Remember when Barack Obama permanently won millennial voters to the side of Democrats in 2008? As I wrote in my October 2014 magazine feature story, "The Millennial Scramble," experts predicted that Obama had secured young people forever when he secured the presidency.
Well, that was short-lived. Millennials are as dissatisfied with the president as everyone else, and are expected to sit this election out—a major blow to a president who believed initiatives like Obamacare would be widely appreciated by young people. According to The Hill:
Jim Manley, a Democratic strategist and former spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), said that the promise of "hope and change millennials invested in has hit a brick wall."
Manley said that this in turn has made young voters "very cynical about the political process and less likely to vote than they had in the past." …
A poll released earlier this year showed a significant decline in the number of Democratic-leaning millennials who planned to vote in the midterm elections.
The survey, conducted by Harvard University's Institute of Politics, found that young voters are increasingly turned off by the political environment.
That's an important distinction, though: millennials aren't exactly flocking to the Republican banner. They are "turned off" by the political environment entirely, and are skeptical that any politicians have answers to their economic plight.
Does this mean millennials are experiencing some kind of libertarian awakening? While there's no definitive answer, Reason's Nick Gillespie and Emily Ekins have argued that the generation is still "unclaimed." They are socially tolerant, but their economic views are up in the air—accordingly, they haven't bought into a specific party or ideology yet.
Even so, Democrats have some obvious advantages that make it comparatively easier for them to recruit young voters. As The Hill notes, the student loan debt situation has become a cause celebre of those who would recapture millennial support, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren:
A DNC official said that they have been building upon their past success, and that most young voters agree that the Democratic Party has their best interests at heart, championing issues ranging from college affordability to equal pay.
"It's a reflection of what we're running on more broadly," said one DNC official, adding that these issues appeal to voters across the board and are not simply geared toward the younger set.
At the same time, the official added that millennials understand that "Democrats have their backs."
Anyone who doesn't want to see millennials returning to the Democratic fold in search of debt forgiveness and tuition subsidies needs to articulate the case that increased federal involvement in higher education has made college more expensive and wrecked it for everyone.
And it should be clear that a Republican Party more in tune with the libertarian sensibilities of millennials would stand a significantly better chance at winning some of their votes.