Whether millennials bother to vote could be crucial

By Daniel Connell. University of Melbourne

Whether young people will bother to vote may play a significant role in the outcome of this year's Presidential race.

From the 1970s to the 1990s, the partisan voting patterns of 18-29 year olds and 65+ year olds were fairly similar. But starting in 2004, these two age groups began to diverge significantly. 

Over the last three Presidential elections, younger people have become a key voting block for the Democrats while older citizens have become increasingly reliable Republican voters.

In the long run, this trend is almost certainly an advantage for the Democrats. But since voting is not compulsory in the US, a key factor is how many young people will turn out to vote in this election.

According to US Census data, in the last presidential younger people voted at rates well below the average of just under 62% for all eligible voters.

Young voters not only vote at different rates to older voters, but they are also more likely to vote for third parties.  

John Della Volpe, who studies youth voter trends at Harvard's Institute of Politics, says on election day millennials won't be choosing between just Trump and Clinton - they will be choosing between Trump, Clinton, third-party candidates Gary Johnson and Jill Stein . . . and staying home on the couch.

In July of this year, NextGen Climate Group released a very large poll that specifically focused on the voting intentions of millennials (defined as voters aged 18-34). It showed that younger people are turning to alternatives such as third party candidates, or simply staying at home.  

According to the survey (see top graph below), 22% of likely millennial voters were willing to vote for a third party candidate. The survey also found many of these voters - just over 20% - are so-called "Sanders holdouts". These voters would vote for him in a hypothetical election against Trump, Stein and Johnson but remained unconvinced that Clinton is an acceptable alternative. 

The second graph shows that 16% of young supporters of Bernie Sanders, when posed with a four way race between Clinton, Trump, Johnson and Stein, plan to vote for a third party candidate and a further 14% would not vote at all. This amounts to a 30% voting block who may shun the two major parties altogether. 

This is supported by recent data from Pew: 46% of 18-29 year olds believe Clinton would be a worse president than Barack Obama, whereas only 4% believe she would be a better one. Furthermore, only 43% of Clinton supporters aged 18-29 say their vote is a positive vote for Clinton, whereas 68% of voters aged 65+ consider their choice a pro-Clinton vote.

Why would young people turn away from Clinton, given their recent record of voting for the Democratic presidential nominee in such high numbers? Some young voters remain unconvinced that there's a big enough difference between Clinton and Trump on key issues. According to the same survey, 43% believed there was no difference between Clinton and Trump regarding protecting families' clean air and water while 44% believed the same on moving from fossil fuels to renewable energy. These issues rank third and seventh in terms of importance for young voters.

In August, forecaster Fivethirtyeight estimated that Clinton was polling roughly 41% with voters under 30, which is 19 points below what Obama managed in 2012. Trump's polling with young voters was also down (around 17 points from Romney's performance in 2012). But because Clinton relies more on younger voters, such a drop is more damaging to her electoral prospects.

Clinton's polling with younger voters has improved in recent months. Here are her numbers in the five most recent polls where data about voters under 30 is available, where she leads Trump by an average of 47% to 28%, with a quarter of young voters either undecided, choosing a third party candidate or planning on sitting out the election.

Polling outletClintonTrumpJohnson
CBS News/New York Times40%30%21%
Public Policy Polling52%20%12%
Morning Consult38%26%14%

These numbers are likely a concern for the Clinton campaign. Obama picked up 66% of voters 18-29 in 2008 and 60% in 2012. Clinton will be hoping she can convince more young voters to support her by next Tuesday.

Banner image courtesy of Memphis CVB/Flickr


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