Rise of the younger voter: Millennials’ growing power
New research shows that for the first time, younger voters outvoted their elders in 2016.
According to the latest data from the Pew Research Center, millennials and those in Generation X — voters in the 18-35 and 36-51 age ranges — edged out baby boomers and members of the so-called silent and greatest generations in the November 2016 election. The difference was slight — fewer than 2 million votes — but it was a marked difference from previous elections.
Part of that shift is for an obvious reason: older generations are dying off. But exactly how younger voters choose candidates and which candidates they’ll vote for in the future, especially in November 2018, is a question worth exploring.
The good news? Polls before and after the presidential election show that younger voters lean toward Democrats and away from Donald Trump, who earned only 36 percent of millennials’ votes. Millennials say they prefer Democratic candidates in 2018 by 30 percentage points, one of the reasons The Hill reports that the majority in the House of Representatives is now “up for grabs.” (We’re obviously not including in those numbers the kinds of millennials who took part in the Nazi and white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia; they’re not on the Blue team.)
Millennials are also running for office in YUGE numbers. More than 60 percent of those running for office who received Kickstarter funding from the website Crowdpac are millennials,
The bad news? When it comes to midterm elections, young voter dropoff has historically been significant compared with their elders. For example, voters 18-29 made up 13 percent of the electorate in 2014, compared with 19 percent in 2012. “Minorities and Millennials, the groups most alienated from Trump, are traditionally the constituencies least likely to vote in midterm elections,” says a story from The Atlantic.
Polls consistently show voters favoring Democrats in upcoming midterm elections, some by as much as 14 percentage points. But it’s crucial that Democratic candidates, their campaigns, and the party infrastructure make sure that young voters get to the polls in 15 months.
According to the Pew analysis of Census Bureau data, millennials and Generation Xers cast 69.6 million votes in the 2016 general election, compared with 67.9 votes of older voters. A big reason for the age-vote shift is the sheer number of millennials — their 34 million votes in 2016 show a steep rise from the 23 million votes they cast in 2008, even though the percentage (49 percent) in 2016 was lower than the 51 percent of millennials who voted in 2008. All of this should be good news for the Blue team.
The ascendance of the Millennial vote is noteworthy because Millennials are more likely to be self-described independents, but they also are more Democratic than older generations in their political preferences. Among Millennials, 44% were independents in 2016, compared with 39% of Gen Xers and smaller shares of Boomers (31%) and members of the Silent Generation (23%). At the same time, Millennials lean to the Democratic Party to a much greater degree than other generations. In 2016, 55% of all Millennials identified as Democrats or Democratic-leaning independents, while just 33% identified as Republicans or GOP-leaning independents. By comparison, 49% in Generation X, 46% of Boomers and 43% of members in the Silent Generation identified with or leaned Democratic. And on issues such as marijuana legalization and same-sex marriage, Millennials take more liberal positions than those in older generations.
These figures also are a good reminder why immediate voter analysis after an election should be taken with shakers full of salt. What was conventional wisdom about voting immediately after the November 2016 election (left-behind working-class voters! economic anxiety!) has turned out to be only surface analysis. And even the numbers given last November, mostly from exit polling data, have turned out to be incomplete.
The millennial generation is the only voting-age group whose actual numbers and percentage are growing, due to both greater participation and immigration, in which younger naturalized citizens can add to the voter rolls. Pew reports that the baby boomer vote, while still making up the greatest number of voters and the highest engagement of voting, peaked in 2004 with 50.1 million votes — the 2016 total was only 48.1 million. Baby boomer turnout rate remains at 69 percent, but the total number is dropping because of deaths and emigration. Gen-X participation reached a high of 35.7 million votes in 2016, its peak point up until now.
The number of millennials is now equal to the number of baby boomers in the voting-age electorate, according to another Pew analysis. Both groups each make up roughly 31 percent of the U.S. population.
Voting by former immigrants who are now U.S. citizens is a greater factor than many think. On average, naturalized citizens register to vote (71.3 percent) and vote (61.9 percent) at high rates, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures. Younger, new American citizens who are part of the millennial generation will cause that group’s voting numbers to swell, and they’re statistically bound to lean Democratic.
And wherever they were from originally, those naturalized voting citizens will find ballots in a variety of languages:
The federal government has long required election ballots in some U.S. jurisdictions to be printed in languages other than English, based on the number of voting-age citizens who live in those communities and have limited English skills and low education levels. New data from the Census Bureau show that 263 counties, cities and other jurisdictions in 29 states will now be subject to this requirement in future elections, a slight increase from five years ago.
Is it any wonder that Donald Trump and the Republican-led Congress are seeking ways to limit legal immigration along with tamping down access to polls?
Not only are millennials more engaged, they’re also running for office in greater numbers than ever before. The progressive group Run for Something helps candidates under 35 years old, and it has received nearly 9,000 inquiries. It’s early enough in the electoral cycle that the organization is helping the much smaller number of 800 candidates — so far.
There’s no way to add up the number of younger candidates for local and national offices nationwide, but several news sources have noticed an uptick, with a variety of explanations. Bloomberg View columnist Conor Sen suggests that millennial candidates see running for office as a logical career step.
It’s the modern equivalent of starting a tech company in the late 2000s — a play for power, where the odds are most favorable. … In 2008 a young person could envision striking gold with a tech startup. Now that seems implausible, but rising through the political hierarchy seems imaginable. In 2017, conditions are in place for an unprecedented surge in the number of people looking to run for office. …
The same crop of people who were in their late teens and early 20s in the aftermath of the great recession are growing up, and are now old enough to run for office, like [Georgia’s Jon] Ossoff, age 30 — and their cohort could vote for them in the same way young people consumed the products of Zynga and Snapchat. …
A new civic wave might elect only a few dozen out of the hundreds who are running for national office, but a new generation can take comfort in knowing that its values will be the ones being heard in Congress rather than those of the current generation that can’t seem to get anything done.
Whether they’re running for office or just voting, capturing millennials’ loyalty is key in the long run. New York Magazine suggests that the rewards could be worth it.
In the end a vote is a vote, and Democrats can claw back a lot of congressional seats through a combination of relatively small improvements among 2016 Trump voters, 2016 congressional Republican voters, and stay-at-home-prone Democratic millennials and minorities. But figuring out what makes millennials vote in proportionate numbers would be priceless.
More younger voters. More millennials running for office. More progressive values. Let’s hope that’s a winning combination in 2018 and beyond.
Originally posted on Daily Kos on Aug. 13, 2017.