The next president could be chosen with indifference

Those born in 1995 or later have never been able to vote in a general presidential election for a Republican other than Donald Trump. If you were born four years later, your choices between the two major parties were limited to Trump and Joe Biden.

It’s certainly a small sample, but it’s a useful point to consider: For all the rise of presidential politics and the years of conversation focused on determining who is the most powerful person in politics, this conversation has been terribly repetitive lately. And as an NBC News poll suggests, Americans aren’t enthusiastic about engaging in it again.

On Sunday, the channel released the results of a national poll that asked, among other things, respondents to rate their interest in the election on a scale of 1 to 10. Fewer than 2 in 3 chose 9 or 10, which is lower than any other. similar measure by NBC pollsters at the end of a presidential election year since at least 2008.

Among Republicans, 70 percent indicated they were very interested in the election. Among Democrats, only 65 percent. Among the independents? Less than half.

This is not very surprising. It is consistent that independents—that is, generally independents who tend to vote for one party or the other and independents who do not—are less politically engaged and less likely to vote. Comparisons of national polls conducted by the Pew Research Center with the Census Bureau’s electorate estimates show what share of nonvoters in each recent election were independents.

In 2016 and 2020, at least two-thirds of supporters voted, according to this analysis. About 6 in 10 party-leaning independents did so, while about half of non-leaning independents voted.

But there’s an important asterisk this year: Those who are least likely to vote are also much more likely to support Trump.

You can see this in the NBC News data. Biden leads by nine points with those who voted in 2020 and 2022. Among those who didn’t vote in either election? Trump leads by 22 points.

This also appears elsewhere. The Harvard Youth Poll released last week found a single-digit gap between Trump and Biden among all Americans under 30 — but a nearly 20-point lead for Biden among those most likely to vote.

The youth vote is interesting in part because it intersects with independent voter identification. Many independent voters are young voters and vice versa, so the apathy of independents is correlated with the apathy of young voters. It’s also interesting because – to return to the point made at the start of this article – voters 29 and under have never been able to vote for a non-Trump Republican for president.

A study by political scientist Dan Hopkins of the University of Pennsylvania, published by 538 earlier this month, used an Associated Press poll conducted by NORC, formerly the National Opinion Research Center, to compare support for the general election with voting frequency. The same pattern prevails: those who vote less often are more likely to support Trump — including among groups of Black and Hispanic voters who have been the center of attention since 2020.

This suggests that Gallup’s finding that younger, non-white voters have shifted to the right in recent years may be due to people being less politically engaged.

See the same point from a different perspective: Pew’s analysis of recent voting patterns shows that black and Hispanic voters are also more likely to have not voted in recent elections.

This creates a strange dynamic. The Washington Post reported earlier this month that some Democratic groups were reluctant to register younger voters — typically a strong constituency — for fear of adding Trump voters to the pool. The expected trend in which Democrats have benefited from higher turnout may, this year, reverse.

The result could be an election in which the president is determined by those staying home. This too is not unprecedented (see 2016) – but it is not a good sign for democracy.


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