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Analysis
Millennial rallying cry

Millennial rallying cry

In November poll, young voters can be king-makers 

by Sam Fossum in London

Thu 11 Aug 2016

The Millennial vote can massively influence the US presidential election. Members of the Millennial generation such as myself – Americans born in 1981-98 – have drawn more or less level in numbers with the 1946-64 Baby Boomers, who up to now have formed the clear majority of the US electorate.

Young Americans may be the king-makers. There’s only one thing we need to do: go out and vote.

Millennials are the most diverse US demographic group – 57% white, 21% Hispanic, 13% black and 6% Asian. An overwhelming majority view themselves as socially liberal, regardless of whether they are Democrat or Republican.

Millennial electoral strength is impressive: 69.2m voters, nearly one-third of the US electorate, up from 40m in 2008 and 50m in 2012. However, young people’s turnout in November is likely to be low, reflecting institutional and structural voting barriers, as well as two relatively unpopular candidates. Neither Hillary Clinton (seen as dishonest and untrustworthy) nor Donald Trump (negative and divisive) appeals much to young people. There was much Millennial enthusiasm for Bernie Sanders, underscoring our political clout; a large chunk of his supporters say they won’t vote for Clinton.

Aversion to Trump appears still greater. In a three-way race including Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson, Millennials’ support for Clinton outweighs that for Trump by 22 percentage points, according to an IOP Harvard poll last month.

We have to admit it: Millennials punch well below our electoral weight. The highest turnout to date was in the 2008 election, when Barack Obama’s inclusive message mobilised 50% of eligible Millennials – even though the figure was still nearly 20% lower than the Baby Boomer turnout.

Politicians find it easier to win over older generations. Millennials are more difficult to access via traditional get-out-the-vote methods: a self-perpetuating cycle that fosters disillusionment and alienation. We are less likely than older people to own landlines, have a fixed address, a voting record or a tolerance for television advertising – characteristics that also impede pollsters’ attempts to read Millennials’ voting intentions.

Young Americans are just as likely as previous generations to volunteer and take part in other forms of political activity, but many of us distrust formal political institutions – a feeling reflected in many Millennials’ struggles to find gainful employment following the 2008 financial crisis.

There’s no reason for the Millennials to give up the fight – but we need help. To reengage a generation distrustful of politicians, the states must reform their voter registration and identity laws to make voting easier for our more mobile generation. State legislatures should follow Colorado’s 2013 reforms, including lengthening periods for early voting, expanding voter registration through to election day, and allowing people to vote in any precinct within their county. Another crucial piece of electoral infrastructure is online voter registration, still unavailable in 20 states.

We constantly must remind politicians that their campaigns have to attract younger Americans. And the older cohort of our generation needs encouragement and support in running for office to show that we are not shy about standing up and being counted.

According to the Harvard poll, Millennial voters care most about economic growth, uniting the nation and reducing inequality. Economic concerns outweigh all else.

Millennials crave change for a system that we view as unfair and dysfunctional. About 80% of us want significant reform in Washington. Yet without our engagement, we will not get the new beginning we desire.

Breaking the cycle of low Millennial turnout is vital for the future of American politics. 2016 may go down as the year of the Millennials; it’s no exaggeration to say the world is watching.

Sam Fossum, an American born in Anchorage, who has been working for OMFIF in London, is returning to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, where he will also be carrying out some OMFIF duties. He intends to vote on 8 November. This forms part of OMFIF’s series of commentaries on the US presidential election on 8 November.

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