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Millennials aren’t to blame this time

Trump supporters in Braintreee were jubilant on election night.
Trump supporters in Braintreee were jubilant on election night.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

As a woman, as a 19-year-old, and as a first-generation American, I am appalled, horrified, disgusted, and shocked by this election. Donald Trump, a man who gropes women, insults minorities, is a narcissist, name-calls opponents, calls for Russia to hack our elections, and insults Gold-star families will be the next president of the United States.

Why did he surprise us so much in the primaries and now?

The answer is as it always is: millennials and other young voters.

But not in the way you think. It wasn’t our fault for not voting. It was the media’s fault for caring too much about us.

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The New York Times just a few weeks ago put the odds of a Hillary Clinton win at 90 percent. Even the conservative forecaster (conservative in terms of statistics) FiveThirtyEight got the elections incredibly wrong, having Clinton winning with a greater than 70% chance the morning of November 8. Never before have pre-election polls collectively missed the mark like this.

In the primaries, Trump surprised people because he connected with a large enough segment of the Republican party to block all other candidates from winning the nomination. But he won Tuesday night because the media greatly underestimated the eventual size of and turnout of that base.

As a millennial writer I too am guilty of focusing far too much on what people my age – the future of America – think. But we didn’t matter in this election. Older, white males without a college education did. And polls were so focused on us that they didn’t even think about them.

In the aftermath of the Brexit, we blamed millennials for not getting out and voting. In 2008, we credited them with Obama’s win. Last night, NBC quickly talked about how a larger percentage of millennials voted for third-party candidates in 2016 (9 percent) than in 2012 (4 percent). This year, if only millennials had voted, Clinton would have won in a landslide. Sure, more of us could have voted and more of us could have voted for her. But it isn’t always millennials’ fault or credit. It’s our ability to vote relative to others.

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The Clinton campaign and the polls focused unduly on millennials and underestimated the commitment and turnout of older working-class voters. Polls focused on blacks, young people, women, and Hispanics. These groups were studied, discussed, analyzed, and made the subject of countless thought pieces.

But white men 45 years and older were taken for granted. They were understudied. Their interests were not often discussed. Grouping them together and analyzing them is something that is not often done, a criticism that created the Trump phenomenon in the first place. By failing to account for voter turnout and “silent majority” interest adequately, the media and the Clinton campaign missed many opportunities to analyze and swing the vote.

On Tuesday, it was the unexpected turnout of Trump supporters in red suburbs and rural areas and the unexpected Obama-to-Trump switch of unionized workers that won the election for the underdog.

America, if we’re going to stereotype every demographic and painfully research their every collective thought, we should have done it for older white men in the same way we did it for young black women. We should have realized how powerful they were, figured out what issues they cared about, and figured out how to change their minds. It was a really close election, where adding 1 percent to Clinton’s vote share and taking away 1 percent from Trump’s would have swung Florida, Pennsylvania, and the election.

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It’s easy to point blame everywhere today, in a world reeling from shock. But for once, it has nothing to do with us, under-30 hopefuls, not turning out to vote. It has to do with white middle-aged men who did. (And of course, one in particular: James Comey.)

If we had all realized that a little earlier, maybe I wouldn’t be spending all of today crying.


Isvari Mohan can be reached at voice@isvari.com. Follow her on Twitter @IsvariM.