Mil­len­ni­als & US Midterms: Pas­sion­ate, But Are They Pre­dictable?

Policy - - Before The Bell | From The Editor - BY DALE SMITH

As with all elec­tions these days, the loom­ing Novem­ber 6th U.S. midterms have re­freshed the con­ver­sa­tion on how to mo­bi­lize mil­len­nial vot­ers, who have their own val­ues and at­ti­tudes. Be­fore the Bell hosted a panel Septem­ber 27th on the fac­tors that guide

mil­len­ni­als’ de­ci­sions, and what sig­nals they might be send­ing for Cana­dian can­di­dates ahead of the Oc­to­ber 2019 fed­eral elec­tion. Moder­a­tor Shawn McCarthy wel­comed John Della Volpe, di­rec­tor of polling at the Har­vard Kennedy School’s In­sti­tute of Pol­i­tics, and David Co­letto, CEO of Aba­cus Data.

Della Volpe, an ex­pert on mil­len­nial at­ti­tudes and be­hav­iours, said his re­search shows that young Amer­i­cans are deeply con­cerned about the state of their coun­try, democ­racy, and in­sti­tu­tions, and that there is a deep sense of anx­i­ety among them. Polling also shows that they blame politi­cians, big money and the me­dia for the state of things, but also the struc­tural bar­ri­ers to ad­vance­ment. He also noted that there is wan­ing sup­port for cap­i­tal­ism among youth.

“De­spite the fact that two-thirds of young Amer­i­cans have more fear than hope, de­spite the fact that they’re ques­tion­ing ev­ery­thing from the politi­cians to the me­dia, to struc­tural chal­lenges in­clud­ing cap­i­tal­ism, there are a lot of in­di­ca­tions in our data and other data sets…that we’re on the verge of see­ing a once-in-a-gen­er­a­tion at­ti­tu­di­nal shift about the ef­fi­cacy of pol­i­tics and po­lit­i­cal en­gage­ment,” said Della Volpe.

For the midterms, Della Volpe said his polling shows an in­crease in Demo­cratic and in­de­pen­dent-iden­ti­fied vot­ers who “def­i­nitely plan to vote” rel­a­tive to the last “wave” elec­tion in 2010, whereas there is a dip in self-iden­ti­fied Repub­li­cans.

“We ex­pect to see an in­crease in over­all par­tic­i­pa­tion, but more im­por­tantly a change in the com­po­si­tion of the vote,” said Della Volpe. “We have far more young Democrats par­tic­i­pat­ing than young Repub­li­cans.”

Della Volpe said that the rea­son some youth don’t vote is that they don’t see tan­gi­ble re­sults, as they do with com­mu­nity ser­vice. But in the Trump era, he is see­ing a rise in en­gage­ment com­pa­ra­ble to the af­ter­math of 9/11.

From a Cana­dian per­spec­tive, Co­letto said that while the val­ues are sim­i­lar, the ma­jor­ity of young Cana­di­ans feel op­ti­mistic about Canada, and that there is less ad­her­ence to par­ti­san­ship.

“In 2011, the Con­ser­va­tives and the NDP ba­si­cally split the youth vote,” said Co­letto. “Four years later, Justin Trudeau did very well. There’s a lot of flu­id­ity in young Cana­di­ans.”

Aba­cus’s own num­bers, re­leased in April 2016, showed forty-five per cent of Cana­di­ans aged 18 to 25 voted Lib­eral, com­pared with 25 per cent for the NDP and 20 per cent for the Con­ser­va­tive Party.

Della Volpe said that the po­lit­i­cal awak­en­ing for older mil­len­ni­als — who so ef­fec­tively mo­bi­lized for the Obama cam­paign in 2008 — was 9/11, and they have con­tin­ued to be a re­li­able pro­gres­sive vot­ing bloc. For the younger mil­len­ni­als, the Great Re­ces­sion showed them the fail­ures of the sys­tem, and that Repub­li­cans failed to take ad­van­tage of the op­por­tu­ni­ties that it pre­sented, which fed the grass­roots move­ment for Bernie San­ders.

“The anger and ques­tions that were raised about how this sort of thing hap­pened in 2016 have now been chan­neled into a very pro­duc­tive series of con­ver­sa­tions on cam­puses, and when I ask a young per­son why they’re vot­ing, they’re more likely to tell me that they’re do­ing it to sup­port some marginal­ized pop­u­la­tion within their com­mu­nity or within the coun­try,” said Della Volpe.

On for­eign pol­icy, Della Volpe out­lined in an RCP op-ed in May the level of sup­port among young Amer­i­cans for mul­ti­lat­er­al­ism. The Har­vard Kennedy School In­sti­tute of Pol­i­tics’ Bi-An­nual Sur­vey of Youth At­ti­tudes showed that an over­whelm­ing per­cent­age of young Amer­i­cans un­der the age of 30 — re­gard­less of party af­fil­i­a­tion — be­lieve in a highly col­lab­o­ra­tive ap­proach to for­eign pol­icy.

For his part, when asked about mil­len­ni­als’ val­ues ver­sus those of older gen­er­a­tions, Co­letto pointed to the sense of fair­ness and equal­ity, and in Canada, cli­mate change has a sense of ur­gency. He also said there is a sense that the sys­tem is bro­ken, which is some­thing that Trudeau was able to tap into in Canada the way San­ders did in the U.S.

Della Volpe said that by con­trast, one of the top is­sues for young Amer­i­cans is school shoot­ings, as well as in­equal­ity. Reach­ing young mil­len­nial women is also where there is con­trast be­tween Canada and the U.S.

“Mak­ing gen­der equal­ity a core part of the gov­ern­ment’s agenda speaks to the gen­er­a­tion, and par­tic­u­larly to young women,” said Co­letto of the Trudeau gov­ern­ment. “The broader Me­Too move­ment has em­pow­ered them and given them a voice.”

Co­letto also noted that Canada’s re­gional di­vides are more pro­nounced than class, par­tic­u­larly around is­sues like cli­mate change and car­bon taxes. He also said that hous­ing af­ford­abil­ity and jobs are the most press­ing needs, which pro­vides an op­por­tu­nity for the Con­ser­va­tives to come up with poli­cies to fill that space.

There are a lot of in­di­ca­tions in our data and other data sets… that we’re on the verge of see­ing a once-in-a-gen­er­a­tion at­ti­tu­di­nal shift about the ef­fi­cacy of pol­i­tics and po­lit­i­cal en­gage­ment.” — John Della Volpe di­rec­tor of polling at the Har­vard Kennedy School’s In­sti­tute of Pol­i­tics

Left to right: David Co­letto CEO Aba­cus Data & Shawn McCarthy Globe & Mail. Pho­to­graph by Sixth Es­tate

John Della Volpe. Pho­to­graph by Sixth Es­tate

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