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The Millennial Tipping Point

In more ways than one, young Americans are about to have their moment. 

Millennials (typically thought of as those born between 1982 and 2000) now make up the largest group of consumers in the economy, with younger households disproportionately driving American consumer spending.1 Likewise, for the first time in history, Millennials also make up the same proportion of the American electorate as the Baby Boomers. 

In every recent election, we have seen some variation of Millennial “scolding,” with pundits lamenting the fact that this generation just isn’t as engaged as previous generations. About half of registered Millennial voters don’t identify with either major political party, meaning that their views and preferences aren’t necessarily represented in party platforms. 

For the 2016 election, however, the premise that young voters won’t turn out doesn’t seem to be holding true. Looking at the primary elections and caucuses held to-date, young people in both parties are turning out in numbers on par with the high youth turnout in the 2008 election. Senator Bernie Sanders has dominated among the youth vote, with Secretary Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump following in second and third. 

It remains unclear, however, what youth turnout and support may look like in the general election. In a hypothetical Clinton vs. Trump face off in November, according to current Reuters polling,2 Secretary Clinton would take the youth vote by a 2-1 margin. The second largest group in the same poll—a good 24 percent of young Americans—say they do not know who they would support or would not vote. This may highlight the lack of strong party identification among young voters, or may underscore a lack of enthusiasm among Millennial voters for these Presidential candidates. 

Millennials have a distinct agenda for the next President, with a strong focus on the economy and college affordability. This is the most educated generation in American history, but one that has been handicapped by a distinct set of economic obstacles. An unfavorable labor market has made it difficult for students to pay off debt—wages for college graduates have grown 60 percent more slowly than those of the general population.3 

Young people are looking for a leader who will prioritize their long-term financial security. It is unclear whether Millennials will turn out in November 2016, and whether turning out will be enough to get them what they want. What is clear, however, is that sometime in the not-too-distant future, the Millennial voting bloc will arrive on the scene, and American politics for the next 40 years will be dominated by their priorities and worldviews.

  1. J P Morgan Chase, Local Consumer Commerce. December 2015. Available online: http://bit.ly/JPMorgan-LocalConsumerCommerce  
  2. http://bit.ly/ReutersPoll-March2016 
  3. The Atlantic, Why are Wages for College Grads So Terrible? Available online: http://bit.ly/Atlantic-CollegeGradWages


Sarah Swanbeck is the Executive Director of the Center on Governing & Investing in the Future (CGIF). She received her Masters in Public Policy from the Goldman School in 2011.

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2016 edition of Policy Notes.