A Building Blue Wave


The votes of millennials and Gen. Z formed a firewall against the Republican “red tide” predicted last November. Now, they’ve possibly launched a “blue wave” as evidenced by election of a liberal Wisconsin Supreme Court justice last week.

The victory by Judge-elect Janet Protasiewicz has all-but-guaranteed that an 1849 anti-abortion law will get thrown out, and that America’s most gerrymandered legislative and congressional district boundaries will get redrawn.  As well, the election, which drew 1.8 million votes, has national ramifications.

The victory came on a day when thousands of young people demonstrated nationally, many converging on the Tennessee state capitol, demanding action on an epidemic of gun violence in schools.  The protests came in the wake of six killings at a Nashville school, with three nine-year-olds among the victims.

Ex-Gov. Scott Walker, architect of the GOP’s dominance in Wisconsin, warned in a Tweet: “Younger voters may be behind the stinging loss for conservatives in Wisconsin this week. In [last] November, 18 to 29 year-old voters went with the radical candidate by 40 points. Digital ads, student coalitions. None of these will do it. We have to undo years of liberal indoctrination.”

David Hogg, survivor of the Marjorie Stone Douglas High School massacre in Florida, shot back: “It’s not indoctrination – it’s their lived experience of fearing for their lives . . . What you mean [is] the things that we’ve been saying since the Parkland shooting in 2018, that we’re going to turn out and vote, actually has been happening.”

Just 27 percent of eligible under-30 voters cast ballots in last year’s mid-term elections. Still, that represented a big increase over all pre-2018 elections.  The youth vote went Democratic over Republican by 28 percent, sufficient to largely cancel out a 12-point Republican advantage among those over 65.

The youth turnout in Washington was about 10 points higher than the national average.  Voting here is encouraged by drop boxes on campuses and same-day registration. The results: Eight Republican legislative challengers in swing districts went down to defeat.  Not a single incumbent Democratic legislator lost his or her seat. U.S. Sen. Patty Murray was targeted but won reelection with more than 57 percent of the vote.

In a warning delivered by right-thinking Fox News pundit Jesse Watters, “The fact that these youth voters are coming in so strong in an off year is very concerning.” For him, it ought to be concerning. Young voters helped elect and reelect Democratic senators in Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Nevada – all races where Republican pollsters had put their candidates in the lead.

“If you look at a lot of these very close races where Democrats were able to eke out a win, a lot of it was because of Gen. Z and millennials: Here’s the thing — half of us are not even old enough to vote yet, and the youngest Gen. Z-ers are 13 right now,” U.S. Rep. Maxwell Alejandro Frost, 26, our first Gen. Z congressman, said in an interview after the election.

The Wisconsin election was even more striking.  “In Dane County [Madison] more votes cast than more populous Milwaukee County,” said conservative commentator Bill Kristol. Sure enough, 240,376 people voted in Dane County, home to the University of Wisconsin, compared to 233,588 in Milwaukee County. Dane County voted 82 percent for Protasiewicz.

Recent returns have led David Hogg, a fierce critic of Florida’s Republican rulers, to predict: “The Gen. Z is going to obliterate the GOP in 2024.” 

But not so fast. Similar predictions have been made before. In his 1970 bestseller The Greening of America, law professor Charles Reich predicted youth would lead a  “revolution of the new generation” that would lead to a kinder, gentler America. A decade later, however, Ronald Reagan was elected President. The religious right gained influence. Conservative Supreme Court justices were named and began to curtail liberal rulings of the 1960s. The Republican Party became, for a time, the party of youth and vigor.

Today, 52 years after 18-year-olds were given the vote, we have a President, Senate Republican leader, and recent House Speaker all in their 80s.  Sen. Charles Grassley, 88, first elected in 1980, recently won a new term.  Sen. Diane Feinstein is 89, oldest-ever senator from California, and has outlived two husbands. Ex-President Donald Trump, 74, is seeking a return to the White House.

But the Trump presidency, plus a polarized and paralyzed political system, may start to produce results predicted a half-century ago. In words of ex-Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele: “Gen. Z is already bringing an entirely different game . . . the political class in both parties have no clue what to do with them.”

A trio of issues have resonated among young voters – abortion, gun safety, and climate change.  All have contributed to a sense of urgency.  The best demonstration of this urgency, lately, is in Tennessee. After the Nashville school shootings, thousands of young people converged on the state capitol. A Republican-run legislature refused to take up any gun legislation. Two young African American legislators were expelled for “violating decorum” by joining a house floor protest. Students staged a “die-in” in a capital corridor.

The Republicans seem particularly tone deaf. Legislators in Florida are taking up a bill, backed by Gov. DeSantis, that would make abortion illegal after six weeks.  North Carolina legislators are in the process of loosening gun laws. Idaho has just enacted an “Abortion Trafficking” law making it illegal to transport a pregnant minor across state lines to end a pregnancy, without parental consent, or within Idaho to obtain an abortion pill.

The GOP in Pennsylvania last year nominated a fierce abortion opponent and election denier, State Sen. Doug Mastriano, for governor. He was pitted against Attorney General Josh Shapiro, a defender of abortion rights and partner of Washington AG Bob Ferguson in lawsuits that blocked Trump Administration efforts to roll back environmental and consumer laws.

Shapiro won in a landslide, carrying the 18-29 vote by 44 points over Mastriano.  Daughter Sophia Shapiro recently reflected on the result: “The first thing he said on election night when we heard the results, he turned to me and said, ‘Gen. Z showed up.’” The Democrats also flipped a Senate seat in the Keystone State with John Fetterman’s victory.

One reaction in red states has been to make it more difficult to vote.  Texas requires “acceptable forms of photo ID.” Lone Star Republican lawmakers have deemed a driver’s license or military identification card as acceptable.  Not acceptable — student identification cards. Nor can a student ID be used to register in Ohio, South Carolina, and Tennessee. Similar legislation in Montana was recently overturned in court, with challengers represented by Seattle’s Perkins Coie law firm.

“The fascist right wing understands that time is not on their side because this generation is the most progressive in the history of our country,” Frost said recently.  He is former executive director of March for Our Lives, a gun-control campaign born out of the 2018 Parkland shootings in which 17 young people were killed.

A half-century ago, in this region, young reformers came from both parties. A GOP challenger in his 30s, Chris Bayley, took out longtime King County Prosecutor Charles O. Carroll.  A trio of young Republicans — Bruce Chapman, John Miller, and Tim Hill – were instrumental in reforming what had been a musty, crusty Seattle City Council.  Young adults of both parties were the nucleus of Choose an Effective City Council (CHECC). The “Seattle 10,” reformers elected to the Legislature in 1970, were a bipartisan bunch.

Of course, that was long ago. The Republican Party now is getting older while recent trends, starting with Obama’s election in 2008, show younger voters trending left and voting for progressives. The Democratic Party’s leadership is being pushed, witness recent turnover by its aging leadership in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Will Joe Biden be pressured to stand aside? Probably not. Even so, the millennials and Gen. Z are impatient. Their message: Move on over or we’ll move on over you.  

Joel Connelly
Joel Connelly
I worked for Seattle Post-Intelligencer from 1973 until it ceased print publication in 2009, and SeattlePI.com from 2009 to 6/30/2020. During that time, I wrote about 9 presidential races, 11 Canadian and British Columbia elections‎, four doomed WPPSS nuclear plants, six Washington wilderness battles, creation of two national Monuments (Hanford Reach and San Juan Islands), a 104 million acre Alaska Lands Act, plus the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area.


  1. “A half-century ago, in this region, young reformers came from both parties.”

    Now no reformers are emerging, even though reforms are needed. Seattle’s civic stasis has left it vulnerable, as the economic and social degradations we are experiencing demonstrate.

  2. The ongoing and increasingly energized efforts to suppress the youth vote is testament to how much entrenched Republicans fear the power of younger voters. In some states they used gerrymandering to split campuses. Others have imposed multiple hurdles for students who come from out of state to register where they go to school. And there are the draconian voter ID rules you cited. Faced with these efforts, it often is the activist young voters who are leading the fight to upend voter suppression. But I remain dubious about whether the momentum will continue. Remember the heyday of Rock the Vote? It never really lived up to its expectations. Of course, those you activists are now almost middle aged. More great info on the youth vote at CIRCLE https://circle.tufts.edu/

  3. Another superb analysis by Joel .

    On the matter of “indoctrination” as former Gov. Warner said, his expression is one more hard evidence that the Republicans don’t get it. They are apparently incapable of understanding the world they live in. This is more than denial.

    American republican democracy, always a work in progress, is anchored in ideas. That voters’ concern about the health offer democracy post-January 6 insurrection is one piece of evidence. But for younger voters, as Joel describes, they motivated by ideas about issues of equity and social justice. They will fight for, that is vote, to ensure a woman’s right to choose. They will vote for policies that effectively address climate change. They will, one expects, work to control the dehumanizing effects of technology, by agitating to employ technologies that advance equity and social justice.

    These ideas, these values the Scott Walker types see as arising from indoctrination. That’s because they don’t get it. Worse, they don’t intend to get it.

    Sam Sperry

  4. The Republicans don’t get it, but neither do half of the Democrats. The youth vote has ALWAYS trended progressive, but Democratic leadership has been reluctant to go with progressive candidates for fear of losing the older, more conservative voters.

    But the older demographic is not expanding, while the youth group is. The percentage of young people who don’t vote far exceeds the number of older voters who do. And the reason young people don’t vote is because the conservative candidates that Democratic leadership keeps backing are not that different from Republicans. Biden only won because of Trump. Biden has never been a progressive, we all knew that when we voted for him. We knew we would have to drag him kicking and screaming to do anything remotely progressive.

    Even here in supposedly-progressive Washington, the only member of our Congressional delegation who is in the Progressive Caucus is Pramila Jayapal. And this is a state that in the 2016 Primary went for Bernie Sanders by 3 to 1 over Hillary Clinton.

    The Republican Party will continue to put forward crazies that alienate any sane voter. This is the time for the Democratic Party to put forward some actual progressive candidates that will bring out the youth vote in large numbers.

    • You might want to get some facts straight. Bernie Sanders, in 2016, won the Democratic CAUCUS, but fewer than 250,000 votes were cast statewide. That was a lower turnout than Barack Obama v Hillary Clinton in the 2008 Caucus. That said, Hillary defeated Bernie in the 2016 Primary, 420,461 out of 802,754 ballots cast. Fortunately, 2016 was the last of the highly undemocratic Caucus system.

      Biden did not have be to “drag(ged) kicking and screaming to do anything remotely progressive”. He pretty much went with most of Bernie’s agenda right out of gate, going even farther than Bernie when it came to actually naming Black women to prominent posts.

      The Democratic Party, especially here in King County, has endorsed numerous “crazies” over sane candidates, including the disastrous Nicole Thomas Kennedy for City Attorney and Lorena Gonzalez for Seattle Mayor, and, in some districts, backing non-Democrats like Nikkita Oliver (People’s Party) and Kshama Sawant (Socialist Alternative) over actual Democratic Party members. They’ve also elected plenty of very-beyond Progressive Left candidates to the Legislature in recent years.

      • And now Biden wants to open up the Arctic to oil drilling.

        Yes, I was very impressed with his first couple of years. He knew who got him elected. I think that’s all we’re going to get out of him. I admit I could be wrong. We’ll see.

        You’re right, that was the caucus. That stands out in my mind because I was running one location with 17 Precincts. We set records for attendance but no effort was made to recruit new people from all of that. In fact, the State Party actually tried to suppress that. We missed a golden opportunity to build up the grassroots.

        Personally I like the caucus system. People actually have to come out and declare who they are and have a discussion with their neighbors. I think the Founding Fathers would have approved.

        Caucus vs. Primary aside, in the end, only 67% voted. And whenever we ask non-voters why they didn’t vote, the most common answer is that there’s no difference between the parties. But whenever the turnout is higher, Democrats win. That should tell you something.

        When I’m talking about running progressive candidates, I’m talking about people more like AOC. Look at her policy positions. I agree with every one of them. And I challenge any Dem to tell me what’s wrong with any of them. We need to go on offense and take the GOP on, not run candidates that are GOP-Lite.

        You talk about Oliver and Sawant, and then tell me “plenty of very-beyond Progressive Left” candidates have been elected to the Legislature? Like who? I don’t see any. We’ve got some reasonably progressive people there, but none that I would consider “very-beyond Progressive Left.”

        • One example of the type of Ocasio-Cortez politics we can’t afford: calling for elimination of US Customs and Immigration Enforcement, without explaining how we would replace it.

          It’s typical “defund” / “abolish” rhetoric, where it probably doesn’t really mean we’d do without – but for the opposition it means just what it says, and the absence of clarity plays into their hands. Few voters want an open border, and it’s easy for the opposition to paint Ocasio-Cortez’s (and Jayapal’s) policy stands as exactly that. It’s super divisive, to the extent you have to wonder if it’s on purpose.

          The US is walking an increasingly tricky path where a few more serious missteps could push it down the slope to serious collapse, paralyzed by mutual mistrust between political factions.

          We can easily point fingers at the GOP, but think about what they stand for … anything? Not really. They sure aren’t real conservatives. If you classified them as “against Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and everything she stands for”, how accurate would that be – pretty close, wouldn’t it? And that reels them in, thanks to her irresponsible rhetoric. Can’t afford it.

  5. At least some Republicans are acknowledging they have a problem with young voters. Kellyanne Conway in a TV interview said Republicans “cannot wait for the young to turn old and the single to get married to find new voters…we’ve got some work to do on the young people who think differently on abortion, perhaps, or guns, or climate change…The thing I’m really concerned about with this…is that the left becomes a turnout machine with young people.” https://www.thedailybeast.com/kellyanne-conway-is-worried-about-young-people-turning-on-gop?via=newsletter&source=CSAMedition&utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=230411-Cheat%20Sheet%20AM&utm_term=B%20List%20New%20Cheat%20Sheet%20AM


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