Writing Samples

  • Kandis Mascall

Thesis: Why Do Millennials Vote in Fewer Numbers Compared to Other Generations?

Abstract

Millennials are now America’s largest living generation, with the youngest being born in 1997, Recently, Millennials have surpassed Baby Boomers in population size. They are also one of the largest voting demographics in the country. However, more than half of Millennials do not participate in the democratic process of voting. This study is trying to figure why Millennials vote in fewer numbers, compared to Baby Boomers, Generation X, and the Silent Generation. The approach that will be used will be mixed methods. The results will show that Millennials are more occupied with other things in their daily lives, and only are concerned with voting during major elections. Some do not take elections as seriously as others, especially with social media playing factor. The conclusion is expected to be that Millennials vote in fewer numbers because they believe that politics is irrelevant to their daily lives.

Keywords: Millennials, voting, elections, Baby Boomers, Generation X

Why Do Millennials Vote in Fewer Numbers Compared to Other Generations?

The bulk of Millennials are now reaching adulthood, and with adulthood comes a number of responsibilities and new experiences. Some of these experiences include political activities. Marching, protesting, voting, and rallies are all a part of the political experience, but for Millennials some activities aren’t as appealing. Voter turnout is already low in America. In the past ten years, the turnout for a general presidential election has never risen above 65% according to a U.S. census. However, Millennial voter turnout is less than Baby Boomers and Generation X. Many have speculated on the cause for this phenomenon, partly because Millennials have surpassed Baby Boomers as the largest demographic in the United States. However, it may just be voting that Millennials have chosen to do in fewer numbers. According to the American National Election Study and the World Value’s Survey, more people are trying to influence others on how to vote and protest activity, such as political consumerism, has increased in the past 30 years. So as voter turnout decreases, especially at the local level, other means of political expression have begun to increase. However, this may not be a phenomenon that only affects millennials. Studies show that when Baby Boomers were the youngest generation, they too voted in fewer numbers compared to the Silent Generation and the GI Generation. So maybe it is a young person thing, but certain events can also contribute to who will engage in political activities. For example, young people were very politically active during the 1960s when the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement were important topics. Many college age citizens participated in protests, sit-ins, marches, and things of that nature. Activism began to decline in the late 80s however, but this was due to low voter turnout which was seen in the youth at the time. It may seem like Millennials or “kids these days” just don’t care to vote, but in reality, they are behaving no differently than their predecessors. This study is going to include extensive research into the Millennial demographic and how they participate in politics as well as party identification. There will also be examination on the voting gap between the young and the old and how Millennials feel about their future and how they

tend to lean on various political issues.

Review of Literature

Civic Obligation or Personal Choice

Millennial voting rates have not surpassed 50%. This is even true for 2008, when a surprising amount of people came out to vote. Registration plays the most important factor in voter turnout rates. It is not likely that a person who is not registered will be able to vote, just like it is not a guarantee that someone who is registered will actually vote. A lot of factors can determine whether one will register to vote or not. Jobs or occupations with unusual hours, certain responsibilities, and relocation can affect whether a person will register to vote. Because of these factors, it is more likely for a younger American to not be registered compared to a more mature American. The Harvard Institute for Politics (IOP) reported that only two out of ten American millennials considered themselves to be engaged in politics or politically active and only 41% of millennials were certain that they were going to vote in the 2016 election.

Caroline Beaton (2016) speculated that when it comes to being politically active, most view this as being a choice compared to a civic obligation. In earlier years, people believed that it was their duty as American citizens to vote. But if one were to ask a millennial if they were politically active, they would probably answer based on their personal beliefs. Politics has become a preference, and some people have chosen to simply ignore it by not voting.

Beaton is a millennial and therefore has the authority to speak on what can motivate a young person to be politically active. To attest to the phenomenon of the low voter turnout in millennials, Beaton, herself, had not yet cast a ballot when she had reached the age of the 25. She particularly focuses her research on the psychology of the Millennial generation.

Her article speaks to how people have changed their view on politics, and this is important when establishing that there is a reason that voter turnout is low in the millennial generation. It is not just something that happens without contributing factors. The article uses respected polls like the Harvard IOP and the U.S. Census Bureau to gather data to help formulate the theory that political participation is a matter of personal choice more than civic duty, but it begs the question: Is anything considered a civic duty in today’s American society?

Young Millennials v. Young Baby Boomers v. Young Generation X

Russel Dalton (2016) aimed to find out why millennials were voting in fewer numbers compared to other generations. He examined the historical data from the U.S. Department of Commerce compiled by Thom File in his analysis of presidential elections from 1964-2012 as it pertains to young-adult voting. The data came from select November Current Population Survey (CPS) Voting and Registration Supplements. From this data came two sections that had to do with different conditions for determining voter eligibility. The first section had to do with people who were the appropriate voting age, regardless if they were eligible to vote. The second section had to do with the population that has citizenship and was a more accurate representation of voter trends in American history. The analysis reported that the number of citizens eligible to vote had increased since 1996.

Russel Dalton also pointed out how millennials are characterized as being narcissistic and self-serving, but this is not something only distinct to millennials. In his article, Dalton stated that, “The young people of the ‘roaring twenties’ were accused of being selfish and entitled. The baby boomers were once called the ‘me generation’.” After studying surveys from the General Social Survey and questions from Sidney Verba et al.’s, he concluded that people were more likely to contact their local politicians, participate in civic volunteer opportunities, and conduct demonstrations than they were to vote in local elections.

After looking at the data, Dalton compared the generations over a period of time. He found that millennials displayed the same level of political interest as the baby boomers did when they were youngsters. But he also found that younger people and older people perform differently politically in 2014 than they did in the 60s or 80s. In other words, the young and the old are more polarized and the participation gap across life cycles is getting larger. The more a person’s career, marriage and children are delayed in life, the more a person’s political involvement will be delayed.

Dalton concluded that millennials behave very similarly to how previous generations behaved when they were considered the youngest generation. UCLA’s 2015 survey of first-year college pupils found that the interest in political and civic engagement has increased since the study began 50 years prior.

Dalton also proposed that politicians had the power to increase voter turnout in young people. He used the voter registration systems in Oregon and California as examples. In those states, they utilized automatic voter registration to make voting easier for young people who are not stationary. Colorado also passed some voting reforms that made it simpler for people to vote on election day by combining drive-through drop-off with mail-in ballots. This reform increased voter turnout. In the end, Dalton concluded that, “Millennials are good democratic citizens- at least as much as their elders were in their youth.”

Dalton’s research does invoke a different perspective to the research topic. Instead of thinking that Millennials don’t vote, it ponders the theory that young people in general choose not to vote, regardless of whatever generation they come from. In a way, this seems to undermine that the low voter turnout amongst millennials isn’t a cause for speculation since they are not behaving in an unusual way when it comes to political activity.

Millennials and Political Parties

In her report, Dr. Michelle Diggles (2014) talks about how millennials perceive politics compared to their parents and grandparents. She notes that millennials are refusing to choose between democrat or republican, and prefer to refer to themselves as independents. Diggles states, “The seemingly infinite range of choices in the marketplace has annihilated the perception that they (millennials) must choose between a handful of set options and accept them wholesale. And their distinct experiences have resulted in political attitudes that don’t map neatly onto traditional liberal Democrat or conservative Republican ideologies.”

Through the use of graphs and data provided by the Pew Research Center, Diggles inferred that millennials are finding it hard to identify and align with just one political party. Instead they seem to agree with certain principles each party has to offer. With the eligible voting population of millennials growing, the way they identify with political parties could greatly alter how the democrats and republicans present themselves.

Diggles notes how the availability of information has played an enormous role on shaping the experience of the millennial generation. She uses Kony 2012 as an example of how viral videos can invoke a political response from young people. Millennials now have the ability to make informed decisions with the all the world’s information at their fingertips. Young people also yearn for legitimacy. It is better for a politician to use social media, where he may appear more personable, reach out to younger audiences, compared to a formal interview or press conference. When communication isn’t instant, millennials tend to feel alienated from the conversation according to Diggles.

Millennials are characterized by their ability to customize the products and services they consume. Examples provided in the report include soda, shoes, and how they watch entertainment. They are not loyal to the brands they patronize, so the same could be applied to party affiliations. Therefore, it would make sense for a young person to pick and choose which ideas they like in one party, and whether they would discard the ideas in another party.

This article gives another idea as to why millennials don’t vote, and gives reason as to why their low voter turnout is different than that of their predecessors. Millennials don’t lean right or left, but often somewhere in the middle. Because they cannot truly commit to a republican or a democratic candidate, they choose not to vote altogether or vote independent. This could be the reason why Bernie Sanders was so popular with younger voters. They knew that he didn’t perfectly fit the democratic party, but Sanders knew running as a democrat was the best strategy to get the most votes. Political parties themselves may have to reevaluate their message if they wish to attract millennial voters.

Millennials are Progressive

John Halpin and Karl Agne, who worked for the Center for American Progress, put together a report where they analyzed the responses to 40 questions that equally distributed the different parts of progressive and conservative thought in four areas. These areas included the role of government, social values, economic and domestic policy, and national security and international affairs. The young people that were surveyed were between the ages of 18 and 29. There were 915 interviews that were done by means of land, cell phone, and web panel interviews. The margin of error for the survey was +/-3.2 percent.

The report found that millennials are the most progressive generation in the country. They especially think more progressively when it comes what type of role the government should have. Conservatism is not resonating well with them. The report found that 67% of young Americans expressed agreement with progressive positions posed in each area of the interviews.

The report conducted by Halpin and Agne is well rounded and thorough. It provides insight into what millennials believe the government should or shouldn’t do. Because millennials don’t vote in high rates, one would assume that they don’t have an opinion about the government. But the report shows that this is not true, that they are actually the most progressive generation in America right now. If this so, one may ask why they don’t express their views with the power of their vote?

Millennials in Adulthood

The findings in the report are based primarily on data from Pew Research Center Surveys. The Princeton Survey Research Associates International conducted a telephone survey February 14th through the 23rd in 2014. The sample size was made of 1,821 American adults, and this also included an oversample of young adults that were 18 to 33. Interviews were done on 481 landline telephones and 1,340 interviews were done on cell phones.

Some more analyses were based on two Pew Research Center telephone surveys that were done by Abt SRBI. The surveys were done January 23rd 2014 through February 9th 2014 and February 12th through 26th. Both surveys were done on both cell phones and landline telephones. The long-term trends for the report come from pooled data from surveys done in 1990 through February 2014.

The study found that millennials are relatively uncommitted to organized politics and religion, are connected through social media and the internet, oppressed by debt, not very trusting of people, and are taking their time when it comes to marriage. The research showed that half of millennials identify as political independents and that almost 30% say they are not connected to any religious organization.

When it comes to racial diversity, millennials are more diverse than any other generation. This phenomenon can be explained by the large influx of Asian immigrants who have been entering the U.S. for quite some time. This can explain why the millennial generation is so liberal. Also, the Pew Report stated, “Across a range of political and ideological measures, white Millennials, while less liberal than the non-whites of their generation, are more liberal than the whites in older generations.” The U.S. Census Bureau reports that the full population of the U.S. will be majority non-white sometime in the next 30 years. Currently, almost 50% of American newborns are non-white.

Marriage is also something that can be put on hold. Less than 25% of millennials are married. This is significantly low compared to young Generation X (36%), the young Baby Boomers (48%), and the young Silent Generation (69%). Even though a small number of millennials are married, most say that they would like to get married eventually.

Millennials are also characterized by their economic hardships. They have higher levels of poverty, lower levels of income and wealth, and higher levels of student loan debt than their predecessors had at the same stage of their life cycles according to another Pew Research article about college loan debt. Seventy percent of Americans think that young adults in today’s time are experiencing more economic challenges than their elders did.

In contrast, millennials are the best-educated group of young adults. A third of them have a four-year college degree or higher. Despite the economic hardship, millennials are very optimistic. Most of them believe that they will have enough money to live comfortably sometime in the future, even when they think that social security is going to run out on them.

Gaps in Literature

The Pew Research Report is an excellent source of how millennials think and behave and they experience social norms. It would be better if the report could expand upon why voting seems to be an issue for millennials, but instead they stick to the economy, marriage, and things of that nature. However, it does help to establish an identity for the millennial generation.

Methodology

The methodology that would be used to best answer the question would be mixed methods. The use of qualitative data would be the most important as characterized by the literature used in the report (Dalton, Diggles, and the Pew Research Center).

Research Design: Quantitative

Quantitative data will be used to conduct the research. The quantitative study will seek to find the motivations for why American Millennials do not vote in general elections compared to Baby Boomers and Generation X. The dependent variables will be Millennials, Baby Boomers, Generation X, and sometimes the Silent Generation. And the independent variables will be general election years starting from the 1996 election.

The hypothesis is that Millennials in the United States don't see voting as an effective form of political expression, and therefore do it in smaller numbers compared to Baby Boomers and Generation X. However, Millennials participate in other forms of political expression, like marches and protests, at a higher rate than Generation X and Baby Boomers. The null hypothesis is that the apathy of Millennials when it comes to voting has no effect on their voter turnout rate.

Millennials will be defined as those born between the years 1981 and 1998. Generation X will be defined as those born between 1965 and 1980. Baby Boomers will be defined as those born between 1946 and 1964. Lastly, the Silent Generation will be defined as those above the age of 71. Elections starting from the 1996 and on to the 2016 election will also be variables. The voter turnout will also be studied in these elections, as well as measures of other forms of political expression.

Data Identification

The data in the research comes from The Pew Research. The Pew Research Center states, “Most of the analysis in this report is based on telephone interviews conducted Feb. 14-23, 2014 among a national sample of 1,821 adults, 18 years of age or older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, including an oversample of young adults ages 18 to 33 (481 respondents were interviewed on a landline telephone, and 1,340 were interviewed on a cell phone, including 786 who had no landline telephone).”

The Center for American Progress also contributed data. According to CAP, their data stems from, “About 915 interviews drawn from both the national sample—which included a hybrid methodology of land, cellphone, and web panel interviews—and an oversample conducted online using the exact same survey

instrument.”

Data Analysis

The Microsoft application Excel was used to complete a data analysis.

Findings

Results from the data analysis showed that young people, no matter what generation they come from tend to vote at a lower rate, than the other older generations. This led to the inference that Millennials are following a trend. Young people tend to be more socially active and are more likely to protest or express some other forms of political expression. Of course, there are some, exceptions, like the 2008 election where turnout was relatively high. But the prospects of the first black president played a huge role in that election. The voter turnout from the 2012 election began to model the trend.

Big movements like the Million Man March, the Civil Rights Movement, the Women’s March, the Vietnam War protests, and even the protests of President Donald Trump and his immigration ban seemed to have had a bigger impact on policy, rather than just going to the polls. These forms of political expression are also more exciting and appealing, especially with intense media coverage and criticism. This makes protests appealing to all young people no matter what generation they come from.

Conclusion

The hypothesis that Millennials in the United States don't see voting as an effective form of political expression, and therefore do it in smaller numbers compared to Baby Boomers and Generation X will be accepted, and the null hypothesis that the apathy of Millennials when it comes to voting has no effect on their voter turnout rate will be rejected. The notion that all young people, regardless of what generation they come from, view voting as an ineffective way of political expression will also be accepted.

References

Beaton, Caroline. "The Science Behind Why Millennials Don't Vote." Forbes (2016). Print.

Blake, Aaron. "More young people voted for Bernie Sanders than Trump and Clinton combined — by a lot." The Washington Post (2016): 1-3. Print.

Dahlgren, Peter. Young Citizens and New Media: Learning for Democratic Participation. New York: Routledge, 2007. Print.

Dalton, Russel. "Why don’t millennials vote?" The Washington Post (2016): 1. Print.

Diggles, Michelle. Millennials: Political Explorers. 20 March 2014. Print. 3 February 2017.

Halpin, John and Karl Agne. "The Political Ideology of the Millennial Generation." 2009. Print.

Mather, Stephanie. Millennials and Voting. Honors College Thesis. Corvallis: Oregon State University, 2009. Print.

Taylor, Paul. Millennials in Adulthood. District of Columbia: Pew Research Center, 2014. Print.

Taylor, Paul. Young People and Political Engagement. District of Columbia: Pew Research Center, 2014. Print.

Youth Engagement Falls; Registration Also Declines. District of Columbia: Pew Research Center, 2012. Print.