Midterm elections are slated to take place on Nov. 4 with critical Senate, House and gubernatorial races in the balance. The outcomes will have significant implications on a host of issues, including the economy, immigration, foreign policy, social issues and voting procedures. It is also likely that the election results will have a nuanced impact on the political climate leading to the 2016 races, potential presidential contenders and the final years of the Obama presidency. Voter turnout for midterm elections is habitually low, but a certain demographic has been especially absent from the ballot box — youth. Recent findings indicate why this may be. Young voters largely express cynicism in regard to elected officials, consider themselves independents and demonstrate an issue-oriented focus rather than a party-oriented one. This cannot be attributed solely to millennial skepticism — it is representative of a broken system that has failed to interest young adults and address the issues they care about.
An April 2014 poll conducted by The Institute of Politics at Harvard University found that only 23 percent of young Americans said they “will definitely be voting” in the midterm elections. The survey of over 3,000 U.S. citizens between the ages of 18 and 29 showed that millennial interest in 2014 midterms greatly lagged behind the 2010 levels. The survey also found that this age group’s trust in public institutions is at a five-year low. Furthermore, millennials hold significantly different opinions on the legalization of marijuana and the income gap than previous generations. In addition, the poll showed that 44 percent of 2012 Mitt Romney supporters now say they will vote, compared to only 35 percent of 2012 Barack Obama supporters. This political landscape is one of the reasons Republicans are predicted to take both the House and the Senate.
If politicians from both parties aim to increase their appeal to youth in future elections, they must reach young adults on platforms driven by specific issues rather than partisan affiliation. This notion is especially evident when considering the economy. Debt, internships, post-graduation employment and the minimum wage have a profound impact on millennials’ economic situation. Targeting youth by concentrating on these issues would not only help candidates, but also would impassion young people to vote.
While it is easy to attribute the low youth voter turnout to disenchantment, this dismissive attitude negates politicians’ ineffective campaigning. This generation of American youth is drawn to issue voting, rather than party voting — it is less concerned with partisan labels. Millennials are drawn to vote by pressing issues, and politicians must remember this shift in voter sentiment when they campaign. To reach young people, candidates must set party affiliation aside and address how they plan to solve the issues that speak to this demographic. Political campaigns must adapt to millennials — not the other way around.
A version of this article appeared in the Nov. 3 print edition. Email the WSN Editorial Board at [email protected]