May 16, 2016

Millennials match Baby Boomers as largest generation in U.S. electorate, but will they vote?

Millennials, who already have surpassed Baby Boomers as the United States’ largest living generation, now have caught up to the Boomers when it comes to their share of the American electorate.

FT_16.05.13_eligibleMillennialVotersAs of April 2016, an estimated 69.2 million Millennials (adults ages 18-35 in 2016) were voting-age U.S. citizens – a number almost equal to the 69.7 million Baby Boomers (ages 52-70) in the nation’s electorate, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data. Both generations comprise roughly 31% of the voting-eligible population.

Last month, Generation X (ages 36-51) and members of the Silent and Greatest generations (ages 71 and older) comprised about 25% and 12% of the electorate, respectively.

The Baby Boomer voting-eligible population peaked in size at 72.9 million around 2004.  Since the Boomer electorate is declining in size, it is only a matter of time before Millennials are the largest generation in the electorate. 

While the growth in the number of Millennials who are eligible to vote underscores the potential electoral clout of today’s young adults, Millennials remain far from the largest generational bloc of actual voters. It is one thing to be eligible to vote and another entirely to cast a ballot.

FT_16.05.13_millennialVoters_turnoutMeasuring voter turnout is not an exact science. The Census Bureau’s November voting supplements are a standard data source for illuminating the demographics of voting. Census estimates of voter turnout are based on respondent self-reports of whether they voted in the recent election.

Based on these estimates, Millennials have punched below their electoral weight in recent presidential elections. For a host of reasons, young adults are less likely to vote than their older counterparts, and Millennials are no exception.

In the context of their turnout history, the high-water mark for Millennials was the 2008 election, when 50% of eligible Millennials voted. By comparison, 61% of the Generation X electorate reported voting that year, as did even larger percentages of older eligible voters. In 2008 Millennials comprised 18% of the electorate, but as a result of their relatively low turnout they were only 14% of those who said they actually voted.

FT_16.05.13_generationsDefined_2016Millennial turnout was less impressive in 2012, when 46% of eligible Millennials said they had voted. Since the oldest Millennials were 31 years of age in 2012 (as opposed to 27 in 2008), the expectation might have been that turnout would have edged higher. After all, an older, more mature, more “settled” age group presumably should turn out at higher rates. This underscores the fact that young-adult turnout depends on factors besides demographics: the candidates, the success of voter mobilization efforts, as well as satisfaction with the economy and direction of the country.

To assess how much Millennial turnout might have to increase in order for Millennials to constitute about 31% of actual voters in November 2016, consider a low bar: the 1996 election. It was a low-turnout affair, with only 58% of all eligible voters saying they voted. In a low-turnout environment, 58% of eligible Millennials would need to vote in order for their voting clout to match their share of the electorate.

While it might be a “slam-dunk” that Millennials soon will be the largest generation in the electorate, it will likely be a much longer time before they are the largest bloc of voters.

Topics: 2016 Election, Generations and Age, Millennials, Voter Demographics, Voter Participation

  1. Photo of Richard Fry

    is a senior researcher focusing on economics and education at Pew Research Center.

7 Comments

  1. Anonymous4 months ago

    There is also the question of whether the Baby Boom can be considered a block. I think not.

  2. Anonymous4 months ago

    Want to know is the apparent decline of the Millennials voting % is the result of the domination of corporate monies, and is Move To Amend movement has a prayer and if not that what is the ‘MAGIC” answer???

  3. Michael Leslie4 months ago

    One question not answered here, is what percentage of Baby Boomers and Gen X voted when they were in the 18 – 35 age range? Are the Millennials more disengaged than previous generations at the same points in their lives? It seems that as we age our engagement rises and we are more likely to make the effort to vote. Also with elections held during the work week it may be more difficult for Millennials to balance work, child care, and civic engagement.

  4. Anonymous4 months ago

    They did in Canada, seized the agenda big time, and we are better off for it. Engaged both globally and domestically, and a 50/50 female male government. I’m a 60+ male and to borrow a baby boomer phrase ‘digging it’

  5. David Broden4 months ago

    The age increment involvement as citizen voters and participation in civic and public policy discussion and evolution is a topic receiving increasing attention. Seeking to understand how the various age groups obtain, assimilate, and discuss public policy issues has a major impact on public policy discussion and action at all levels of government. While no data it appears that milleniums are very much aware of the topcis and issues but do not get involved due to the many related activities. I am vice chairman of a public policy group in MN civiccaucus.org which is currently addressing the question of: Why is it currently so difficult for public policy groups to evolve recommendations which result in action? How should public policy discussions and infrastructure be shaped and applied to ensure participation by all ages groups and utilize todays media effectively. Comments. Dave Broden

  6. Brent Green4 months ago

    Pew’s position that the Millennial Generation exceeds the size of the Baby Boom Generation depends on acceptance of their generational boundaries.

    Boomers, born from 1946 through 1964, or a nineteen-year span, experienced many of the same major formative experiences, such as Vietnam, the women’s movement, rock ‘n’ roll culture, and Watergate. Those Americans born and reaching young adulthood during these years also experienced homogeneous television media through three dominant television networks, thus fostering collective mentalities around many core values.

    However, Millennials grew up in times of much more fragmented cable television and less disruptive and tumultuous formative experiences. Thus, it’s difficult to accept that a Millennial born in 1981 has much or anything in common with someone born in 1998 from a cohort perspective.

    Whereas early Millennials reached young adulthood without the Internet’s transformative impact on their daily lives, those born after 1995 are truly digital natives and have had online experiences since early childhood. Whereas 9/11 was a major formative event for Millennials in their teens and early adult years, those born in late 1990’s were too young to process this significant event.

    Media fragmentation and accelerated value formation during early and late adolescence — the most formative years of a generation — are compressing the number of years bounding new generations.

    My position remains that the Millennial generation’s final birth year is 1995 with the next year ushering in the beginning of Generation Z or the iGen. Thus, the Millennial Generation has not yet surpassed the size of the Baby Boom Generation.

  7. Richard Simpkins4 months ago

    The growth in Millennials is only half the equation. There’s also the dramatic decline in the Silent/Greatest trendline (one presumes that it’s mostly the Greatest). Each new Millennial that turns 18 replaces one of them.