Update Tuesday: Marco Rubio just released a new ad showing a group of millennials who support his presidential candidacy.
The article below is from last January, but the numbers haven't changed much. Millennials are often overlooked in politics because they don't vote.
There was a good article on Politico over the weekend detailing the newest iteration of one of the oldest games in politics: how candidates are trying to engage young voters. In 2008 and (to a lesser extent) 2012, young voters helped propel Barack Obama to (and back to) the White House. Every presidential cycle, candidates look lustily at the newest crop of voters like Matthew McConaughey in "Dazed and Confused." Elections keep getting older, but the young voters stay the same age.
And those young voters — by and large — keep on not voting. There's a lot of benefit to getting younger voters involved in campaigns: they're often tireless volunteers, and having a strong advocate in a home with regular voters certainly doesn't hurt. But 18- to 24-year-olds are often among the smallest percentage of the electorate. If you consider the composition of House voters over the past 23 years, it looks like this.
The blue and red here are just to differentiate groups and don't reflect politics (although savvy observers will notice that, actually, they do, a little). At the bottom is the faint blue section of the youngest voters.
There are two reasons that explain the chart above. The first is that there are fewer people ages 18 to 24 who are eligible to vote than, say, 30- to 39-year-olds, because it's a span of seven years, not 10. But as estimates from the Census Bureau suggest, it's also because they're less likely to actually vote.
Candidates can try to woo young voters all they want — and should, because people tend to form party loyalties early. But don't expect those voters to turn out in force.
The Census data go back far enough that they allow us to undertake an interesting experiment. Since we know that voters who were 18 to 24 in the 1964 election were born between 1940 and 1946, we can figure out generally when those voters were born (if we roughly divvy up all of those voters by year). That lets us create a picture of the electorate by, say, birth decade, as it has evolved over time. (We set an upper cut-off age at 84; obviously people older than that vote, but we had to cut it off somewhere.) Using this approximation, the electorate over the past five decades has looked like this:
People born in the 1990s play a big role in our culture. But they've got almost no voice in politics due to age and turnout.
We can take this a step further. A few months ago, we looked at the first members of Congress from each generation to arrive on Capitol Hill. We made up a few generations, like the Antebellum generation from 1865 to 1889 and the Gilded generation from 1890 to 1927. We can apply those generations to our (rough) birth year estimates, too. Like so.
#Millennials (if we include the hashtag that will surely soon be mandated under tThe Post's style guide) comprise very, very little of the electorate. That held in 2014, which isn't pictured; exit polls indicate that only 13 percent of voters last year were 18 to 29, which encompasses most of that age group.
This is just math: 2014 minus 18 equals 1996. No one born after the reelection of Bill Clinton could vote, though they are certainly politically active in other ways. The ones born under Reagan and the first Bush can vote, but vote less.
The age of Boomer-controlled politics is fading. Gen Xers are ascendant. #Millennials, the generation that's done so much to shape our culture, have largely yet to appear on the political scene. Candidates running in 2016 are certainly going to do their best to help that process along.