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Millennial voters feel abandoned by Democrats

What is this, Stockholm Syndrome?

The latest polling data from Harvard’s Institute of Politics should be discouraging to Democrats, who have traditionally been able to depend on young bleeding-hearts for electoral support: A majority of 18- to 29-year-old likely voters now say they would prefer a Republican-controlled Congress to a Democratic one, by a margin of 4 percentage points. That’s true even though those very same voters say Democrats in Congress are doing a better job than their Republican counterparts.

To be fair, both parties get pretty lousy marks from young likely voters: Democrats received a 35 percent approval rating, while Republicans got 24 percent.

But even so, my generation’s stated preferences are perplexing: We millennials apparently want to be ruled by the party we think is the greater of two evils.

This makes even less sense when you consider how the GOP has treated politically engaged millennials.

For years, in states such as North Carolina, Maine, Ohio and Texas, Republican politicians have tried to make it systematically harder for young adults to cast ballots or even register to vote. Sometimes these suppression efforts blanket broad swaths of voters likely to vote Democratic (by curtailing early voting, for example). But some efforts specifically target young people (ending pre-registration for 17-year-olds who will be 18 by Election Day, threatening to cut funding for universities that help out-of-state students register to vote, etc.).

History suggests this is a good strategy for Republicans. The young are not universally Democrats — about half now call themselves independents — but in recent decades they have reliably awarded a majority of their votes to Democrats. In 16 of the last 19 federal elections, 18- to 29-year-olds favored the Democratic House candidate, according to exit polls. And the margin they’ve given to Democrats has been especially large in the past decade: In 2012, Democratic congressional candidates beat Republicans by a 22-point margin among the under-30 crowd. Strong turnout among the young has swung major elections away from Republicans, too; without their vote, Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania and Virginia would have all flipped from Obama to Romney in 2012.