Gen Xers and Millennials out-voted older generations in 2016
The number of Millennials and Generation Xers who cast votes in the 2016 election was big, surpassing the number of Baby Boomers, Silent Generation voters and Greatest Generation voters for the first time, according to Reid Wilson at The Hill. According to a report put out by the Pew Research Center, that generational shift in voting power will continue in future elections and will likely reshape the political landscape of the United States in coming decades.
According to the study, out of 137.5 million votes cast, 69.6 million came from voters under the age of 51, while voters in the older generations cast 67.9 million votes.
The switchover is an inevitable part of demographics. Richard Fry, a labor economist at the Pew Research Center, tells Wilson that Baby Boomers have been the most numerous voters since 1984. Baby boomers are those born roughly between 1946 and 1964. They remained the largest block of voters in 2016 with 48.1 million voter, representing 35 percent of the electorate. This number was down 2 million from a peak of 50.1 million Boomer voters in 2004. As the oldest Boomers reach their 70s, their numbers will continue to decline.
Millennials are defined by the study as those between the ages of 18 and 35 in 2016. They will continue to grow as part of the electorate for two reasons: First, immigration and naturalization will add to their numbers and second, as people age their voting participation tends to increase. The Greatest or Silent Generation had a 70 percent voting participation rate last year, Boomers voted at 69 percent, Gen Xers voted at 63 percent and Millennials voted at 49 percent.
The study reports that the shift in the electorate has political implications. For instance, 55 percent of Millennials identify as Democrats or Democratic-leaning independents while 33 percent identified themselves as leaning toward the GOP. Millennials tend to hold more liberal social views.
Danielle Kurtzleben at NPR reports that this change in ideologies doesn't necessarily provide a clear political forecast. Other studies show that Millennials are more polarized than other generations, with more identifying with extremely conservative or extremely liberal positions. More Millennials also self-identified as conservatives at high school graduation than either Baby Boomers or Generation Xers did at the same age.
Kurtzleben points out that one of the most surprising aspects of the study is that it took this long for younger voters to take center stage - there are currently 126 million eligible Gen X and Millennial voters versus 98 million Baby Boomer and older voters, according to Pew.
Then again, even though eligible Gen X and Millennial voters were roughly equivalent to Baby Boomer and Silent Generation votes in 2012, while 70 percent of the older generations turned out that year, younger voters only turned out at 53.9 percent, casting fewer total votes.