Why you should care
Because millennials could be a deciding factor this election.
Rashi Narayan stood outside one of the presidential debates wearing a dinosaur costume, admonishing her classmates to vote for Hillary. Matt Heiken, dressed in an American flag tank top and matching trunks, announced his support for Trump with a “Make America Great Again” hat. Despite what many political commentaries and older, er, dinosaurs have argued, these millennials care about next month’s election — and many are posting, tweeting and Instagramming their political views, often for the first time.
Yes, we millennials get a bad rap for not caring enough to vote, especially now that we match boomers as the biggest slice of the electorate, according to the Pew Research Center. But pundits have us pegged wrong. We are talking to our friends about the campaigns and duking it out over the policies we care about most. We just do politics differently than our elders. Forget phone banks; we don’t make phone calls. Mail-in registration? Please. We don’t use mail.
Yet many millennial-run businesses are catering to their fellow youth and helping them fulfill their civic duty digitally. Some are replacing a defunct system where more than 15 states still don’t have online voter registration, while others (thank you, Facebook and Instagram!) are posting newsfeed banners or ads reminding people 18 and older to register to vote. Snapchat has partnered with TurboVote to register users in under a minute; Twitter lets users send direct messages to @Gov for registration info. The HelloVote chatbot helps you register via text message, and VotePlz, a Y Combinator–backed website, walks you through registration with emojis and a sweepstakes. These types of tools, combined with other efforts, have helped drive more than 56 million millennials to register to vote, up by over 24 million since 2012, according to Project New America, a Democratic research group. In some swing states, that has meant a surge in registered millennial voters. “Young people in a lot of ways are going to decide this election,” says David Winkler, director of research at Project New America.
In the past, some of us millennials didn’t vote because information about polling places and registration was outdated or difficult to find. During the 2008 election, 6 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds said they didn’t know how or where to register, according to the Campus Vote Project. No more “hitting your head against the wall of [a] government website” this time, though, says 25-year-old Erika Reinhardt, co-founder of VotePlz. Since her nonprofit launched in mid-September, some 225,000 people have checked their registration status — and of the 75,000 who have registered to vote from the platform, 90 percent are millennials.
Millennial women are now more educated than their male counterparts — and research shows more-educated people are more likely to vote.
But will civic duty by smartphone translate to the voting booth? Young registered voters are nearly as likely to vote as registered boomers, reports the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement; in 2008, 84 percent of of those 18 to 29 who were registered to vote actually did so. Even so, not everyone is as optimistic this time around. Charles Stewart III, the MIT director of the Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project, is “skeptical” about digital registration methods. “The strongest pull to getting people to register and to vote is being asked personally and repeatedly,” he notes.
Of course, the fancy new tech is only part of the picture. With issues surrounding gender and immigration central to this election, more millennials concerned about these topics are turning out to register. After all, millennial women are now more educated than their male counterparts — and research shows more-educated people are more likely to vote. Since ’72, young women have voted in larger numbers than men, according to CIRCLE. A growing group of minorities is also engaged over discussions involving immigration overhaul — more than 44 percent of millennials are nonwhite, the Brookings Institution says, including many Latino voters. And millennials aren’t just mobilizing for the left: Young GOPers turned out to vote in the primaries in record-breaking numbers, helping trigger the highest voter turnout for Republican primaries since 1980.
Indeed, millennials are feeling connected to this election in a way that goes well beyond the digital. And the campaigns are feeling it too. “Young people will be the decisive and deciding vote,” Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook told reporters in a press call with OZY. Yes, we will — just wait.
— Nick Fouriezos contributed reporting.