Where Are Young People Taking American Politics?

The age of voters in America is becoming a topic worthy of serious conversation within political parties. This is true for a number of reasons, but the one with the longest-term effects is the change in generations we’re seeing and will continue to see for the next few years. As the baby boomer population ages, generation X grows older, and millennials reach adulthood, the voting population is shifting.

This gives younger Americans an enormous amount of power, because, as with those before them, they soon will make up the older and more influential population within America. As a result, this is a group that political parties are increasingly concerned with, and for good reason. Which brings up three important questions about America’s youth and where they are taking the United States.

Source: Thinkstock

1. Which party do younger generations identify with more?

The bad news for both Democrats and Republicans is that this upcoming generation is showing major signs of exhaustion with both political parties. According to polling information from Gallup “Young Americans in their 20s and 30s today … are the most likely of any age group to eschew identification with either party,” most often leaning independent or having no party identity at all.

Between 13% and 19% of Americans between the ages of 19 and 39 identify as independents or claim no identity at all, compared to only 7% to 12% between the ages of 54 and older. There’s further bad news for Republicans, though. According to the same 2013-2014 daily tracking polls from Gallup, there’s a clear tendency for younger Americans to lean to the left, while older Americans are more likely to be Republicans.

Between the ages of 19 and 39, between 43% and 50% of Americans identified as either Democratic or leaning toward the Democratic Party, while only 31% to 35% of those within the same age group lean Republican or identify as a member of the GOP.

2. Where do younger Americans live?

This brings up another question when it comes to campaigns and where 2016 presidential candidates need to focus efforts. In making the decision on which states to put forth the greatest efforts during the election season, there are quite a few considerations to take into account.

First, candidates need to think realistically about which states they have the best chance of winning; which states they have an almost guaranteed win, meaning they can afford to cut back their attention there; and which states could best bring in the largest supply of unaffiliated voters. The Wall Street Journal offers an interesting graphic on this in the form of two separate maps, shown below:

Source: The Wall Street Journal

Source: The Wall Street Journal

Given the fact that so many young Americans are undecided, it becomes important also to focus on which states have the youngest population of independents, and for Republicans, it becomes crucial to find regions with young voters they still have a chance of winning over.

Rand Paul is a good example of this effort, having just opened an office in Silicon Valley with hopes of winning over voters in California, particularly young tech votes. The Republican National Convention has also addressed the importance of appealing to a wider variety of Americans, especially on issues that are important to youth in America.

3. What are the voting habits of younger U.S. citizens?

Democrats may have an impressive edge over Republicans when it comes to party identification in millennials and voters in their 3os and 40s, but unfortunately for the blue party, this doesn’t always translate to an advantage in elections. Younger Americans are actually less likely to get out and vote. The chart below, from the U.S. Census Bureau, reveals just how true this is:

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

“Overall, younger Americans have consistently under-voted at the polls relative to their eligibility,” according to the Census Bureau, showing that this is true both in recent history (above) and when you look at historic trends:

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

Of course, this doesn’t completely discount the advantage, but what it does mean is that mobilizing will be a major objective for the upcoming election. Getting the younger generation worked up enough about issues close to their heart and with a direct effect on their lives will be key — and given the difficulty of pushing constituents to vote in the midterm elections last year, a real effort will likely be needed.

Of course, presidential elections draw a better voting crowd for Democrats, but the numbers above show that this remains a problem with young voters even then.

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