CommonSense Blog

Millennials Unplugged: How Young Voters are Shaping #Election2016

By Lauryn Botterman | Jan 20, 2016

2016 will be a monumental year for our nation. On November 8, we’ll elect the 45th President of the United States. Since early last year, we’ve endured an onslaught of campaign messaging via every form of media known to man. Welcome to political discourse in the 21st century—you can’t escape it!

Throughout the upcoming months, the candidates will carry on their quests to win the hearts and minds of the American public. Of all the demographic segments intensely scrutinized by the candidates, Millennials are a particularly hard-won group: According to U.S. Census data, voters between the ages of 18-24 have consistently voted at lower rates than any other age group since 1964. As Joanna Weiss of the Boston Globe proposes, this is largely due to young voters’ widespread mistrust of politicians and political institutions. Politics has always been a dirty game, but in a culture where attack ads, empty promises and fierce partisanship are the norm, Millennials are understandably cynical about the current political climate.

Despite Millennials’ skeptical attitudes towards politics, this youngest subset of voters exerts a large influence on candidates’ campaign strategies. Below are a few of the key ways Millennials have transformed the nature of political campaigns this election cycle.

Digital-Media Image

Source: blog.visual.ly

Candidates Fully Embrace Social Media

This year, candidates will spend a record $1 billion in campaign funds on digital media. Many have established a presence not only on Twitter and Facebook (soooo 2012), but also on Instagram, Snapchat, Meerkat and Periscope.

Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) frequently posts Instagram selfies, #tbts and creative renderings of her campaign logo, although she’s been frequently criticized for disingenuously pandering to the Millennial demographic. Donald Trump (@realDonaldTrump) is never one to hold back from sharing his opinion via Twitter on everything from unemployment rates to global warming and Samuel L. Jackson, but is often cited for his bully-like antics.

There is no doubt that social media is impacting voter sentiment. According to research by Ipsos Mori, more than a third of 18- to 24-year-olds stated that social media would influence their vote, second only to televised debates.

As we head into the primaries, our newsfeeds will undoubtedly be jam-packed with posts from candidates vying for our votes.

2016 Presidential candidates on social media. Source: Newsweek

2016 Presidential candidates on social media. Source: Newsweek

Unique Newsgathering Habits Shape Millennial Voter Decisions

Even without reading up on candidates’ policies or platforms, Millennials are forming impressions of candidates by absorbing tidbits of information available to them through their regular media consumption habits. According to a report in The Atlantic, 90 percent of young people simply “stumble upon” news. Rather than relying on The New York Times or CNN for information about the candidates, Millennials are increasingly turning to Buzzfeed, TheSkimm, and as always, social media. Complex stories are boiled down to quick headlines fit for a tweet, and debates are often reduced to mere soundbites. It’s all about snackable, shareable content—and that has both positive and negative implications. While social media has increased the amount of information available to us, it is also deterring us from conducting deeper research into the issues and the candidates’ track records to make independent, well-informed decisions. To be successful, candidates must find ways to adapt to this new reality.

Presidential Candidates as Pop Culture Icons

In addition to shifting political discourse to social media, Millennials have also shaped another distinct trend in Presidential campaigning: The “celebrification” of candidates. It’s not enough for candidates to be accomplished politicians or business titans. To succeed, they must also achieve the status of pop culture icons. These days, being parodied on Saturday Night Live or a late-night talk show is practically a vote of confidence, or at least a sign that you’re intriguing enough to warrant an impersonation on national television, (cases in point: Kate McKinnon as Hillary Clinton, Larry David’s spot-on cameo as Bernie Sanders, Jay Pharoah as Ben Carson and Jimmy Fallon as Donald Trump). Personality and likability have always been important components of a candidate’s appeal. In an age where politics and pop culture are inextricably intertwined, those traits are even more crucial.

The Race is On…

There is no question that Millennials’ unique perspectives and media habits have already played a large role in shaping the 2016 Presidential Election. The jury’s still out on which candidate will ultimately land in the White House following this crazy campaign season, but you can bet that Millennials will be tweeting, liking, sharing and posting every moment of #Election2016.