3002492619_295958895a_oMillennials and their younger counterparts are the biggest block of eligible voters. They need to be motivated.   

Rob Callender writes: What if the Democrats had a Party and young people didn’t show up?

After several cycles of higher-than-average youth turnout, many Millennials report feeling distinctly “meh” about Hillary Clinton. With a month to go until the presidential election, what—if anything—can muster Millennials (and their Centennial counterparts aged 19 and under) to stand up and be counted?

This isn’t a question many Democrats expected to address at this point in the cycle. Barack Obama’s two presidential campaigns were buoyed by higher-than-average youth voter participation—a trend that actually began in the 2004 presidential election. And this year, the number of eligible-voter Millennials roughly equals the electoral heft of the long-dominant Baby Boomers. As recently as this spring, headlines heralded the return of the once-rare youth voter. And yet … something has sapped that early energy among young voters.

Speaking truth to power

Could young people—unconstrained by the status quo and unswayed by conventional wisdom—be open to Donald J. Trump’s iconoclastic message? In some respects, Millennials and Centennials seem almost gleeful about the prospect of speaking truth to power, goring sacred cows and shaking up the establishment.


millennials-beliefs-2016Base for both charts: 18-24. Source: 2016 TRU Youth MONITOR

Does this mean we could be looking at an unexpected Trump victory among young voters?

No, probably not. When it comes to the kinds of social issues that inspire strong, gut-level emotional responses, Democrats and young people are in overwhelming agreement. Diversity and inclusion—staples of Democratic stump speeches—are guiding principles for the younger generations that will usher in a minority-majority future in the United States. And on one social issue after another, young people look a lot like the Democratic Party’s base.

millennials-attitudes-US-2016Base: 18-24. Source: 2016 TRU Youth MONITOR

And yet, after falling in love with Bernie Sanders this spring, some young voters are finding it hard to fall in line with Hillary Clinton this autumn. There’s even a non-trivial percentage of young Sanders voters who intend to vote for Trump.

Branding baggage

How can this possibly be? Young Republicans are one thing—a fairly steady minority of the youth population reliably chooses Republican candidates. But Sanders voters siding with Trump? That’s something else entirely.

For many disaffected or disengaged Sanders voters, Clinton suffers from some branding baggage. The perception is that she is familiar but not knowable. Familiarity—though it lacks the flash of the new—can be a good thing. But in Clinton’s case it’s undercut by dark rumors about secrets and scandals. There’s also the perception that she tailors different messages to different audiences—be they Wall Street speeches or private utterings about “deplorables.”

On another front, Clinton doesn’t offer much talk about creative destruction in her stump speeches, which sets her apart from Sanders and Trump. Her promise is to rework and perfect the system she knows so well. But this tinkering toward a more perfect union feels both too familiar and insufficient for modern challenges. Young voters are increasingly accustomed to radical shifts in culture and the marketplace—and those shifts often come from outside the system, not from within it.

Three keys to the White House

Contented or crestfallen, delighted or disenchanted, Millennials nonetheless will be responsible for weighty electoral decisions this year and for decades into the future. What can candidates do to energize and activate the youth vote? Being right on their issues is a necessary first step—but it’s not enough. Here are three keys to the White House, courtesy of Millennials and Centennials:

The image at the top of the post is by jamelah e. on Flickr, and is used here with thanks under a Creative Commons license. Rob Callender is Director of Youth Insights at Kantar Futures.

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