currently locked in a dead-heat in the race to be millennials’ preferred party on economic issues.

From Reuters:

Enthusiasm for the Democratic Party is waning among young voters – so-called millennials – as its candidates head into the crucial midterm congressional elections, according to the Reuters/Ipsos national opinion poll.

The online survey of more than 16,000 registered voters ages 18 to 34 shows their support for Democrats over Republicans for Congress slipped by about 9 percentage points over the past two years, to 46 percent overall. And they increasingly say the Republican Party is a better steward of the economy.


Millennials are almost evenly split this year over the question of which party has a better plan for the economy, with 34 percent picking the Democrats and 32 percent choosing Republicans. That’s a shift from two years ago, when they said Democrats had the better plan by a 12-point margin.

So if young Americans are increasingly rejecting the left-wing economic agenda, how does one explain the rise of Bernie Sanders?

In my opinion, the same factors that led to the rise of Bernie Sanders faction have also led to the rise of the right-wing protectionist faction. Millennials feel frustrated and disenfranchised from a lack of opportunity stemming from debt and years of slow economic growth.

Take this recent Vice report:

At this point, there’s no shortage of information on how deeply screwed millennials are, financially speaking. Studies have shown an increase in millennials forced to move back in with their parents, a majority unable to save anything for retirement, and earning significantly less than the baby boomers did early in their careers.

Now the latest depressing poll from NBC News/GenForward reveals how those financial troubles are stalling some of life’s basic milestones for millennials. With an overwhelming majority of millennials (62 percent) owing more in debt than they currently have in savings, many young adults are holding off on getting married or having kids. According to the poll, 16 percent of 18- to-34-year-olds said they had delayed starting a family because of debt, while 14 percent said debt had forced them to put off marriage.

Crushing debt is also stopping young people from reaching the big, conventional economic milestones capitalism expects of us: 34 percent have delayed buying a house; 31 percent have deferred saving for retirement; 29 percent have postponed buying a car.

The full findings lay bare the generation’s staggering debt burden. While 76 percent of millennials owe money in some form, 55 percent struggle with debts over $5,000. Meanwhile, only 23 percent of millennials say they have $5,000 or more in their savings account.

CNN has also covered how the average millennial has “absolutely nothing” saved for retirement, and the Mental Health Foundation has found that millennials suffer from “insecure contracts, low rates of pay and high entry-level workloads. The pressures they face in today’s employment market are very different to past generations.”

As the poll data shows, the Republican Party is now at a tipping point where it can potentially be the favored party among millennials. The formula for it to make this move is simple: Republicans must ignite increasing economic opportunity for a generation that largely feels economically marginalized. Watch what a single, additional percentage of annual GDP growth does to Bernie Sanders’ youth support numbers.

Jonathan Decker

Jonathan Decker is the Chief Economic Correspondent for

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