April 8, 2020

Old White Guy

By Stephen Tuttle | March 14, 2020

Democrats seem to be settling in on Joe Biden, though they've found plenty about which to be exercised. They are especially good at finding coal in a pile of diamonds. 

Their lament now comes from different quarters — the Bernie Sanders camp wondering what happened to the youth vote while other Democrats of the pessimistic sort bemoan perceived sexism and racism in this year's presidential primaries. 

What happened to voters in the 18–29 age group is the same thing that happens in nearly every election: They don't vote. The Sanders camp has been deluded by the zealous enthusiasm of their young supporters, but they don't represent the majority of that age group. 

In the 2018 midterm elections, there was a fairly dramatic surge in young voters, especially compared to the 2014 mid-terms. Even then, barely more than 35 percent of 18–29-year-old voters went to the polls, the lowest turnout of any demographic group according to the U.S. Census. By comparison, the biggest voting block was comprised of those 65 and older who turned out at 66 percent. 

In the recently held California primary, according to a report on NPR, people under 30 represent 19 percent of the electorate but made up only 11 percent of those who voted. Young voters did not exceed 20 percent of the voters in any of the 14 Super Tuesday primaries.

This has been true for decades, a fact that should not have been lost on the Sanders campaign. Voting by citizens under 30 peaked in 1966, spiked slightly in 1972, again in 2008 during Barack Obama's historic presidential race, and again two years ago. Aside from those anomalies, the trend line for young voters has been downward for a long time.

Inspiring young people to vote, and then getting them to request a ballot or to head to the polls requires organizational persistence — not just an appealing platform. The Sanders campaign was unable to do that, and the demographic on which they most relied mostly stayed home.

While Sanders wonders what happened, other Democrats sense misogyny and racism at play in the Democratic presidential primary environment. 

To be sure, the race came down to a 77-year-old white man battling a 78-year-old white man to try and replace a 74-year-old white man. Beyond that, it's hard to argue Democrats have not at least tried to be diverse and have somewhat succeeded on multiple levels.   

It's true enough that women candidates — Amy Klobuchar, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand, Marianne Williamson — didn't survive. (Tulsi Gabbard is still running.) And it's also true some portion of that can be attributed to an unwillingness of some to vote for a woman for presidential office. Same with minorities who run — Cory Booker, Deval Patrick, Juan Castro, Andrew Yang, Harris — and face racial backlash. Maybe they were doomed by gender and race, or maybe they just didn't raise enough money, create enough enthusiasm, or harvest enough votes.

It's a little tricky arguing there is racism and misogyny afoot when we look at the numbers and recent history of the Democrats.

There are currently 26 women in the U.S. Senate, and 17 are Democrats. Of the 101 women in the U.S. House, 88 are Democrats. Of the 116 members of Congress self-identifying as non-white, 104 are Democrats. Only three African Americans serve in the Senate, two of whom are Democrats.   

You can look at those numbers and bemoan the fact that women make up more than 50 percent of the overall population but about 24 percent of Congress. Or that minorities make up slightly more than 35 percent of the population but only about 22 percent of Congress.

Or, you can recognize there has been progress. Those numbers, while not representative of the population, are dramatic improvements from just two decades ago, and both women and minority representation is at record levels. Not great but better. 

Democrats also seem to have extraordinarily short memories. In the last three presidential cycles, they've twice nominated and then saw elected an African American named Barack Hussein Obama, and then nominated Hillary Clinton. That doesn't feel like overt racism or misogyny, though Clinton supporters will argue the latter helped defeat her.

We know three truths regarding politics: First, various negative-isms and phobia will always be with us and working against various candidates. Second, young people don't vote in the numbers they should. Third, progress on racial and gender issues is being made, but slowly. Democrats have been at the forefront of that progress, and many rightly continue to push for more.

If diversity is their objective, they should take heart; this is the first time in 12 years they will nominate an old white guy for president. Complaining about it won't much help at the polls in November.


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