The Millennial Generation is positioned to be a decisive force this November. Recent surveys of Millennials conducted in the battleground states of Colorado and Florida for the New Policy Institute (NPI) by market research and consultation firm, Frank N. Magid Associates, provide a revealing portrait of the political loyalties and attitudes of young voters. In both states, a majority of Millennials continue to identify as Democrats, most call themselves liberal or progressive, and most hold favorable attitudes toward Barack Obama and the Democratic Party (and unfavorable attitudes toward the Republican Party and Tea Party movement).If Millennials vote as overwhelmingly Democratic this year as they appear likely to do, they could prove to be the crucial factor in an election that appears to be evenly divided according to the most recent polling.
The results of the NPI survey are corroborated nationally in an early September Pew Research Center survey. That poll gives the Democrats a greater than 2:1 (51% vs. 22%) party ID advantage over the GOP among Millennials. By contrast, the two parties are almost virtually tied in party ID among all older generations (43% Democrat vs. 40% Republican).
Just as important, Millennials hold solidly progressive positions on a range of key issues:
· A solid plurality of them (45%) favors the healthcare reform law passed by Congress and signed by the president in February. An additional 14 percent want to see how the new law works in practice before attempting to change or repeal it. Only 18 percent of Millennials favor repealing it outright. By contrast, older generations are almost evenly divided on this issue (43% supporting the healthcare reform legislation and 35% favoring immediate repeal of the new law).
· Two-thirds of Millennials (67%) oppose modifying the 14th Amendment to eliminate birthright citizenship for the children of undocumented immigrants. In contrast, a majority of those in older generations (51%) favor changing the Constitution for this purpose.
· A plurality of Millennials (34%) would prefer to let all of the Bush 2001 tax cuts to expire. An additional 26% favor letting the tax cuts expire for those earning more than $250 thousand per year, but remain in place for other Americans. Less than one-quarter (23%) believe that all of the tax cuts should be extended. On the other hand, among older Americans, only one-quarter (26%) favor ending of all the tax cuts, while a plurality (30%) want all of them to remain in force.
All of this bodes well for the long-term future of the Democratic Party and the progressive movement. Voting behavior research dating back to the 1950s demonstrates that once political identifications and attitudes are formed in early adulthood, they tend to solidify and remain constant for a lifetime. The Millennial Generation, along with other key components of the 21st Century Democratic Coalition, has the potential to underpin another era of Democratic and progressive dominance, particularly as the Millennial share of the electorate increases from the 17 percent that it was in 2008, to the 24 percent that it will be when President Obama runs for reelection in 2012, and the 36 percent in will comprise in 2020 when the youngest Millennials become eligible to vote.
But the key to Democratic victories in the short term requires Millennials voting in 2010 at a level proportionate to their contribution to the electorate in 2006 and 2008.
Recent polling suggests that is by no means certain. Part of the problem is structural: a June NDN survey indicated that only 60 percent of Millennials, as compared with 83 percent of older generations, were registered to vote.
However, a bigger concern is attitudinal: Millennials, like other components of the Democratic coalition, are not as inspired by or involved in politics as they were in both 2006 and 2008. The June NDN poll indicated that only 44 percent of Millennials in contrast to 64 percent of other generations said they were “absolutely certain” to vote this fall. The numbers were a bit better three months later in both Florida (48%) and Colorado (56%), but they were undoubtedly well below that of older voters in those states. Of greater concern, however, the June NDN survey indicates that only a third of Millennials (33%), as compared to about half of other Americans (47%), placed great importance on the outcome of the 2010 midterm elections. In both Colorado (31%) and Florida (32%), as in the nation overall, only a third of Millennials perceived the election to be very important.
The Obama administration and the Democratic Party clearly recognize the crucial importance of the Millennial Generation. The president has scheduled a series of rallies at college campuses across the country, most recently at the University of Wisconsin, to remind Millennials of all that is at stake this fall. The Democratic National Committee has earmarked $50 million to bring Millennials, and other key components of the 21st Century Democratic Coalition, to the polls. The operative question in the 2010 midterm election is whether these efforts will prove to be timely and effective enough to activate the Democratic majority this November.