As we head into November’s US elections, all candidates are vying for the millennial vote—and for good reason. Millennials are , making them a critical bloc for any campaign. 69.2 million are now eligible to vote, which is more than double compared to the past decade. When added together with Gen-X voters, 2016 represents the first time young people have displaced the Baby Boomer vote. At the same time, millennials are historically less likely to vote than their older peers, with only around half having voted in the last presidential election. Knowing this, there’s no question that all political parties will be pushing hard to get them to the voting booths this fall.
As millennials age, they will become more politically active and many will run for political office themselves. Already this year, 25-year-old Erin Schrode ran for office in California’s second district, 28-year-old Grant Starrettin ran for office in Tenessee’s fourth district, and and 25-year-old Rebekah Bydlak ran for office in Florida’s first district. While all three lost, it’s a sign of the interest millennials have in making a political and social impact in America.
Over their lifetimes, millennials will have witnessed national catastrophes, including September 11, the Orlando shootings, and the economic recession of 2008, as well as global threats including ISIL. These events have shaped and influenced their worldview. They also represent an incredibly diverse bloc: 44% percent identify as non-white, according to census data. When it comes to party affiliation, nearly half of millennials identify as independents according to Gallup, and they are also more inclined to vote based on a candidate instead of the party. This makes for an incredibly important yet eclectic mix.
We know that both presidential candidates must compete for the millennial vote if they want to win the election. In order to do that, candidates need to focus on the right issues, be transparent, engage with young people in their communities—and influence millennials’ parents. Here are four things that every candidate needs to know about millennials if they want to win their vote this election:
Focus on the issues that matter—and provide real solutions
The best way to appeal to millennials is to focus on the issues they are paying attention to and care most about. The World Economic Forum’s annual Global Shapers survey found the top five most concerning world issues for young people are climate change, large-scale conflicts, religious conflicts, poverty, and government accountability. Millennials have already witnessed the destruction of our coastlines and have listened as scientists warned about the rise of sea levels. Knowing that humans are causing global warming, they want the government to step in and reduce fossil fuel use. When it comes to wars and religious conflicts, they want politicians to continue the war on ISIL and fight for freedom of religion; according to research conducted by the Harvard Public Opinion Project, 80% feel that religion is either very important or somewhat in their lives.
Socioeconomic wellbeing is also important, as 20% of millennials are living in poverty, many whom are unemployed, underemployed, or have even given up on finding a job. These young voters want politicians to close the poverty gap and regulate student loans so that they aren’t poor and in debt. The same Harvard poll found that millennials feel the division between rich and poor is worse than before they were born. Finally, they want the government to be more transparent and less corrupt.
Be as transparent and factual as possible
Millennials are truth seekers and often turn to multiple sources in order to get their news, as well as to their peer network. After the recession and the following bailouts, they became more suspicious of politicians, and they have to work harder to earn their trust back. A mere one in every four millennials says they can trust the government always or most of the time.
Millennials are also very inclined to fact check candidates after hearing them speak and are open to political figures who are honest and sincere. Indeed, one of the big reasons why political outsiders have risen to fame this election cycle is because they are at least perceived to be honest by the masses. Yet, political parties continue to stumble on the transparency front. Plagiarizing speeches or continually changing stances on issues is not a good way to earn millennial trust. If you want to win their vote, be honest and sincere with your rhetoric.
Go to their communities and engage on their platforms
President Barack Obama’s success in the 2008 election was aided by his use of social networks to connect with young voters. He also savvily brought on Chris Hughes, a Facebook co-founder, to help launch the campaign. The end result was incredibly successful—today Obama boasts over 77 million Twitter followers and nearly 50 million Facebook fans. Importantly, Facebook remains the most important social community for millennials by far. Future Workplace (where I am a partner and research director) and Randstad’s most recent study found that millennials spend more than 30% of their personal and professional time on the social media platform, and it’s also their top news source. After cementing a presence on Facebook, candidates should also invest their time in Instagram and Snapchat, ensuring that their interactions are accessible on the devices millennials use most often to read and share news, including phones and tablets.
Connect with the parents
Based on several surveys that Future Workplace conducted, as well as secondary sources, it seems clear that parents still wield considerable power over millennials’ political views, consumer behavior, and careers. When millennials were asked by Future Workplace about who most influences their vote, nearly half said their parents, followed by their co-workers, and then celebrities. Another factor here is the number of millennials who still live at home. With over $1.3 trillion in student-loan debt and a constant struggle to find work, many millennials have been pushed into a delayed adulthood that has forced them to continue to live with their parents, even after graduating college. 22% are living with their parents instead of on their own, and that’s the highest percentage in the modern era, reports Pew.
After taking these tips into account, politicians can better understand and appeal to millennials with effectively targeted messages and advertisements. Political parties that fail to invest in this generation do so at their peril.