Why Don’t Millennials Vote?

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.


Let’s scold the millennials today, shall we? Russell Dalton put together some data on political engagement among various age groups over the past few decades, and sure enough, he concludes that young ‘uns just aren’t as engaged as they used to be. Conversely, old folks are much more engaged.

Millennials in 2016 are significantly less likely to vote or try to influence others vote than were the ’80s generation in the 1987 survey, or the first wave of postwar baby boomers in 1967. But millennials display about the same level of political interest as the youngest generation did in 1987….At the same time, a widening age gap in participation occurs at both ends of the life cycle….Older Americans in the two later surveys are significantly more active than seniors were in 1967.

The chart on the right shows this pretty dramatically. In 1967 there was very little difference between the youngest and oldest voters. By 1987 a gap had opened up, and by 2014 that gap had become a chasm. Millennials are still interested in politics, and they still work with others on political issues. They just don’t vote. Dalton tries to put the rosiest possible spin on this:

The widening participation gap between the less involved youth and the very involved elders in 2014 might not mean that millennials — or “kids these days” — don’t care. Rather, it could be that the long slope of differences by life stage is getting steeper, with less involvement in youth and more involvement in later life. And even this widening participation gap is largely based on millennials reluctance to vote, while remaining engaged in other ways.

….Lower youth turnout is not a sign of a broad malaise. Millennials are about as interested in politics as youth in prior generations, and about as politically active outside elections….If we look at the full range of political activity, millennials are good democratic citizens — at least as much as their elders were in their youth.

I dunno. I think Dalton protests too much. The political engagement gap is genuinely huge, regardless of whether millennials say they’re interested in politics. And no argle bargle about the “long slope of difference by life stage” explains this. Voting isn’t all that big a chore, and if millennials don’t do it, it means either that their political engagement really is low or that they simply don’t believe that voting makes any difference. But which is it?

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest