The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Majorities of millennials who plan to vote support Democrats — except among white men

Sofie Whitney, an activist and student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., talks about voting during a Vote for Our Lives event at the University of Central Florida in Orlando on Oct. 31. (John Raoux/AP)

Many media outlets have been reporting about how this year’s U.S. midterm election includes women and people of color running for office in record numbers. According to Politico, 180 women and 133 people of color have been nominated to the Democratic House ticket during this election cycle. Others have looked at unusual efforts to get young people to the polls.

But we don’t know much about how race and gender among young adults jointly work to influence people’s attitudes. Data from the GenForward Survey offer some understanding of how race and gender shape the political preferences of younger voters.

Here’s how we did our research

Our data, based on 1,881 responses and collected from Sept. 21 to Oct. 6, come from the most recent GenForward Survey. The GenForward Survey is a bimonthly, nationally representative survey of young adults between the ages of 18 and 34 that focuses on how race and ethnicity shape political attitudes. GenForward Surveys are designed to compare racial group attitudes with a higher degree of confidence than most other surveys and are weighted to recent population estimates. These qualities allow us to take an intersectional look at how millennials view the midterm election. Although these data are from earlier in the campaign cycle, the patterns we observe are likely to remain stable, especially the gaps by race and gender. To identify likely voters, we use a procedure based on the Perry-Gallup Index that creates an additive scale using individual survey responses and past election turnout rates.

The Post's Scott Clement explains voter trends revealed by nationwide polling ahead of the 2018 midterm elections. (Video: Monica Akhtar/The Washington Post)

Here’s what we found: 

1. Millennials’ party and candidate preferences

In general, millennials who say they’ll vote overwhelmingly support their district’s Democratic congressional candidate — by a nearly 30-point margin.

Among likely voters of color, 86 percent favor the Democratic candidate, while only 50 percent of white likely voters do. Only 10 percent of likely voters of color favor the Republican candidate, compared with 44 percent of white likely voters.

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Shifting from race to gender, we find that the gender gap among likely voters is more than 20 points. Fully 76 percent of women who are likely voters support the Democratic congressional candidate in their district, while only 55 percent of male-identified likely voters do. Only 19 percent of women who are likely to vote support the Republican candidate, compared with 40 percent of men.

But if we look more closely, we find that only white millennial likely voters actually have a gender gap. The gender gap among likely voters of color is within the margin of error, with only 5 percent more men than women saying they’ll vote for a Democrat for Congress. Meanwhile, about 69 percent of millennial white women likely to vote support the Democratic candidate, almost 30 points more than the 40 percent of white millennial men who do. A majority of white millennial men support their Republican candidate, compared with only about a quarter of white millennial women.

Political analysts have remarked that this year’s unprecedented candidate diversity could be the key to getting millennials to the polls. We find some evidence to support this claim, although there are important differences by race and gender. About 40 percent of women of color and 46 percent of white women say they would be more likely to support a candidate who is a woman; that’s true for only 30 percent of men of color and 23 percent of white men.

We find a similar pattern for candidates of color. About 38 percent of millennial women of color, 37 percent of men of color and 30 percent of white women would be more likely to support a candidate who is a person of color; the same is true for only 15 percent of white millennial men.

These divergent preferences could stem at least in part from differences in desired candidate qualities. Likely millennial voters of color and white women say the candidate quality most important to them is someone who can “bring about needed change.” For millennial white men, the most important quality is a candidate who “shares my values.”

Although the preferences of millennials often differ when disaggregating by race and/or gender, there is one area where they agree. Across race and gender, millennials say they are disillusioned with Congress. Majorities of millennials do not think Congress represents the interests of people like them.

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2. Issues that are most important to voters of color/different genders

Among likely millennial voters overall, women are most likely to cite health care, immigration, and the environment and climate change as most important in deciding their vote, while men cite taxes, immigration and economic growth. If we break that down by race and gender, we find few differences among Latino and Asian American likely voters; both men and women cite immigration as the most important issue deciding their vote. African American likely voters cite racism as most important. Among likely white millennial voters, however, women are most likely to cite environment/climate change and health care, while men cite taxes as most important in deciding their vote.

3. Attitudes about Donald Trump

Millennials who are likely to vote in the midterm election, especially women and people of color, are fed up with President Trump. Most support his immediate impeachment. About 73 percent of millennial men of color, 77 percent of women of color and 68 percent of white women strongly disapprove of Trump, while only 38 percent of millennial white men do.

When asked about impeachment, answers similarly break down by race and gender. Although 72 percent of millennial men of color, 70 percent of women of color and 58 percent of white women strongly favor impeaching Trump, only 26 percent of millennial white men say the same. In the aggregate, millennials also generally think Congress should start impeachment proceedings now. But again, white men are the outliers. Nearly 85 percent of women of color, 76 percent of men of color and 69 percent of white women say Congress should begin impeachment; only 28 percent of white millennial men agree.

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Which millennials?

Millennials are the largest potential voting bloc and the most diverse generation in the United States. According to census data, about 29 percent of millennials are white men, 28 percent are white women, 7 percent are African American men, 7 percent are African American women, 3 percent are Asian American men, 3 percent are Asian American women, 11 percent are Latino, and 10 percent are Latina. This diversity shows in their political attitudes — which could have important implications for the midterm election. Some suggest they may turn out to vote in numbers never before seen from those younger than 35. If so, their interest in racial and gender diversity may lead to future Democratic majorities.

Matthew Fowler and Vladimir E. Medenica are postdoctoral scholars for the GenForward Survey at the University of Chicago.

Cathy J. Cohen is founder and director of the GenForward Survey and the David and Mary Winton Green professor of political science at the University of Chicago.