Will Millennial voters make difference in the Illinois gubernatorial election?

18 Oct

By Lisa Klein

The youth vote did much to put Barack Obama in the White House in 2008, but the jury still may be out on their involvement in the next election, according to a DePaul University expert on the topic.

“Young adults appear to be less interested and are the least likely of any age group to say they are going to vote,” said Molly Andolina, DePaul University political science professor and a sought-after authority on civic patterns of the Millennial Generation (those born after 1982) about the upcoming gubernatorial race.

Historically, the youth demographic (age 18-24) has the lowest voter turnout of any age group, especially in midterm elections like those taking place this year. The gap between the youth vote and older voters increases dramatically in midterm years.

According to a 2008 Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) study, in 2006 only 23 percent of registered youth voters in Illinois actually cast ballots compared to 54 percent of older voters.

So just who are these non-voters of the Millennial Generation, and why aren’t they voting?

“As a whole, this is a Democratic-leaning age generation,” Andolina said, adding that plenty of young people support the Republican Party. They are also more likely to identify as with third parties or as independents. “It is a myth that young people always go for the Democrat.”

Young people vote for all of the same reasons older voters do. The difference, Andolina pointed out, is that they have weaker political affiliations.

“They are less likely to be registered, less interested in campaign and political news… less likely to have voted in the past, and have weaker party identifications,” Andolina said.

They are also the least likely to be contacted or targeted by candidates. In a 2004 CIRCLE survey of local party leaders, only 38 percent said that young voters were important to their party’s overall success. Eight percent said that they were the most important group.

However, in the 2008 presidential election they had the largest increase in turnout of any age group. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 49 percent of registered youth voted. This was still lower than other age groups, but the gap closed significantly. In Illinois, CIRCLE shows 51 percent of registered youth voting, compared to 66 percent in other age groups.

Andolina says that the Obama campaign did something unprecedented—they contacted 16 percent of youth voters (the McCain campaign contacted four percent). Before that, “most groups didn’t waste time and energy on them.”

Several factors may have led to Obama’s overwhelming success with the youth vote.

For one, Andolina noted, he actually tried to get their votes instead of ignoring them. Second, he used social media and other technology to reach them. And third, he had young people campaigning for him—what she calls peer-to-peer recruitment.

Those efforts were not in vain, according to the U.S. Census Bureau; people 18-24 years old added about 1 million additional votes above previous years and about 5 million votes total were added—with only half of the registered youth voters going to the polls.

So how can the Millennials in Illinois impact the gubernatorial race? A lot, if the 2008 presidential election is any indicator.

CIRCLE numbers from 2008 indicated that 81 percent of eligible, young people in Illinois were registered to vote. This was up from 49 percent in 2006, a huge amount of potential votes.

In the last five polls taken, Brady averages 41 percent and Quinn 39 percent. Reaching more potential voters could push either one over the edge.

With a race this so close, the next governor may just be the one who decides that the Millennial Generation is important to them after all.

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