Businesses that market to Millennials have particular reason to look closely at the results of the just-finished U.S. presidential election.
About 23 million Americans under the age of 30 voted last Tuesday — representing about half of the eligible voters in that age group. While half chose not to vote, 49% is a triumph, by the standards of recent elections. Among all voters, those under 30 represented 19% of the electorate, compared with 18% in 2008. While statistics are not completely in yet, it appears that the number of voters under 30 equalled or exceeded those over 65. This is astounding. Voters over 65 have the reputation as the most deeply devoted voters and have played a crucial role in determining the policies and the course of campaigns for many cycles. It appears that young voters may soon be as politically powerful as their grandparents.
This is notable for a couple of reasons. While seniors are known to vote in large numbers, the youngest voters have been known to vote in the smallest proportions. In 2008, an election that was deemed historic by most observers, the youth vote spiked, based on the perceived uniqueness of that year’s potential for historic change. Almost every commentator leading up to the 2012 election predicted that young voters would return to their previous levels of apathy now that excitement over an African-American president has been diminished by the realities of day-to-day governing in a time of economic crisis.
Instead, young voters demonstrated a willingness to wait in lines sometimes hours long to cast their ballots in numbers as impressive as those of their elders.
One of the explanations (among many) is… wait for it… Facebook.
A study still being compiled promises to be one of the most massive social experiments ever undertaken. Facebook randomly assigned different users with reminders and newsfeed articles about the election, while others did not receive the special treatment. Those behind the experiment hope to determine the impact that this sort of social media inducement had on voting patterns.
Even leaving aside the deliberate efforts represented by this experiment, commentators suspect that social media played an important role in the impressive under-30 voter turnout, in part for the simple reason that it was the topic of the day. Anybody logging into Facebook or checking Twitter feeds on Tuesday was bombarded with opinions and news around the election. There are a lot of characteristics that define young people, including being integrated online, and among those characteristics is the need to feel a part of something big. While a decade ago someone may have been able to move through election day with only a vague awareness of the important event taking place, anyone on Facebook could not ignore the overwhelming obsession among their friends about the outcome of the presidential and down ballot races. Voting was something, it appeared, everyone was doing – and Millennials do not like to be left out of things.
The ultimate meaning of the sustained and impressive youth vote from 2008 two 2012 will be analyzed for years to come. It may be safe, though, to hazard the guess that young people are more engaged than almost ever before in the electoral system. Social media plays a role, certainly, as do the legitimate fears and concerns for their future in terms of micro-economic issues like student loan debt and macroeconomic issues like the kind of economy today’s college students will graduate into. In the shortest synopsis, this election tells us one crucial thing about young voters: they care.
We have often noted in this blog that young people are often just as likely to vote with their wallets as they are to vote in an actual election, based on the belief that corporations have as much power as government does in their impact on ordinary lives. We are prepared — happily — to amend this assertion. Young people are likely to vote with their wallets, supporting businesses that support the same things they do — and they are increasingly likely to vote in elections, too.
This sends a message to candidates running for public office: take young voters for granted at your own peril.
For businesses, it sends a powerfully reinforced message that we have been sending all along: young people care about the future of their world. Businesses, just like elected officials, need to recognize this basic fact in order to succeed.
If your business needs help connecting with young people, there is a turnkey platform that makes the connection easy. Contact partnerships@CampusAuction.com.