Why young adults will turn out to vote

One specific finding from research we conducted this summer may be a bellwether for the midterm elections: “Young Americans view voting as a way to exert their influence and force change.”

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According to our data (collected from a nationally represented sample of young adults ages 18-30 for the Influencing Young America to Act report), this group believes voting is not only one’s duty as an American citizen, but also the most effective means of creating change relevant to social issues and movements.

Will this desire for social change be enough to drive them to the polls on November 6? Here’s why we are optimistic.

Millennials Support the Greater Good, not Partisanship

Millennials are both empathetic to the needs of others and discontented with the status quo. They want situations and conditions that are worsening people’s lives to be fixed, but they distrust the government to address social ills effectively. Even in 2016, they expressed no trust at all in government’s ability to address key societal issues like poverty (33%), race and culture (32%), and student loans (30%),[i] and overwhelmingly agreed with the statement, “The federal government should be doing more to engage the charitable sector to help address economic and social challenges in order to produce more effective and efficient solutions to problems.”[ii]

Following this, I led a research team in 2016 and 2017 supported by the Case Foundation that investigated the influence of the presidential election cycle, a changing administration and a chaotic political environment. We uncovered a key trigger for millennials to act on behalf of others: When they believe someone’s civil rights are being challenged, they are moved to get involved.

Now, in 2018, the recent Influencing Young America to Act report confirms this trend: Overall, young adults are most concerned with civil rights/racial discrimination.

How We Know Social Issues Will Motivate Voters

In an Oct. 1 article, The Washington Post’s own research showed that:

“[W]e find big differences between millennials who are likely to vote and those who are less likely. … Likely voters care more about social issues such as immigration, reproductive rights and race.” (emphasis added)

This year’s Cause and Social Influence data concurs. To a majority of young adults, “get involved” means “go vote,” because they believe voting for candidates who share one’s views is the best way to bring about desired change.

Study after study reveals the same. Young adults believe in the power of the ballot box to activate social change. For example, our 2017 report[iii] found that voting topped the list of actions most taken by millennials and deemed most likely to be influential. In fact, 71% considered voting as activism.

Reinforcing the notion that young adults will vote is their dissatisfaction with President Donald Trump’s handling of social issues and the direction the country is going. Our report found that almost half (48%) of young adults believe the U.S. is off track, while less than one-third (27%) believe the opposite.

When categorized by ethnicity, Hispanics have the highest intention to vote – the same group that is most dissatisfied with President Donald Trump and that most believes their vote will lead to change.

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Moreover, our data reflects that women are much more dissatisfied than men. Given that so many women are already actively involved in women’s rights issues and movements, this additional statistic may indicate higher-than-normal voting participation by women in this age group.

As researchers can track only actual and intended behavior, we will be closely watching who votes in November. For now, we are optimistic that the 66% of young adults who have said they intend to vote will choose to make their voices heard on November 6.

[i] 2016 Millennial Impact Report

[ii] United for Charity: How Americans trust and value the charitable sector, Independent Sector, 2016

[iii] 2017 Millennial Impact Report: An Invigorated Generation for Causes & Social Issues

Derrick Feldmann