Millennials and the 2012 Election

Monday, November 12, 2012

In the 2008 U.S. election, the amount of young voters was record-breaking. Later on this was chalked up to President Obama's "hope" message and the chance to make history by electing the country's first African-American president. Millennial turnout for the election last week was expected to be much lower and experts on both sides of the aisle argued that the typical apathy of young people would return, resulting in lower attendance at the polls.

This proved to be incorrect. Gen Y turnout for this election was higher than it was in 2008 by a full percentage point. 49% of U.S. millennials voted last Tuesday, accounting for 19% -- nearly 1 in 5 -- of all voters. In fact, the United States now has more millennial aged voters than senior citizen voters.

The reasons people choose to vote are complicated and cable news pundits are busy dissecting those, primarily focusing on platform issues. When it comes to millennial voters however, there are a few things many people have been overlooking this past week:

First, part of the spike in turnout is simply that there are now more young people of voting age. Since the age range of millennials is currently 12-33 (born 1979-2000), more millennials are old enough to vote this year than they were in 2008. This also means that more millennials will be old enough to vote in 2016, with the remainder being qualified to vote in 2020.

Second, regardless of which candidate they voted for, millennials are an incredibly optimistic generation. They are bullish about the future and believe they are the ones who can change it if no one else will. As a whole, apathy is not a defining characteristic of Generation Y.

Third, and perhaps most important to this conversation, millennials grew up being told their opinion mattered and they believe it. Because they grew up in an education system that emphasized group work and peer feedback, they were taught that a project was not as good as it could be until everyone voiced their opinion. It should come as no surprise then that they showed up last week to make their voice heard.

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