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Politics and Millennials: Will They Vote?

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Come Election Day 2016, the country will elect a new president after an endless round of campaigning and debates. How will our adult children influence the selection of the new POTUS?

A quick bit of political history: Millennials were a key factor in the election of Barack Obama. In 2008, Obama won 66 percent of the youth vote and in 2012, 60 percent of those younger than 30. The millennials were critical in helping him win the electoral vote in the battleground states of Florida, Ohio, Virginia and Pennsylvania. Although Obama lost a majority of voters 30 and older in those states, he carried the deciding electoral vote there because of his significant win with younger voters.

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For the 2016 election, millennials may prove even more important because they represent about 36 percent of eligible voters. That’s if they vote. Of course, the question remains about whom they will vote for and what issues are most significant to them. Even if they don’t vote in record numbers, the younger generation will exert an influence through fundraising, political organizing and volunteering.

Several opinion polls have surveyed young adults to gauge how they feel about political issues. The latest Harvard Public Opinion Project, the largest poll of young people in America, found:

  • Millennials are becoming more conservative: 37 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds align with liberals and 35 percent with conservatives.
  • The majority favor a Democrat over a Republican: 55 percent want a Democratic president in 2016 and 40 percent a Republican president.
  • Almost 80 percent are not politically engaged or active.
  • A majority believe that their vote will not “make a difference.”

At Tufts University, the Center for Information and Research on Civic Engagement (CIRCLE) also does polling. We chatted recently with Peter Levine, a professor of citizenship and public affairs and director of CIRCLE. The key takeaways:

Millennials are not a single-interest group. Levine notes that this generation is very diverse in terms of economics, education, social and cultural issues. So one size does not fit all in political campaign appeals. “The economic circumstances are more unequal and more divergent than we’ve seen in 100 years,” Levine said. “This is a group where some people are getting engineering degrees from MIT and some people are homeless. There’s not a uniform millennial position on any issue.”

For example, an issue such as student loan repayments doesn’t resonate across the board. “One group has no concern about college loans because they are not going near college and their core interests are in day-care costs and minimum wages,” he said. “A whole other group does care about college loans, but yet another group doesn’t because they go to community colleges.”

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The independent label is misleading. While about half of millennials declare themselves independents, many do have a political preference. “They don’t like the idea of a party label because it sounds yucky to be part of an organization like that. And organizations don’t inspire them. They like to think they made up their own minds,” Levine says. “They are less of a swing vote than might be assumed. Millennials are more partisan than the independent label suggests.”

Millennials can be persuaded to care about politics. The way to get our adult children to vote is to start a family conversation about government and politics well in advance of the elections. “Inside-the-family conversations about politics are very, very valuable,” Levine said. “One of the things that raises political involvement is to actually talk about elections and politics with our sons and daughters and grandchildren. Ideally, we want to transmit interest but not indoctrination.”

Mary W. Quigley’s blog, Mothering21, tackles parenting of emerging adults and beyond.

Photo: Rawpixel/iStock

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