The 2020 Electorate: New Voters, New Attitudes

By Frances Cox, Principal, The Fratelli Group

It’s hard to walk down the street, tune into TV or surf the internet without seeing something about millennials. Roughly defined as Americans born between the early 1980s and mid-1990s, this generation is now fully in adulthood, ranging in age from around 22 to 38. When they aren’t putting themselves on display, marketers are doing so for them, trying to capture the attention of this powerful consumer bloc.

The 2018 U.S. midterm elections show us that millennials are now a powerful voting bloc, so if you’re in the business of marketing policy ideas, you will want to read on.

By 2020, millennials will be joined in greater force at the polls by Gen Zers –Americans born between the mid-1990s and early 2000s. This means young people will assume an increasingly greater role in U.S. politics and policy –and their policy preferences are different from those of older voters.

Understanding young people’s likes and dislikes will increasingly make or break advocacy campaigns.

Here’s what the research tells us about younger U.S. voters:

· Less attached to party;

· More concerned about social justice issues;

· More interested in promoting equality, diversity and inclusion;

· More likely to say that immigrants strengthen America;

· Strongly prefer diplomacy over intervention;

· More willing to take the interests of U.S. allies into account in determining U.S. foreign policy priorities; and

· More open to free trade with America’s major economic partners.

Younger voters shaped the outcome of the 2018 midterm elections.

Higher turnout among younger voters in the 2018 U.S. midterm elections, compared to their participation rates in 2014, made a decisive difference in numerous races around the country. Their impact on the election outcome is reflected in the fact that nearly 40 percent of U.S. Representatives in the 116th Congress were born after 1980. [1]

The influence exerted by younger voters is expected to be much greater in 2020.

According to the Pew Research Center, [2] Millennials and Gen Zers will make up nearly 40 percent of eligible voters in 2020. Data from the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement [3] suggest that turnout among these voters could approach or exceed 50 percent. These projections suggest that voters born after 1980 will be the largest single demographic bloc in the 2020 elections.

Their policy preferences are very different from those of the baby-boom generation that has dominated U.S. politics for more than half a century.

According to a 2017 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, [4] younger voters are far more positive about free trade than older Americans. For example, 64 percent of younger voters say the North American Free Trade Agreement has been good for the United States. More than three-quarters of younger voters prefer diplomacy over military intervention; nearly 70 percent say the United States should take its allies interests into account, even at the expense of U.S. interests; and 80 percent say openness to people from around the world is essential to who Americans are as a people and nation. Millennial and Gen Z voters are far more supportive of same-sex marriage than older voters, and a majority of younger voters cite discrimination as the main barrier to the social and economic progress of African-American citizens.

The Bottom Line: U.S. advocacy campaigns should be focused on younger U.S. voters and policymakers, as they will increasingly determine U.S. policy. If you don’t already have a plan for how to reach these voters, now is the time to get one.

[1] “Millennials, Gen X Increase Their Ranks in the House, Especially Among Democrats,” Drew Silver, The Pew Research Center, November 21, 2018.

[2] “An Early Look at the 2020 Electorate,” Anthony Cilluffo and Richard Fry, The Pew Research Center, January 30, 2019.

[3] “Young People Dramatically Increase Their Turnout, Shape 2018 Midterm Elections,” The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, Tufts University, November 7, 2018.

[4] “The Generation Gap in American Politics,” The Pew Research Center, March 1, 2018.