Millennial Must-Reads are student-contributed posts by members of the "Millennial" generation - America's 18-29 year-olds - on current events and politics and public service. Viewpoints expressed are exclusively attributed to undergraduate authors and not endorsed by Harvard's Institute of Politics.
Young voters decided that Barack Obama would remain President of the United States. According to CIRCLE’s estimates, 50% of young people (ages 18-29) voted in 2012. If they had split evenly between Obama and Romney, Romney would have won. But they chose Obama by a 20-point margin, and so the president was re-elected. However, that is literally only half the story. The other 50% of America's 18-29-year-olds did not vote in 2012. This problem is particularly pronounced among working-class young people. My generation has a voice, but right now we are only whispering while we should be making ourselves heard.
The research our team at the Harvard Public Opinion Project has been doing for the past decade into this age group’s political attitudes offers some possible explanations. In a survey we did leading up to this most recent election, 43% of likely nonvoters agreed with the statement that it did not matter who was elected because Washington was broken; 31% agreed that it did not matter who was elected because none of the candidates represented their views; and 25% agreed that it did not matter who was elected because the parties are more or less the same. These are all troubling indicators of a lack of trust in the political system.
In this report we look at the varying political and civic engagement from multiple angles, including race, geographic region, urbanity and marital status. Perhaps the most critical correlation is educational attainment and income level. In this, our research shows that the civic gaps aligned with education are particularly pronounced among Millennials.
Furthermore, coming of age in the midst of a global recession has created serious barriers to deep civic engagement for my demographic, and the economy remains the most serious issue in the minds of Millennials of all sorts.
An amazing team from the National Conference on Citizenship, the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, Mobilize.org, and the Harvard Institute of Politics compiled this report. It has been a pleasure over the past six months to work with smart and dedicated representatives of these organizations in crafting this document. Each coauthor and the organizations they represented brought a unique perspective and expertise, without which none of this would have been possible.
This is what the report found:
- This generation of Americans represents a potent civic and political force - comprising a national voting bloc of 21.3% of eligible voters who are playing a critical role in our democracy and driving community action nationwide;
- Education is strongly connected to civic engagement—some indicators show a college graduate is four or five times more likely to engage than someone without a high school diploma;
- Millennials are hard hit by the economic crisis—62.9% are currently working, of which 31.2% work on a part-time basis—with potential implications for civic engagement;
- Some surprising trends--while engagement typically increases with age, 22-25 year olds have lower levels of social cohesion and volunteerism than older or younger peers. And, while education predicts most forms of engagement, young people without a college education are more likely to help their neighbors on a regular basis.
Matthew Warshauer is a Junior at Harvard University studying Applied Mathematics with a focus on government. He is Chariman Emeritus of the Harvard Public Opinion Project at Harvard's Institute of Politics and works as a research associate at the Institute of Quantitative Social Science.