Roosevelt Institute | Cornell University

The Millennials

By Delphi CleavelandPublished October 22, 2015

As the 2016 Presidential Election looms on the horizon, candidates are desperate to decipher how to motivate one of the most complex electorates in United States history.

By Delphi Cleaveland 10/22/2015
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           In just over a year, the 2016 Presidential Election will be held in the United States. On the Republican side debates have begun, and the Democrats are soon to follow suit in October. The public's opinions are being influenced and accounted for through polls, taken on a nearly daily basis. As approval ratings continue to fluctuate, candidates grow ever more desperate to rein in as much of their constituency as they can. Spotlight on the Millennials please!
Ranging in age now from 18 to 33, the Millennial Generation refers to the demographic born between mid-1980s and the early 2000s. In the 2016 Presidential Election they will comprise 36% of the eligible voting pool and are thus not only the largest voting-eligible conglomerate, but also the most desirable from a campaign perspective.

            The catch is that the Millennial Generation is politically oxymoronic, particularly when viewed through the lens of our bipartisan governing system. They strongly favor social liberalism but simultaneously support big business and tax cuts. During both the 2008 and 2012 election cycles the cohort voted overwhelmingly Democrat, playing a pivotal role in major swing states such as Ohio and Florida. Recent statistics reflect, however, that roughly 50% of the population actually identifies themselves as politically independent, leaving politicians and campaign managers at a loss for what to do.
Unlike earlier generations, the Millennials are the most racially diverse, economically stressed, and unreligious cohort in United States History. 43% of Millennials are non-white and three-in-ten say they do not affiliate themselves with any religion. They are also much less likely to get married when compared with previous generations. They are the best-educated generation, but also the most indebted. Politically speaking, they are all over the place.

            A further facet of fear for campaigns and candidates is the technological savvy Millennials bring with them. More than any generation before them, Millennials have the power to broadcast their opinions, reactions, and ideals to thousands of followers with the click of a button. In short, they have power over publicity. This fact is one that politicians both fear and admire; yet it ultimately leaves them even more clueless as to how they can connect and influence the cohort. Millennials appear to remain relatively uninterested to even the most twitter-savvy politicians. Speaking to this, Alexandra Smith, Chair of the College Republican Office introduces campaigns that her committee produced in attempts to reach this seemingly impartial constituency. She argues that campaign videos in which the "candidate [speaks] direct to camera, the dark scary political adds —young candidates are just not listening to them anymore." Instead her campaign parodies well-known television series such as "Say Yes to the Dress" in hopes of generating voter support.

            The most recent polls gauging the Millennials present further contradictions. Hillary Clinton, who has seemingly made it a mission of hers to generate support from the Millennials, has done so by targeting areas such as global, environmental, and social issues, and by taking into account the concerns of big-government programs. Contradictory to her success however, a recent study done by the Harvard Institute of Politics found that in contrast to 2014, 51% of Millennial voters surveyed preferred a Republican-run Congress. Further, of those interviewed, Republican-voters displayed higher enthusiasm in casting their vote, with 38% saying they were ‘definitely voting.'

            The key to unlocking the support of the highly diverse Millennial Generation remains intangible and as the election cycle picks up momentum candidates are growing desperate. Which aspect of politics can entice support, what issues will lose them? The coming election cycle brings with it immense change for the United States, but the power to influence that change starts with the people. As the largest and most diverse generation in United States History, it is imperative that Millennials put out their vote.