Young people have every reason to be politically engaged. Data suggests that they are uniquely punished by the conditions of modern America — and that they know it. But American youth are less likely to vote than other generations, according to a poll conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) and The Atlantic in June. The results suggests that a huge number of millennials don't know whether they'll vote in the midterms.
This new research suggests that, while half of all Americans are "absolutely certain" that they'll vote in the 2018 elections, that number falls to 28 percent for people between the ages of 18 and 29 (the youngest portion of those considered to be "millennials," as well as a small slice of Gen Z). That's in stark contrast to the 74 percent of seniors who are sure that they're going to vote. Those results line up with years-long trends: While 60 percent of seniors report that they're "consistent voters," only 15 percent of young adults say the same.
The poll doesn't break down the results for young adults along political lines, but it does note that Republicans of all ages are slightly more likely to say that they'll definitely vote this November (59 percent, compared to 56 percent of Democrats).
Why You Should Care
Young adults are uniquely affected by the problems facing the United States today. Young people's wages have been stagnant for a quarter of a century, and a 2017 report from Paychex and IHS Markit found that millennials make nearly $6 less per hour than the national wage average. Millennials with a college degree and student debt have negative net wealth, on average, according to Survey of Consumer Finances data.
Last year, The Guardian found that black males between the ages of 15 and 34 were nine times as likely to be killed by police as people from other demographics. The prison-industrial complex incarcerates black youth at astonishing rates and often tries black kids as adults, sending them to facilities where they're more vulnerable to sexual assault and receive less rehabilitation. Young DACA recipients are in a perilous situation as the program's future continues to be in jeopardy.
And the United States knows that its youth have it bad. A 2012 Pew study found that nearly 70 percent of Americans believe it's harder for young adults to get jobs, save money, buy homes, and afford college than it was for their parents.
So, if we're aware that life in 2018 is tough for young adults, and we also recognize that election outcomes will affect the lives of today's youths for decades — Donald Trump's election, for example, has already led to the appointment of one extremely conservative Supreme Court nominee and the probable confirmation of another — why aren't millennials more likely to vote?
The lack of voting engagement doesn't seem to come from a lack of overall political engagement: Young people are involved in high levels of volunteering, activism, and community organizing. Maybe it's partially that, as Forbes suggested in 2016, each new generation is more likely to see voting as "a personal choice, not a civic obligation" than the previous one. There's also the fact that the younger populations of the United States are more diverse and that Americans of color are more disenfranchised than their white counterparts. Plus, many young people live in urban areas where their votes count less, which could make them feel less inclined to hit the booths.
What You Can Do About It
If you care about this issue, there are many things you can and should do. First of all, register yourself and vote this November. But it's also crucial to help other young voters. Volunteer with organizations like Rock the Vote to help register voters. It's also important to advocate for changing laws that disproportionately hurt young voters. Some states don't allow student IDs to be used as identification at polls (in the infamous case of Texas, this contrasts the fact that a handgun license is considered acceptable).
There are some bright spots for millennials, especially those who are liberal (young people are overwhelmingly more likely to vote Democrat than Republican). The U.S. Census indicates that only 23 percent of people aged 18 to 34 voted in the 2014 elections — five points lower than this new projection. Those elections led to a "red wave" in which the GOP won control of Congress, and just before they took place, Republicans were 17 percent more likely than Democrats to say that they were absolutely certain to vote. That disparity that has now shrunk significantly in the PRRI/The Atlantic poll.
The prospects for voting engagement are getting better for young people. But there's still a long way to go, and only a few months remaining before the midterms.