The stereotype of millennials is that they're typically liberal, energized, and excited to participate in the political process. But an NBC News/GenForward poll released on Wednesday suggests that even though young people do skew to the left, they're also more disillusioned about politics than you might think. According to the survey, nearly half of millennials think November's midterm elections aren't especially important, and very few have "a great deal of interest in politics."
There are some more encouraging results, but let's start with the poll's bad news. Eight percent of millennials said that they definitely won't vote this fall; another 11 percent said they probably won't, and 25 percent said they're unsure. That's a whopping 44 percent that isn't guaranteed to cast a midterms vote.
Almost half — 47 percent — say that these elections are just about as important as past midterms. Many commentators are arguing otherwise, in part because these races will help set the stage for redrawing districts in 2020, determine whether a particularly controversial president is able to continue pursuing his agenda, and possibly also choose the body that decides whether or not to impeach Trump. But many millennials don't feel that the races are more significant than usual, and that sentiment is particularly common among white and black millennials, according to the poll.
Then there's the mere 16 percent who say that they have "a great deal of interest in politics and elections." A plurality — 38 percent — do say that they have "a fair amount of interest," but 31 percent have "only a little" and 13 percent have none.
Still, the bright spot is that a majority, at least, of millennials do say that they're likely to vote in the midterms (55 percent). If that trend holds, it'll be a vast improvement from the 2014 midterms, when only 23 percent of those between the ages of 18 and 34 voted, according to a government census. But it would likely still put them behind the age demographic that typically has the highest turnout: elderly folks. In 2014, 59 percent of those above the age of 65 voted.
The poll results get better if you're a liberal, because a plurality of millennials say they'll vote for Democratic candidates. Many — 42 percent — say that they see their vote as an expression of opposition to President Trump, while just 12 percent say that it's an expression of support for him.
It seems likely that we'll see an improvement in the number of millennials voting this November in comparison to past midterms. That would be something to celebrate, but not to feel satisfied with — it's not a foregone conclusion that vast numbers of people don't vote.
The Pew Research Center reports that 56 percent of the U.S. population cast ballots in the 2016 presidential election, a figure that is far behind that of most developed nations. Many countries see voting as a crucial part of being a citizen: Around 87 percent of Turkey's population, for example, participated in its recent presidential elections. Some of the problem lies with U.S. laws that disenfranchise voters, like those that prevent 5.85 million Americans with felony or misdemeanor convictions from voting, according to the ACLU.
The United States — its millennials and every other demographic — can do better. If you're able, don't forget to hit the ballot box this November. Consider fighting for voting rights legislation and volunteering with an organization like Rock the Vote to help register voters.