The Millennial Voter

Table of Contents

We’re back to our regularly scheduled programming regarding millennials. Except I’m deviating from economics this time into something far more important: voting.
The Millennial Voter sounds like an oxymoron.
Today I’m going to yell at tell you about this exotic civic duty that young people tend to ignore.


Brookings provided a preliminary report and will have an update once the Census Bureau releases their information on voting registration for this past election. 50% turnout is good, but nowhere near where we need it.

The last major election data that they have offers us the following graph:


This is from 2014. I know it was a mid-term year, but come on. At this time, my preferred millennial birth years, 1980-1995, are mixed into the first two columns. As of 2014, the first column represents people born in 1985 to 1996. 20% voted. If you go into a room with nine of your friends (assuming you, the reader, also counts as a millennial), only two of you voted. Come on, people!

Again, I know it was a midterm. That graph shows less than 50% of the youngest group registered. The next youngest group was over 60% registered (but still less than 40% voted). If you want your opinion heard, though, you have to show up in 2018.

Back to the last major election (sorry, run-off voters). 50% turnout is alright. And it was a strange election. I know plenty of people who strongly believe that it is the duty of every voting-age American to vote, who ended up not voting. So this post, more than anything else, is one which will focus on a couple of different things.

First of all, I want to talk about some simple demographics. Boring, but necessary framework. Secondly, I want to dive into how millennials voted in 2016. The third item is discussing what factors determine political ideology (and boy, is it a doozy). Lastly, I will do a blog-level amount of work in an attempt to guess where millennial ideology may go from here. At the end will be some links to take quizzes to see where your political views lie. Also, there will be links where you will be able to research political issues and candidates.

So lets get into it.



The above is a called a population pyramid. The picture comes from Wikipedia based on this Census data from 2010. So if we use my easy millennial birth years of 1980-1995 (and there are a number of studies that use different years) we are looking at people between the ages of 30 and 15 (in 2010). The data includes ages 15 to 29 so I cheated and made a graph with that range.


Males outnumber females in our generation. Men are also more likely to vote Republican according to Pew Research.

Long-standing gender gap in presidential voting

What I really want to get into is comparing the Millennial generation to other generations. There are no shortage of feelings (across multiple generations) that the previous generations “screwed us” in the economy.

Get over it.







ft_16-05-13_eligiblemillennialvotersIf you think we can’t change things, look at this chart.

For some reason, I can’t get the code that Pew Research generates so here’s a link. For clarification, they define millennials as somebody born in the years 1981 to 1998, so people who are 19 to 36 this year.

We nearly outnumber the Baby Boomers. What use is complaining about past generations when we have the first box of liberty at our disposal? Pew Research goes on to show voter participation in Presidential elections.








While we have the same voting power, we have a much less voter participation rate.

The Millennial Voter (in 2016)

In this section I am going to briefly discuss the decision that my generation made. This website offers some great insight. On the drop-down on the left, the first option is Millennials. That option gives you this:

millennial electoral map.png

Wow. Ignoring that this data comes from exit polls, there’s some good insight here.

If you’re wondering if this will change, I will try to address that in the end section.

If you’re wondering if the voter participation discrepancy between Millennials and Baby Boomers matters, go to the website and look at the Seniors (ages 65+) option. Trump wins bigly on that map.

They also have Men and Women maps, which lean Trump and Clinton, respectively. They also break it down even further, including maps with users of each of the three main mobile OS devices. On the gun-owning household map, only Vermont doesn’t swing red.

Overall, the numbers break down like this: half of the population aged 18 to 29 voted. Of those, 55% voted for Clinton and 37% voted for Trump. The last 8% voted third party (hello) or abstained. Okay, so what? Lets put that into context. In 2012, 60% of young  voters chose Obama. In the end, the youngest voting generation cast 19% of all votes.


Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, and George H. W. Bush (that’s the senior Bush) are the standouts in this crowd. Considering 1984 and 1988 saw Republican landslides I don’t put a lot of stock in those results. I also don’t put much stock into 2008 or 2016 due to the circumstances around those elections. Regardless, youth voters appear to lean left, regardless of their generation.

This is great and all but if you’re one of those people who thinks that the midterms is “our time” then compare these next two graphs from here.


Youth turnout in midterms are lower than in presidential elections. Yet they are just as important. One reason is because all 435 House seats are up for grabs in 2018.

If you want insight into past elections, the Census Bureau releases a report every four years. They have yet to release their 2016 report but for 1964 to 2012 information, look here. There is a lot of cool stuff. They also compare youth voting with other age blocs and you’ll see that youth voting is always lower than other age groups. For another interesting report, Gallup (in 2004) discussed the history and impacts of youth voting.

Political Ideology

This is the fun part. What determines our political ideology? Growing up, I was always told that I’d grow out of my idealistic, liberal-leaning ways when I started paying taxes.


ideological-placementA while back, and again on February 20th, 2017, I took the Political Typology Quiz by Pew Research Center. When I took it last October I was sorted as a Next Generation Left. This time I was a Solid Liberal. Except, it appears, I am closer to Mixed than Consistently liberal. For more links to quizzes, refer to the end.

I’m not sure what factors attribute to the change but I have a feeling it’s my opinions on the social safety net and the role of the government in the economy, which changes on any given day.

The point is that the left-right scale (or, more complex, the left-middle-right scale) isn’t that simple. The quiz itself uses a 10-item scale to determine what group of political voters you fall into, according to Pew. You can compare the eight groups at this link.

So I was curious how we, as voters, are affected and what drives us to our beliefs. And the inspiration for this research starts here. The Upshot has an interactive graph that assumes what your ideology is most likely to be depending on your birth year. Those born in 1993 were 53% Democratic in 2012. The youngest of the population lean left right up until 1980, right at the earliest cusp of millennials.

The data source for this graph writes that “political events disproportionately impact the political preferences of young voters” and further says that “partisan presidential voting attachments remain relatively consistent over many subsequent decades.” So when Obama lost some young voters between 2008 and 2012, that impact will be felt for many more elections to come.

political ideology.PNG

Ages 14-24 are most susceptible to political events shaping their views. What’s interesting is that around age 45, the statistical significance of political events on political ideology is near zero. There is a small upward curve until 66 or so, then it stays close to zero. What this means is that when there is a significant political event it is unlikely to affect the beliefs of those people.

Of course, stating the age range of 14 to 24 is broad, and it remains high for some time after 24. The study goes on further to discuss that minority views are rarely affected by political events. Pages 11 to 20 discuss each generation of voters.

Then there is the psychology of voting.

Ralph Waldo Emerson gave a lecture in 1841 that the conflict between “the party of Conservatism and that of Innovation…must have a correspondent depth of seat in the human constitution.”

Consider the backfire effect, wherein people hear evidence that goes against their beliefs find themselves further entrenched in those beliefs. This also has roots in psychology.

The opinion from Emerson has found support. This study from 1986 used a twin study to find that heritability is accountable for 20-40% of political beliefs. This study finds that there is a “heritable component” up to about 50% of political beliefs. They go on further to state that there are two “phenotypes” of political belief: contextualist and absolutist. Contextualists have a tolerance for out-groups, a positive view of human nature, are opponents of hierarchy and authority, and a high level of empathy. Absolutists have rigid moral rules, are more accepting of societal inequalities, and emphasize in-group unity. Do these two groups sound like anyone you know?

A few studies, all referenced here, find that some personality traits are favored by those of the two broad political groups. Contemporary conservatives tend to score higher on conscientiousness while liberals are more open to new experiences. Conservatives tend be more polite while liberals are more empathetic. This study, using collages of images, found that conservatives spent more time lingering on negative images. This book observed that those on the left of the political spectrum preferred to use the language of a “nurturing parent” while those on the right used the words of a “strict parent.”


The above image comes from this study, which offers the following explanation:

Republicans more strongly activate their right amygdala, associated with orienting attention to external cues. Democrats have higher activity in their left posterior insula, associated with perceptions of internal physiological states. This activation also borders the temporal-parietal junction, and therefore may reflect a difference in internal physiological drive as well as the perception of the internal state and drive of others.

Study after study tends to group conservatives and liberals into groups based on negative and positive thoughts/reactions/words/what-have-you. This suggests that the way our brains are wired cause us to form beliefs about the way we see the world; this, in turn, affects what we consider to be priorities and solutions. Whether these personality traits differ due to nature or nurture is still being studied.

The Future Millennial Voter

I promised you a “blog-level amount of work” to predict where my generation will go and by golly you’ll have my prediction.

Fortunately for me, Harvard offers some pretty good insight. They surveyed 18-29 year old respondents, which includes the birth years from 1987 to 1998. They found that 55% preferred a Democrat White House compared to 40% who would prefer a Republican White House. The younger group, those aged 18-24, were split 53% D/41% R while the older group, 25-29, were split 57% D/39% R.

Among the Republican nominees which were favored, Donald Trump wasn’t even on the list of 15 candidates. It’s far too early in his presidency for me to have much faith in approval ratings so I won’t even touch on those.

Generation gap in Obama job approval among the widest of his presidency

Millennials consistently had the highest approval rating for Obama.While Clinton lost some of the young vote, I believe that this generation will be majority Democratic if I was forced to choose between the Democrat-Republican scale. However, more millennials voted third party than any other generation. With the recent rise of libertarianism, we may see a shifting of platforms or even parties.

Pew Research writes that young Republicans have more liberal views than older Republicans. This could the beginning of a blurry Republican line, where some people are economically conservative but socially liberal. This is the basic platform of the Libertarian Party. The other major party involved in the 2016 General Election was the Green Party, which received much less support than Gary Johnson did.

ft_ideological_divideLike I said, I think that this generation will shift America towards more progressiveness compared to past generations. However, there may be a political shift from the typical economic and social conservatism towards economic conservatism and social liberalism. Of course, what’s socially conservative/liberal changes every couple of decades. So compared to our parents, we may be socially liberal. However, our kids will probably consider us socially conservative.





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