How the Youth Vote Affects Students’ Future Business Prospects
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By Emma Collins
Western Free Press recently made a number of predictions, both light-hearted and serious, about the sorts of issues the country is likely to see in the 2016 election, based largely on trends of the most recent presidential race. One thing that piece did not deal much with was the influence of young voters — a gap the next post seeks to remedy. Business education writer Emma Collins covers issues like distance learning MBA rankings, and puts her knowledge of young people to work as she analyzes how the 2012 youth vote broke down and, more importantly, what it means going forward.
In February 2012, a Pew Research Center survey found that nearly half of all young adults aged 18 to 34 say their age group is having the hardest time in today’s economy. For many pundits, the economic concerns of young people suggested that the youth vote would heavily favor conservative policies. Yet, 60% of voters aged 18 to 29 cast ballots for Obama in the 2012 election, and only 36% voted for Romney, indicating that young voters view economic issues very differently than older generations. Despite their own downbeat assessment, the majority of young people are optimistic regarding their future economic prospects, and unlike their parents and grandparents, they believe government regulations may be necessary to achieve prosperity in the coming years.
In various polls, young people have reported that they believe the economy to be the most important issue the US faces today. This should come as little surprise when one considers the unusually high unemployment figures among recent college graduates and those in the under-30 bracket. Whereas average unemployment in the US has hovered below 8% over the past few months, among young people that figure rises to 12%; among those without a college degree, it is significantly higher still.
A poll by right-leaning organization Generation Opportunity saw 89% of young adults reporting that the poor economy is impacting their daily life, while 84% said they had either delayed, or plan to delay major life changes because of the weak economy. Paul Conway, Generation Opportunity founder and former Labor Department chief of staff under George W. Bush, says “the political effect, in the short term, could be profound- an entire generation has been dealing with high unemployment for over 40 months.”
Despite an overwhelming majority of young voters citing the economy as the nation’s most important problem, the young, millennial generation does not appear to equate economic success with conservative policies. Unlike older generations, young voters seem to favor an expanded government role in the economy. In fact, since 2004, young voters have favored the Democratic Party by a significant margin, proving the party’s most supportive age group in each cycle through 2012. Among voters aged 18 to 29 in 2008, a 19-point gap separated Democratic party affiliation from Republican.
One factor commonly cited in the shift to the left among young voters as a whole is the growing ethnic diversity of the group. As of 2012, young voters of the “millennial” generation, those coming of age around the year 2000, are the least white generation in US history, and the vast majority of young hispanic and black voters have been very supportive of Barack Obama. In 2008, 95% of young African American voters supported the Democratic candidate, despite 58% of them considering themselves evangelical Christians. The majority of Hispanic women have also frequently been found to cite overwhelmingly liberal views.
To many young voters, the Republican Party has lost a great deal of appeal due to its hardline stance on social issues, its denial of climate change and its strong ties to energy companies that many view as archaic and potentially irrelevant in the coming decades. Young voters are looking for innovation and ideas from their leaders, and traditional GOP rhetoric simply doesn’t meet their standards. “Growing up in a technological era, we trust science and data,” says Matthew Segal, co-founder of the millennial advocacy group Our Time. “Denying facts about abortion, denying the Bureau of Labor Statistics defies logic.” Segal asserts the millennial generation is a pragmatic group that rejects “ideologues who would risk our nation’s credit rating to make a political point.”
For now, young voters undoubtedly align themselves far more with Barack Obama’s policies than GOP platforms. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean young voters are hardline liberals, either. In most cases, the views of young voters prove too complex to comfortably fit under any current party label. As Segal points out, “four out of 10 young Americans do not identify with political parties anymore. This is an indictment that the parties are not in touch with our evolving views.” While the economy will likely remain the chief issue for millennial voters in the coming decades, they will likely also demand that economic stability come in tandem with policies that are beneficial to society as a whole. To young voters, technology advancements that create sustainable energy, healthcare for those who need it and quality education for all Americans are at least as important as economic freedom. As this generation matures, the US economy may soon see these facets of American life comingled to a greater extent than ever before.