With an historic election upon us and an election cycle in which no one could have predicted the way the American people would respond to the candidates before them, significant attention has turned to one group—millennials. But as much as "adults" might think they understand the sentiments and motivations of this cohort, millennials, in fact, surprise you at nearly every turn. We conducted a series of surveys of thousands of trailing millennial women (age 18 - 24) over the past year that illuminate some surprising facts in the final days leading up to Election 2016.
For one thing, despite the fact that impassioned voter registration efforts aimed at young people have continued strong until the very last minute, college women have already been registered and ready to vote for months. As of September, almost all of them (92%) had already registered, per our survey, and three-fourths of them plan to vote. Though this generation is often scoffed at for being lazy, late, and disorganized, it seems these voters are in fact highly on top of their s**t when it comes to registering to vote—how many adults can say the same thing?
Next, though this generation by and large self-identifies as feminist, it doesn't mean that translates to an affinity for Hillary Clinton. Less than a third (28%) have a positive impression of her, while close to half (42%) hold a negative impression of the Secretary of State (with the remainder citing themselves as neutral). Of those who plan to vote for Clinton, most (60%) feel they are voting for the lesser of two evils—ouch. College women want to see a woman President, no question, but they wish it were someone other than Clinton.
But why? This ties into the general mistrust of traditional politicians embodied by this group, who supported Bernie Sanders in record numbers (70% had a positive impression of him when he was still in the race) and see Hillary as a member of the Old Guard. Though there’s no question they hate Trump, they hate Clinton a lot more than you might think. Because of this, though millennial women are certainly down on Trump, a sizable number (23%) are still not convinced he lies any more than other politicians do. In other words, according to millennials, pretty much all politicians lie all the time. For Hillary Clinton, who has endeavored to gain the trust and support of young women more than any other candidate, this has got to burn.
With millennial women's preferred candidate out of the race, two candidates remaining that they are non-plussed about at best, and their support of Hillary Clinton only reluctant, what's surprising is that these millennials report being more engaged with our political process than ever before. The majority (61%) say this election has made them more politically engaged, and they cite the fact that it's their first opportunity to vote, the historic nature of this election, and the feeling that the result will actually impact their lives as key reasons why.
It's a good thing all of this year's election garbage hasn't made this group completely disenchanted—after all, these youngest millennials are our best shot at the future.
This column was originally published in MediaPost on November 7, 2016.