Millennials Vote in the 2012 Presidential Election

Check out this video I found on by 24 year old David Burstein, founder of Generation18, an American organization which exists to engage Millennials in the political process.

Generation18’s original message was that Millennials need to show up to vote if their voices are going to have an impact. Burnstein’s message changed that leading up to the 2012 election. His newest video supports the website, calling attention to the issue of youth unemployment rates and the need for more job opportunities for young people. Burnstein’s campaign gives young people an issue they understand and a reason to vote.

Was this a success in 2012?

Obama’s campaign in 2008 was particularly successful at engaging young people to vote by communicating to issue specific groups through online channels and enabling online support and donations Millennials were compelled to vote, many for the first time.

In an opinion piece about the 2012 election Obama’s campaign pollster, Joel Benenson, explained that it was values, not demographics that won the election:  “Much of the coverage of Tuesday’s results has focused on the strength of Barack Obama’s coalition — minorities, women and young voters. But that analysis misses the real point. The contours of the 2012 presidential race were shaped less by the country’s changing demographics than by the underlying attitudes and values of American voters.” Like David Burnstein’s campaign understands, young people need to be motivated to vote by issues that affect them.

As an incumbent candidate, do people in my generation who originally voted for Obama feel that same need to “make change.” I am careful here to use the word vote and not support, as many Millennials who originally voted for Obama still support him and his party, but this doesn’t mean they still care enough to go to the polling station. The common slogan that reached my peer group was “four more years.” In attempt to keep the bandwagon rolling.

Whats new this time around?

Millennials seek instant results and instant gratification for their efforts. This is not a reality in American government today, especially on big institutional issues like health care and  major economic recovery.

In this election about 49% of American Millennial voters turned out to vote. These young people preferred Obama over Romney by 60% to 36% in the National Exit Polls. That represented a somewhat narrower margin than in the 2008 election, in which Obama took 66% of young voters. The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University presented data that shows, before 2008, in elections from 1976 through 2004, young voters diverged by an average of only about 2 percentage points from the popular vote as a whole.

What happens next?

As a generation Millennial Americans have shared issue and life cycle policy concerns when it comes to employment prospects, tuition rates, debt load, mortgages and affordable housing. Are they making the connection that their vote counts? In 2012 49% made the connection. I think its safe to say that David Burnstein and the Democrats will still have some work to do when it comes to engaging Millennials to get out and vote in 2016.


Jaime is an Analyst at Abacus Data and a thought leader for its Canadian Millennials research practice.

Contact Jaime Morrison:

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