Editor’s Note: John D. Sutter is a columnist for CNN Opinion who focuses on climate change and social justice. Follow him on Snapchat, Facebook and email. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.
If millennial voters had their way, Hillary Clinton would be president.
That’s a point worth stating plainly since there’s so much scapegoating and stereotyping of young voters in this country. This fall, for instance, a Daily Beast writer insisted you could “blame millennials for President Trump” if he were elected.
Well, that’s happened. And it’s clear you can’t.
The data show you should blame older, whiter people.
Yes, young people ages 18 to 29 (along with blacks and Latinos) did underperform for Clinton relative to the rates they voted for Barack Obama. According to early data from CNN exit polls, 54% of voters age 18 to 29 – the younger millennials – cast ballots for Clinton, compared to 60% of young people who voted for President Obama in 2012. (It’s too early for numbers that include all millennials up to age 35. CNN data, however, show that 50% of people age 30 to 44, which includes older millennials and many nonmillennial voters, selected Clinton; 42% picked Trump.)
And sure, many of them were unhappy with either candidate. According to early data from the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, a project of Tufts University, an estimated 8% of young voters picked a third-party or write-in candidate.
That signals a failure of mainstream politicians, especially Hillary Clinton, to appeal to the young. And, in my mind, it also shows the slight prospect of a legitimate third-party candidate emerging in the future.
But this truth remains: A clear majority of young people wanted Clinton to be president.
Older, whiter demographics, meanwhile, led the charge for Trump.
Majorities of people age 45 and older voted for Trump, according to CNN exit polls. Nearly two-thirds of white voters age 45 to 64 selected the Republican. Only 48% of 18-to-29-year-old white voters did.
Voters age 18 to 29 cast ballots at a rate we’ve come to expect from young people in this country. About half of all millennials voted for president, according to the group at Tufts. That’s not much different from recent presidential elections, according to that group, and it’s also similar to the rate at which baby boomers voted when they were younger. Young people, it turns out, are underrepresented regardless of generation.
I wish that would change, just as I wish more than 80% of all Americans would vote in elections, as they do in Denmark. There are ample reasons for this, of course, from apathy to voter suppression. I’d add to that list the Electoral College, which many of us see – and have long seen – as an undemocratic bastion of a racist era. If you want to encourage everyone to vote, truly make every vote in every state matter equally.
Still, it makes little sense to blame the young or Latinos or black voters for Trump’s election.
“(I)t might seem incredibly easy to blame the older generations for putting us in the position we are in right now – namely, having Donald Trump as the President-elect of the United States,” Emma Lord wrote for the site Bustle. “After all, it’s their votes that screwed with our perfect millennial maps again, isn’t it? In that sense, this is just one more mess the baby boomers have left for us to clean up in their wake; we are inheriting this presidency the same way we inherited the bad economy, inherited an impossible job market, and inherited the ability to go dead in the eyes and nod as your grandparents say something vaguely racist at the Thanksgiving dinner table.”
“Oh, my friends,” she writes. “If only it were that simple.”
Maybe it is.