Millennials are better educated than previous generations; they are technologically savvy. For political types, they are a headache.
They are the largest living generation. Even though there are 9.4 million California millennials, making them a potentially rich source of votes, they don’t vote in very high percentages unless they’re thrilled. They get more excited about general elections than midterms. That’s true of the electorate as a whole, usually, but it’s especially evident among millennials.
The core of the millennials is the group of people aged 18-to-34 years, which is how we use the term as it relates to California voters, but some demographers and media types say it is anyone born as early as 1976 and as late as 2004. So go figure.
“(The) decline in midterm turnout is largely a function of the changing behavior of young people.” — Eric McGhee
In a September 2016 report, the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) had this to say:
“We find in our surveys that only 53 percent of millennials are registered to vote, compared to 76 percent of baby boomers and 87 percent of silents. [The generation born before 1946]. The likelihood of voting increases sharply with age: only one in four millennials are likely voters, compared to three in four silents. Notably, baby boomers (39 percent) make up the biggest share of the state’s likely voters, followed by Gen Xers (28 percent), millennials (18 percent), and silents (14 percent).
Eric McGhee, a research fellow at the PPIC, outlined the problem last May, testifying before the state’s Little Hoover Commission.
“(The) decline in midterm turnout is largely a function of the changing behavior of young people,” he said. “Young people continue to vote in presidential elections, but they are increasingly likely to skip midterms.”
“They are, for the most part, not very reliable voters,” says political consultant Garry South. “A lot of them feel voting doesn’t have much impact.
How do campaigns reach millennials? “I don’t think anyone’s figured that out yet.” — Garry South.
“There is a feeling among many that if you’re participating in social media, you’re participating in civic life,” South said in a telephone interview. “Millennials are so into the social media bubble, they tend to talk to each other, not to power. But you can’t just wander in and out of the political system and be effective. Posting a selfie is not a political act.”
South cited with frustration a 2006 Democratic campaign he headed for Steve Westly. The campaign spent millions on advertising, South said, but during focus groups, Millennials said, “I don’t know who I’m going to vote for. I haven’t seen any ads.”
How do campaigns reach Millennials?
“I don’t think anyone’s figured that out yet,” says South.
One thing that could galvanize millennials into real political activism, says California Democratic Party spokesman John Vigna, is the emerging issue of single-payer health care. He cited fervor over Bernie Saunders’s candidacy as an example of how younger voters could be mobilized by a compelling candidate or cause.
Millennials face a challenging world, Vigna said in a telephone interview.
“You look at these kids, particularly the younger ones, and they see crushing debt load, the discouraging jobs situation, houses are impossible … we don’t connect with them as well as we need to. We need to show them we are their natural home.”
Republicans face a bigger challenge than Democrats do, based on what the PPIC said in that September 2016 report.
And millennials’ fascination with social media?
“You cannot be dismissive of where they lead their lives,” Vigna says.
In a prepared statement, Nithin Mathew, the California Republican Party’s Political Director, told Capitol Weekly:
“The California Republican Party is uniquely qualified to fix the old systems that are stifling Millennials’ success. The Democrats broke our infrastructure, skyrocketed California housing, and closed off opportunities. Everything California Republicans set forward to accomplish starts with the question of how this will affect future generations, making Millennials a priority. Economic growth, equality, and affordable housing are the issues that will compel Millennials to vote for California Republicans.”
Republicans face a bigger challenge than Democrats do, based on what the PPIC said in that September 2016 report. The PPIC found that:
“Millennials are the most likely to say they are politically very liberal or somewhat liberal (42 percent vs. 32 percent for Gen X, 31 percent for Boomer, 27 percent for Silent) and the least likely to call themselves very or somewhat conservative at 28 percent. Thirty-seven percent of Generation X regarded themselves as conservative vs. 38 percent of Boomers and 45 percent of Silents.
In contrast to the conventional wisdom that millennials cluster in hipster places such as San Francisco, a study cited by Forbes says that the Riverside-San Bernardino area leads the state in the percentage of millennial growth.
Forty-seven percent of registered Millennials in California are Democrats, with only 15 percent calling themselves Republicans.
Central Valley Republican Heath Flora, a member of the Assembly’s bipartisan Millennial Caucus, says neither party has done a good enough job of making millennials feel welcome.
“We just have to make more millennials feel welcome; I’m very optimistic we (Republicans) can do that. He said the Caucus plans to hold a series of Town Hall-style meetings with millennials on college campuses – one has already been held at California State University, Sacramento — and more are planned.
“We need to let them know the state Capitol is their house as well,” Flora said.
In contrast to the conventional wisdom that millennials cluster in hipster places such as San Francisco, a study cited by Forbes says that the Riverside-San Bernardino area leads the state in the percentage of millennial growth between 2010 and 2013, with 8.3 percent. San Bernardino also ranked seventh in the nation for overall stress, according to the financial consulting firm WalletHub. (Sacramento was 57th).
It is possible that millennial turnout could be increased by the Democrats’ political dominance in California. A gubernatorial primary between two Democrats, for instance, might feature candidates closely aligned on policy. Absent wonky policy disagreements, the campaigns might become personal, Democrat-on-Democrat violence, inflaming voter emotions across all demographics, including millennials. It happened in the Republican primary in 2010 (Steve Poizner vs. Meg Whitman) when there was little daylight between the candidates on policy, so the race became nastier and more personal.