When looking across the pond Friday, don't get caught up in the headlines of the falling value of the pound or the bottoming out of the stock market. Look a little closer, and you'll see that it's not so different from what's happening in the United States. Some old curmudgeons voted and upset the United Kingdom's place in Europe, the trans-Atlantic alliance, and the World. It might seem shocking, but the middle-aged and older Brexit voters aren't all that different in Britain than they are in the United States. That should be very troubling.
Before the referendum, polls showed voters 60 and older supporting the leave camp by huge margins. About 63 percent of that demographic supported leaving the European Union. Now that the votes have come in, analyses of the votes district by district shows that the regions with the higher percentage of pensioners also voted "out" by the highest margins. The larger retired population, the more Eurocentric the voters. Voters 50 to 59 also wanted to leave, while voters 40 to 49 were about split. All younger demographic groups supported staying in the EU by even larger margins, but that didn't matter. The problem then with older voters is that they do actually vote.
Now take a look at what's happening stateside. Namely, Donald Trump. He's a big fan of the Brexit because it overlaps with his electoral goals of turning the country's back on globalization, immigration, and tolerance. The parallels are astounding. Take a look at the violence Trump has drummed up among supporters and then consider the shooting of the British MP and EU supporter Jo Cox. The Brexit supporters are the British answer to the Trump bunch, and the two groups have one demographic trait in common: their age.
Back in December, an Economist/YouGov poll showed that older Republicans supported Donald Trump by significantly higher margins than younger voters. Some 34 percent of Republican voters 65 and up were supporting Trump compared to just 15 percent of younger voters. Those numbers have held up throughout the primary season. He's done remarkably better among voters 45 and over. They're also whiter, less educated, and more racist. Just like the Brexit supporters.
Unfortunately, young people weren't able to save the U.K.'s place in the EU. But there's still a chance young people can keep Trump out of the White House. A survey from April conducted by the Harvard University Institute of Politics showed that 61 percent of voters aged 18 to 29 will vote for Hillary Clinton in November, and just 25 percent will vote for Trump. Those kinds of margins could win Clinton the election — even if the older voters go for Trump — but only if turnout is high enough.
That will be one of the deciding factors of the general election. The last seven presidential elections saw the highest turnout among voters aged 60 plus. Voters 18 to 29 had the lowest rates of participation. Basically the older you are, the more likely you are to vote. Pres. Obama was able to tap parts of the populace that had never voted before, and Clinton will need to do the same if she's to rebuild the multi-ethnic, younger coalition that elected him twice.
If that doesn't happen, the United States and its increasingly diverse young adults will be handed by their elders a future of xenophobia and racism. Then the next step Trump supports would be to cut off trade with the neighbors to the south. That doesn't sound so different than a Brexit. And so, just like Britain's ties were severed from Europe by retirees whose careers, educations, and futures will be the least affected, Americans could suffer from a Trump presidency that's imposed by older voters who don't share the multicultural values most Americans now hold dear.