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Millennials Ditching Party ID, Post-Election Analysis Shows

Younger Americans voted on personal issues rather than along party lines

President Barack Obama, shown here campaigning with Hillary Clinton in North Carolina, said “we don’t operate on innuendo and we don’t operate on incomplete information and we don’t operate on leaks.” (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images file photo)
President Barack Obama, shown here campaigning with Hillary Clinton in North Carolina, said “we don’t operate on innuendo and we don’t operate on incomplete information and we don’t operate on leaks.” (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images file photo)

It comes as no surprise that millennials overwhelmingly voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election, but it wasn’t because they identified as Democrats or with Clinton as a candidate, panelists at a discussion in Washington on the 2016 millennial vote said Thursday.

“Young people who cast ballots in 2016 were more likely to identify as liberal than in recent elections, but they were less likely to identify as Democrats,” said Abby Kiesa, a political scientist at Tufts University. “This shift suggests that young people increasingly embrace the liberal ideology but do not necessarily see the Democratic Party as an institution that can represent and advance those ideas.”

Thursday’s event was co-hosted by the Governance Studies program at the Brookings Institution and the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, or CIRCLE. Kiesa, also the director of impact at CIRCLE, and Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg, CIRCLE director, spoke about their post-election findings

The number of students who identified as Democrat dropped from 45 percent in 2008 to 37 percent in 2016, Kiesa said.

“Alternatively, young voters who identified as Democrats when they cast ballots in 2008 and 2012 may have been drawn to the party and the voting booth in an inspiring candidacy of now-President Barack Obama but may not be otherwise committed to the party and perhaps decided not to vote in 2016,” she said.

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The findings showed that younger white men voted for Trump in larger numbers than younger white women, and young white males outnumbered young white females at the polls for the first time in years. In past elections, young white women have made up well over half the share of the young white vote, Kawashima-Ginsberg said.

Nearly 39 percent of all younger women felt Trump was not qualified to be president, and they were more likely to say they’d be afraid of a Trump presidency, she said. 

The majority of young blacks and Latinos — in particular females — also voted for Clinton, but not in same numbers as as they did for Obama in 2008 and 2012, Kawashima-Ginsburg added. 

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Overall, only about 50 percent of young people voted in the election, a number pretty consistent with 2012 estimates, Kiesa said.

“It’s not that young people don’t care about issues — we passed marijuana in two states, there were a number of ballot initiatives that young people cared about that passed … it’s that young people were not motivated by candidates,” said panelist Carmen Berkley, the civil, human, and women’s rights director at the AFL-CIO.

Kiesa said CIRCLE’s pre-election poll showed only 25 percent of millennials identified as Republicans but they were “more energized and, therefore, more likely to turn out.”

The change that Trump campaigned on, in some ways similar and in others dissimilar to Obama’s promises of change in 2008, was key in mobilizing young Republicans outside major cities, said Jane Coaston, a political reporter for MTV, and at 29, the youngest of the four panelists.

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“When we are having conversations about why decisions were made, for those young people, it was a change election, but it also was a stay-the same election,” Coaston said. “Not so much because they want to value the divisiveness and outright racism of the Trump campaign but because where they are has been the same for the past 30 to 40 years.”

People in small towns surrounded by people that look alike racially, in the areas that Trump won, too, may never have met a gay person except for watching “Ellen,” Coaston said.

And, these places have not seen an influx of immigrants or minorities, factors that must be taken into account, she added.

“When they heard about Trump, they heard someone say, ‘I’m going to build the roads and get the factories back,’ not ‘I’m going to extreme-vet Muslims,’ a population for many of these people, they may never have met,” Coaston said.

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Coaston encouraged young people to get involved in state- and local-level political issues. She cited the recent movement in North Carolina against the so-called bathroom bill that restricts the abilities of transgender people to use bathrooms of their choice, as an example. 

“Those action points are where you get started, and it’s the small local battles that inform national politics” she said. “There’s a lot to be said about people who are willing to stand up and refuse to sit back down.”

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