Summer/Fall 2014
LEGISLATOR PERSPECTIVE

Courting Young Voters: The Millennial Generation

By Representative Barbara W. Ballard (KS), NBCSL Immediate Past President is the Immediate Past President of NBCSL and currently serves as President of the NBCSL Foundation. She is the Associate Director at the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas, and the Director of the Youth Civic Leadership Institute (YCLI).  She also teaches in the School of Education and in the Department of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies.
Courting Young Voters: The Millennial Generation

Courting the youth vote has its advantages for candidates, particularly those competing in tight races.  Based on their sheer population size and the growing rate at which they cast their ballots, the 18-29 year old age cohort is a powerful voting bloc. The current 18-29 year old population is referred to as the Millennial Generation or Generation Y, which begins with those born after 1980. By 2004, the 18-29 year old electorate was 20.1 million voters, which rivaled the senior (65 years and older) voter population of 22.3 million.1 In 2008, 18-29 year olds made up one-fifth of the eligible voting population.2  Four years later, 46 million members of Generation Y were eligible to vote in the 2012 elections, consisting of 21 percent of eligible voters.3  By 2015, the Millennials will be one-third of the electorate4 - a voting bloc too large and significant to be ignored.

A common misconception about young voters is that they do not turn up on Election Day, thus campaigns should not divert precious resources from “reliable” voting blocs to court the youth vote.  This is a myth as young voters do cast their ballots and have been the deciding votes in close elections. For instance, in 2006, Joe Courtney won Connecticut’s second district by a mere 83 votes. The turnout at the University of Connecticut’s polling station was ten times more than that.5 They also, arguably, determined the 2012 presidential election in President Obama’s favor by securing four highly contested states and their combined 80 electoral votes.  In the battleground states of Ohio, Florida, Virginia, and Pennsylvania, the 18-29 year olds voted 62 percent, 66 percent, 61 percent, and 63 percent, respectively, for President Obama.6  He also won the 30-44 aged cohort in the four states.

Not only are the Millennials a large population, but since 2000, they have been volunteering at increasingly high rates.7  This is great news for campaigns that are looking for voters and volunteers.  Millennials have strong values and political opinions, linking their volunteerism to social activism.8 If asked, the youth population, like the elderly, will vote. The more campaigns target Millennials, the higher their turnout rate.9 Also, Millennials who are registered to vote cast their ballots at rates nearly on par with older voters.10 In 2008, 84% of the Millennials registered to vote actually voted.11 The true hurdle in courting the youth vote is getting them registered to vote. They need reliable and accurate information about how to register.  Once registered, they vote at high rates12 and they are more likely to vote for the campaign that interacted with them.13 There are third parties who can assist with young voter registration. Organizations such as TurboVote and Rock the Vote are nonprofits that actively engage with eligible but unregistered voters, helping them register to vote, and then mobilizing them during election cycles.  According to Rock the Vote, every day nearly 12,000 American youth turn 18.14 These newly eligible voters are active in their communities and care about the issues; however, they struggle to register.  Nevertheless, once registered, they vote.

About the Millennials

Millennials are the most diverse generation in America’s history.15 Fifty-eight percent of the Millennials identify as non-Hispanic white as compared to 76% of voters 30 and older.16 Millennials identify as 58%as non-Hispanic white, 18% Hispanic, 17% African American, and 7% as mixed-race or other.17 Minorities are predicted to be the majority of America’s population by 2050.18 The Millennials’ diversity “underscores the rapidly changing face of a country in which minorities are playing an increasing role in politics.”19

Compared to the generations of their parents and grandparents, the Millennials are more institutionally independent, more liberal, and less trusting.20  Millennials are less likely to be married, with only 26% married by 32 years old, and less likely to identify as religious or report being affiliated with a religious institution.21 In lieu of religious or physical institutions, Millennials more often form their networks via social media.22 Despite the fact that young people appear to be attached to their phones, calling them—especially with an automated phone call—is  not an effective way of obtaining their vote.23 Canvassing remains a cost-effective method of getting the new voters.24 Interact with them on social media platforms. The key is to establish contact with the Millennials, as research confirms that they “respond cost-effectively when contacted.”25

Many Millennials are in college, and those in college have a higher voter turnout rate.  In the 2012 presidential elections, 66% of college students voted as opposed to only 35% of those who had not attended college.26 Those in college more often express concern about issues, frequently volunteer, and want to vote; however, they are less trusting.27 Less than 2 in 10 Millennials believe most people can be trusted, making them a full 10 points below the previous two generations.28 Millennials want their “political leaders to be positive, address real problems, and to call on all Americans to be constructively involved.”29 This suggests that negative campaigns are less effective in gaining the youth vote.

It is also important to reach out to the youngest of the Millennials who are currently in the eighth grade. Though they cannot yet vote, they are in the unique position of being able to influence the voters in their household.  By involving the non-eligible youth in election-related learning, including activities, discussions, and volunteer opportunities, the likelihood that the eligible voters in their household cast their ballot greatly increases.30 Young voters and soon-to-be voters are easier to reach in immigrant communities than their parents as they are more likely to speak English, which cuts down translation costs, and can more effectively provide campaign messages in their communities.31 Reaching out to the youngest of the Millennials also increases the chance of them participating in the electoral process when they are of age.  When youth learn the voting process and vote, they are more likely to continue voting as they age, because voting is habit-forming.32 The hardest part is getting young voters motivated to participate in the first elections for which they are eligible.  If they have been motivated to get to the polls once, they are more likely to return. Thus, getting the Millennials voting is key to raising a new generation of voters.33 

Dr. Ballard wishes to acknowledge Jennifer Welch, graduate student administrative assistant at the Dole Institute, for her contributions to this article.

Bibliography



  1. “Young Voters: Facts vs. Myths,” Rock the Vote, October 2008, accessed July 14, 2014, http://www.rockthevote.com/assets/publications/electronic-press-kit/young-voter-myths-and-facts.pdf.
  2. Ibid.
  3. “Youth Voting Statistics,” Young Democrats of America, accessed August 12, 2014, http://www.yda.org/resources/youth-vote-statistics/.
  4. Ibid.
  5. “Facts vs. Myths,” Rock the Vote.
  6. “At Least 80 Electoral Votes Depended on Youth,” CIRCLE: The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, 2010, accessed August 12, 2014, http://www.civicyouth.org/at-least-80-electoral-votes-depended-on-youth/.
  7. Meteor Blades, “Will Youth Vote Turnout Rate Top 1972?” Daily Kos, February 11, 2008, accessed August 11, 2014, http://www.dailykos.com/story/2008/02/12/454983/-Will-Youth-Vote-Turnout-Rate-Top-1972.
  8. Young Democrats of America.
  9. Ibid.
  10. “Youth Voting,” CIRCLE: The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, 2010, accessed August 12, 2014, http://www.civicyouth.org/quick-facts/youth-voting/.
  11. Ibid.
  12. “Facts vs. Myths,” Rock the Vote.
  13. “Youth Voting,” CIRCLE.
  14. Rock the Vote, “About Us,” Rock the Vote.com, accessed August 13, 2014, http://www.rockthevote.com/about-us/#team.  
  15. Young Democrats of America.
  16. Ibid.
  17. Ibid.
  18. Pew Research, “Young Voters Supported Obama Less, But May Have Mattered More,” Center for the People & the Press, November 26, 2012, accessed August 12, 2014, http://www.people-press.org/2012/11/26/young-voters-supported-obama-less-but-may-have-mattered-more/.
  19. Ried Wilson, “More Diverse Millennial Generation Rewrites Traditions,” The Washington Post, March 7, 2014, accessed August 13, 2014, http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/govbeat/wp/2014/03/07/more-diverse-millennial-generation-rewrites-traditions/.
  20. Pew Research, “Millennials in Adulthood: Detached from Institutions, Networked with Friends,” Pew Reserach Social & Demographic Trends, March 7, 2014, accessed August 13, 2014, http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2014/03/07/millennials-in-adulthood/.
  21. Wilson.
  22. Ibid.
  23. “Youth Voting,” CIRCLE.
  24. Ibid.
  25. Ibid.
  26. Young Democrats of America.
  27. Blades.
  28. Wilson.
  29. Blades.
  30. “Youth Voting,” CIRCLE.
  31. Ibid.
  32. Ibid.
  33. Ibid.
Representative Barbara W. Ballard (KS)

NBCSL Immediate Past President is the Immediate Past President of NBCSL and currently serves as President of the NBCSL Foundation. She is the Associate Director at the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas, and the Director of the Youth Civic Leadership Institute (YCLI).  She also teaches in the School of Education and in the Department of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies.

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