Millennials voted overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton. So it’s their fault she lost?

The election blame game seems to be a favorite pastime for many in Washington right now. One particularly troubling take comes from Washington Post reporter Aaron Blake, who echoed Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook and wrote, “Yes, you can blame millennials for Hillary Clinton’s loss.”

In a close election, every vote counts. There are dozens of demographic subgroups that Mook or Blake could choose to blame for Clinton’s loss. What is striking is the trend to blame millennials, who voted for Clinton in massive numbers. According to exit polls, voters under-30 supported Clinton by 18 points over Trump — far more than any other age cohort. The impulse to blame those who voted overwhelmingly-but-not-sufficiently-for-Clinton (according to Mook and Blake) is bizarre.

Of course, this take is only natural. Clinton struggled to consolidate young voters after they supported Bernie Sanders (read about it here or here or here). NextGen Climate and others worked to grow young voter support for Clinton, through millions of face-to-face, phone, and text conversations with millennials. There’s evidence that all that work succeeded. As Blake wrote on October 26, “Hillary Clinton’s millennial surge has arrived!” Then — just like across the electorate — the bottom fell out. Like other age cohorts, late-breaking young voters supported Clinton less than those who voted early after James Comey released two controversial letters. But a look at election data suggests this isn’t the whole story.

At NextGen Climate, we have been poring over election results from millennial-majority precincts and there is a different compelling story. Unfortunately for our analysis, the only precincts in the country that are majority-millennial are college campuses (there is no neighborhood full of just 27-year olds) but they still provide interesting findings.

NextGen Climate studied 98 majority-millennial precincts from states decided by 10 points or less. These precinct results counter the blame narrative:

  • Voter turnout was up by 7.2% compared to 2012 levels. At one precinct at East Carolina University, turnout more than tripled. Pundits once fretted young people wouldn’t vote this year. In reality, turnout nationwide for young voters was similar to 2012 levels and campus turnout was up.
  • In 2012, Obama got 68.47% of the vote in these precincts. In 2016, Clinton got 69.2% — slightly up. On the other hand, Trump underperformed Romney on campuses by more than five points: 28.49% support for Romney, 23.12% for Trump. This means Clinton actually netted thousands more votes over her opponent than Obama did in these precincts. Incidentally, in New Hampshire this surge may have been enough to push Democrat Maggie Hassan ahead of GOP Sen. Kelly Ayotte, due to Hassan’s particularly lopsided support in college towns with record high voter turnout.

So in millennial-majority precincts, turnout was up and support for Clinton was on par with Obama in 2012. But how about the millions of millennials who aren’t students? The two charts below look at Washoe and Clark Counties in Nevada — which Clinton won, despite performing 4 points worse than Obama in 2012. The first chart shows that the more millennials a precinct has, the more that precinct voted for Clinton. In precincts with fewer millennials, Clinton gets creamed.

What’s more, Nevada millennials were actually more helpful for Clinton than they were for Obama in 2012. The below chart shows Clinton’s net votes minus Obama’s for precincts with at least 20% millennials. Clinton netted more votes from youth-dense precincts than Obama — and the trendline shows that the younger a precinct gets, the more Clinton outperforms Obama.

So if both millennials on-and-off campus were helpful for Clinton, blaming them seems somewhat ludicrous. At best, it suggests we need to learn how to make these trendlines steeper, especially by persuading more non-student, non-college educated (particularly white) millennials. But overall, it suggests just how preposterous blaming any one cohort of voters for the election is. As David Roberts at Vox writes, “everything mattered.” Or, in millennial-speak, “F*ck everything and blame everyone.”

As progressives look forward, the blame game is less important than what mIllennials did do this year. This generation voted by the strongest margins against President-elect Trump. States with the youngest populations (NV, CA, IL) elected three democratic women of color to the U.S. Senate — and young voters are the primary reason for a fourth (NH). Their organizing ousted controversial Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Phoenix and State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez in Chicago, a top target of Black Lives Matter. Young people are already in the streets opposing Trump’s extremism. In the last month, millennials have declared their campuses sanctuaries for the undocumented and are challenging Democrats to stand against Trump. The question is whether Democrats will keep playing the blame game over the next four years, or work to earn the participation of their most supportive voters — and their party’s future.

Ben Wessel is the Millennial Vote Director at NextGen Climate. You can follow him on twitter at Ben Wessel

Executive Director at NextGen America. Obsessed with all things #youthvote

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