Millennial Voters: The Swing Factor Next Tuesday

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Democrats need above average voter turnout from Millennials in the US midterm elections next Tuesday to solidify their chances of winning back the House and closing their gap in the Senate. Not only does that cohort largely favor liberal candidates, but they are also nearing Baby Boomers in their share of the American electorate.

In the Presidential election a couple of years ago, Millennials (ages 20-35 then) accounted for 27% of the voting-eligible population compared to 31% for Boomers (ages 52 to 70), 25% for Generation X (36 to 51) and 13% for the Silent Generation (71 and older) according to Pew Research. Given that the Boomer voting-eligible population peaked in 2004 and the Millennial electorate continues to grow, Pew concluded that “it is only a matter of time before Millennials are the largest generation in the electorate”.

That’s good news for Democrats, but there’s a big difference between being eligible to vote and actually voting. In this lies a couple of headwinds: the older someone is, the more likely he or she has been to vote historically (and will therefore do so again), and midterm elections generally have lower voter turnout than presidential elections overall.

That said, the current political climate has induced strong feelings from both sides and a recent biannual Harvard survey of 18 to 29 year olds shows they are “significantly more likely to vote in the upcoming midterm elections compared to 2010 and 2014”. Here were the results from the university’s Kennedy School Institute of Politics survey taken this month:

  • Forty percent of 18-29 year olds said they will “definitely vote” in the midterms, “with 54% of Democrats, 43% of Republicans and 24% of Independents considered likely voters”.
    This figure may seem small, but consider that “since 1986, based on data collected and analyzed by the U.S. Census, the only times that midterm turnout among young Americans surpassed 20% was in 1986 (21%) and 1994 (21%).”
  • Interest in voting has risen for Democrats and Republicans since April, but stayed the same for Independents: “As young Republicans have become more engaged, the preference among likely voters for Democrats to control Congress has decreased from a 41-point advantage in the IOP April 2018 poll to a 34-point lead today (66%-32%).”
  • Most (59%) likely voters “say that they will have more fear if the Republicans maintain control of the House after the midterms”. Most young Americans (59%) and likely voters (65%) are also “more fearful than hopeful about the future of America”.
  • Fifty-nine percent say they “will never” vote for President Trump in 2020, and his job approval rating among 18-29 year olds is just 26%. For reference, President Trump’s overall approval rating is currently 40% according to Gallup.
  • Fewer than half of young Americans (43%) support capitalism, while 31% support socialism and 39% support democratic socialism. When “only likely voters are polled, we find slightly more support for democratic socialism (53%) than capitalism (48%)”.
  • The survey also found majority support for issues including: “a federal jobs guarantee that would provide funding so that every American would be guaranteed a job paying at least $15 an hour”, “eliminating tuition and fees at public four-year colleges and universities for students from families that make up to $125,000 per year and making community college tuition-free for all income levels”, and “single Payer Health Care (also referred Medicare for all) where the federal government would cover all the health care expenses of individuals”.

Overall, Millennial interest in the midterms is historically high and most young likely voters want Democrats to win back Congress. Republicans have been gaining steam, however, as younger voter engagement for the GOP has grown more than Democrats’ since April, and a preference for a Democratic controlled Congress narrowed slightly since the Spring consequently.

Only Tuesday will show if any of this sentiment translates to votes for either party, but a couple of Google Trends searches highlight some notable points. Google queries for “How to vote” are currently on par with the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections (although half what it was for 2016) and more than double the levels for prior midterm elections. Given that younger voters are least familiar with the process, we assume most of those searches derive from them. Same for “register to vote” queries, which while not on the same level as prior presidential elections are more than triple this search for the previous three midterms.

We’ll report actual young voter results after the midterms. A strong showing on Tuesday likely means an even higher turnout in 2020.