The 2016 Millennial Vote and a Path Forward

Throughout this intense election cycle, you have heard from us periodically on the state of the race among Millennial voters. Our mission at Rock the Vote is to engage and mobilize young people to take action, to facilitate their engagement in the political process and to reflect their voices as their advocates and champions in the nonpartisan political space. And as their champions, we are fully engaged in breaking down Millennials’ performance and preferences this election, and contextualizing the strategies we used to register and to drive them to the polls.

We are both available and excited to speak with you about this data, and also a look ahead to our efforts in the coming months and years as we prepare for 2017 state and local elections, the 2018 midterms and (yes) the 2020 presidential election.

2016: The Millennial Vote

According to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE):

  • An estimated 50% of young voters ages 18-29 cast ballots in the 2016 general election.
  • The 24 million young people who cast ballots made up approximately 19% of all votes in the 2016 presidential election.
  • Turnout among young voters was up 5 points from 45% in 2012.

Increases in presidential election turnout among young voters in 2004, 2008 and 2016 shows high voter turnout is a distinctive trait of the Millennial generation and dispels the myths that they are disinterested or apathetic. Young people did make their voices heard on Tuesday, November 8, 2016 and continued to use them in the following days by protesting in cities across the country.

Partisan Breakdown & Candidate Support

  • Young voters, ages 18-29, supported Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump by 55% to 37% (CIRCLE). Among young people of color, Clinton won by even more decisive margins.
  • However, youth support for the Democratic candidate dropped slightly from 2012, when 60% supported President Obama’s reelection. Notably, more young voters chose third-party candidates in 2016, with only 92% supporting Clinton or Trump, compared to 2012 when 97% of young voters supported Obama or Romney.
  • Millennials made the key difference in a number of battleground states and races. Millennials were decisive in both the Nevada and New Hampshire Senate races, and in the presidential race in Nevada as well. If New Hampshire’s electoral votes are awarded to Clinton, young voters will have been a decisive voice in the presidential race there, too. Elsewhere, in states like Michigan, Millennials kept the presidential race close.

For months, we all predicted that Millennials would once again be a decisive voice in the 2016 presidential race. As the largest and most diverse generation in American history, the opportunity for them was there. So why were older generations able to overrule Millennials?

Undoubtedly, turnout was effected by voter suppression and the Supreme Court’s gutting of the Voting Rights Act (VRA). In the first presidential election without the VRA’s full protections, discriminatory practices that disproportionally affect youth — particularly young people of color, who comprise over 40% of the generation — had a substantial impact. We will be working to further analyze data and reports to tell this story and will continue fighting for a restoration of VRA protections.

A Path Forward

Research shows that once people register and vote for the first time, they are more likely to continue voting in future elections. In 2016 alone, Rock the Vote registered over 1.6 million new voters.

As we look ahead to elections in the coming years, we will help young people across the country to channel the passion and frustration that we are seeing pour out into the streets this week into engagement and organization to grow their impact on state and local elections in 2017 and the 2018 midterms. Voter turnout is traditionally lower during off-year and midterm elections, and as the largest potential voting bloc, Millennials will have a crucial opportunity to shape the direction of our country in the coming years.

In 2017, New Jersey and Virginia will hold gubernatorial and state legislative elections. Major cities and counties across the country will elect new mayors, councilmembers, district attorneys and school board members. And in 2018, there will be 435 U.S. House races, 33 seats up in the Senate, 38 gubernatorial elections and state legislative races in 46 states.

Rock the Vote will continue to: 

  • Work to ensure in the coming months and years that our national, state and local leaders bring people together as we seek meaningful solutions to the critical issues we face.
  • Fight for a more just and inclusive vision for the future focused on the progressive politics that matter most to young people: from leading the Black Lives Matter movement to the fights for environmental justice and marriage equality.
  • Continue to fight for a voting system that is inclusive of millennial voters’ needs and to remove the restrictions that may have kept some from making their voices heard at the ballot box this year.
  • Empower young people to make their voices heard, both in their local communities and on a national level, and we will work with diverse and powerful partners.
  • Advocate for automatic voter registration for young people when they turn 18, so that voting becomes as normalized in our society as obtaining a driver’s license.
  • Continue this conversation and ask for your support in telling these types of stories of the work being put in. Know that your coverage has the great power to positively influence an entire generation.

In 2018, we will have million more registered Millennial voters than ever before. In the 2020 presidential election, members of Gen Z will turn 18 and register to vote. Elected officials who ignore the voices and demands of the young people will do so at their own peril.

Thank you for following our journey this year. We continuing to provide you with the data, political analysis and personal stories of Millennials across the country fighting to speak truth to power and rock the vote. 

About Rock the Vote:

Rock the Vote is the largest nonpartisan, nonprofit organization in the country driving the youth vote to the polls. Since 1990, Rock the Vote has fused pop culture, music, art and technology to fulfill its mission of building long-term youth political power. During the past six Presidential elections, Rock the Vote ran the largest voter registration drives for young people and has partnered with more than 25,000 partners through its online, multi-lingual voter registration tool. Rock the Vote is dedicated to mobilizing the vote, protecting voting rights and advocating for an electoral process and voting system that works for the Millennial generation, America’s largest and most diverse population in history. To get Rock the Vote updates on upcoming events, election reminders and candidate, visit Engage on social media, by following Rock the Vote on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram at @rockthevote.