PHILADELPHIA- “This election will come down to you all,” said John Della Volpe, emphatically to a group of two dozen millennials attending the Democratic National Convention this week in Philadelphia.
Della Volpe is Director of Polling at Harvard’s Institute of Politics (IOP) and has polled young voters for the last sixteen years. Since 2000, the IOP has conducted a biannual poll to examine the political opinions of young Americans ages 18 through 29.
The latest results were released just this week. On Tuesday at the IOP DNC Millennial Town Hall, he shared various findings to help contextualize the 2016 presidential election from the perspective of millennial voters.
Della Volpe explained how in order to win, Donald Trump needs only to make the youth vote more competitive, not win it outright. President Barack Obama’s immense popularity with 18 through 29-year-olds is widely known: he won that demographic by 34 percentage points in 2008 and 22 in 2012.
But what is not as widely known is that when Al Gore and John Kerry lost their presidential elections in 2000 and 2004 respectively, they had also won the youth vote albeit at much smaller margins, 2 points for Gore and 9 points for Kerry. Therefore to win in November, Trump needs just to tighten the millennial vote margin just as President George W. Bush did.
One of the key takeaways from the event was the Millennial Agenda the IOP compiled based on what Millennials believe should be the next president’s focus. The agenda consisted of growing the economy, reducing terrorism, addressing inequality, inspiring unity, and reducing the role of big money in politics. The poll also found that although youth participation in presidential contests increased throughout the early 2000s, it fell six percentage points in 2012 from a high of 51 percent in 2008.
The following day, Buzzfeed and NextGen Climate held a panel event titled ‘#WhyWeVote: Millennials and the Next Election,’ which expanded on this theme. Ellie Perez, a DREAMer, described how mobilizing young people to participate in rallies is easy, but getting them to vote is another story entirely.
She also pointed out how millennials tend to support issues like climate change or immigration reform rather than actual people, which may be contributing to depressed voter turnout. Svante Myrick, Mayor of Ithaca and youngest mayor in the state of New York, talked about how hard it is to hear from his peers that they believe that the system is rigged and that their votes do not matter.
In response, he likened voting as a way to clean politics just as planting trees is a way to clean the air. The millennial generation is now the largest generation in the country and has the potential to shape the course of our country’s future. But to do so, political engagement is key.