Will millennial activism change historically low voting rate?

Sign Up For Our FREE Daily eNews!

Staff and volunteers for NextGen at the Lowell Street office. Laura Aronson

MANCHESTER, NH – Earlier this month 17 young adults from Manchester registered to run for the state legislature. And millennials are part of the street team canvassing for the young adult vote through NextGen New Hampshire, now based in Manchester.

Is this a sign of the times, that millennials (ages 22 to 37) and their older cohort called GenX becoming more active in politics now? Will they stay involved?

Dr. Andrew E. Smith, Associate Professor of Practice in Political Science and Director of the UNH Survey Center, says probably not – particularly with the millennials – more, a cyclical phenomenon based on political trends.

“I presume less involvement in midterms than in presidential elections, and when it is not a big money race. During the mid-term of an incumbent president, the opposing party always picks up more votes. It is a more attractive year for Democrats to run while the Republicans are in a defensive battle and spending less money,” says Smith.

“Young adults under 30 have the lowest turnout – except for adults over 90. I don’t anticipate this year will be a change. It’s like the cartoon of Lucy holding the football for Linus, then pulling it away when he kicks,” says Smith.

Lucas Meyer, president of the New Hampshire Young Democrats, sees it differently.

“In any other mid-term year, that might be true. But what we’re seeing in this country is unprecedented in terms of the radical policies that are being being pushed by the Trump administration and the trickle-down affect its having at the state level,” says Meyer.

“Young people in New Hampshire are sick and tired of conservatives in Concord prioritizing policies that have work against attracting and retaining a younger workforce. That’s why we’re going to do everything we can to make sure we turn out young voters so we can flip the scripts and lower the record-high level of student debt here, pass paid family medical leave, and end the seemingly annual assault on both our right to vote and a woman’s right to make her own healthcare decisions,” Meyer says.

“This fall, we expect young people to turn out and let their voices be heard at the polls, to change the direction in the country and the state. The fact that we have over 60 young Democrats running for office here in New Hampshire is proof positive of their energy,” he says.

Tammy Simmons, who chairs the Manchester Republican Committee, says it may only be the megaphone of social media that makes it appear that way.

“I don’t think there’s a big surge. Maybe we see it more because of social media. Republicans have always had a cadre of young people willing to knock on doors for people. Because the state legislature only pays $100 per year, when you’re struggling to pay for a house, you aren’t going to run for the legislature,” says Simmons.

Neil Levesque, Chief of Staff for New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College, says he’s noticed an “uptick” in student engagement around politics.

“Certain national issues or candidates will tend to spur on involvement or energy with the young, such as Barack Obama. For college students, we’re seeing that around service in the big community projects, particularly around poverty. At Saint Anselm College, we see an uptick in energy and activism,” says Levesque.

“Volunteerism and service is a big distinguisher, and I think they are linked to one another. If you are engaged in your community in volunteer or service work, that will affect if you will vote – or how you will vote. This is not necessarily for one party or the other, and our students have tilted one way or the other over the years,” Levesque says.

The 2018 National Youth Poll conducted by the Institute of Politics at Harvard University revealed these findings:

  • Democratic control of Congress is preferred 69 percent to 28 percent over Republicans. The majority of young Democrats are “definitely voting” in midterm elections.
  • Trump approval remains at 25 percent overall, and 34 percent on the economy.
  • Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of young Americans have more fear than hope about the future of democracy in America. “Young Americans are deeply concerned and fearful about our country’s future,” said IOP Polling Director John Della Volpe. “There’s a healthy debate raging on the reasons why – politicians, media, big money, political correctness, and structural barriers like racism and access to education are all contributing factors in the eyes of millennials and post-millennials. Yet, there is no debate that young people are working hard to bridge these divides, finding pragmatic solutions and instilling hope for a stronger democracy.”
  • Two-thirds of all young Americans support a specific path to citizenship for the approximately 800,000 young people who are members of the DACA population, also known as Dreamers. Only 4 percent of all young Americans trusted in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to do the right thing all of the time, while more than six times that – 25 percent of all respondents – said they never trust ICE.
  • 70 percent of young Americans likely to vote in the upcoming midterms believe that gun control laws in the United States should be more strict.  Overall, 64 percent of 18-to 29-year-olds hold this view.
  • Two-thirds (66 percent) of young Americans support expanding the use of medical marijuana as a substitute for chronic pain patients who are currently being prescribed opioids.

Lexi McMenamin, the NextGen Manchester organizer, and Lisa Demaine, campus organizer, on why they’re working to get out the millennial vote/