Democrats Have a Class Gap. Republicans Have a Generation Gap.


What are the big fault lines within the Democratic and Republican parties? According to a recent Pew report, Democrats have a class gap: Democratic elites are far more liberal than less educated members of the party. But there’s not much of a generation gap: old and young voters are pretty similar ideologically.

Among Republicans, it’s just the opposite. They have a huge generation gap, with older voters skewing much more conservative than younger voters. But there’s no class gap: their elites are in pretty close sync with the party base. The raw data is here, and the chart below shows the magnitude of the difference:

This is interesting, since the most talked-about aspect of the Democratic primary was the astonishingly strong preference of young voters for Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton. But why did they prefer Bernie? The obvious answer is that they’re more liberal than older Democrats and therefore preferred his more radical vision—but the Pew data says that’s not the case.

So what is the answer? The age gap could still explain a bit of it, since young Democrats are a little more liberal than older Democrats. And the class gap could also explain a bit of it, since Bernie voters tend to be both young and well educated. But even put together, this doesn’t seem like enough.

Obviously there was something about Bernie that generated huge enthusiasm among younger voters. But if it wasn’t ideology, what was it?