Commentary

Young Adults Rock Midterm Vote

This year, young adults finally came out and voted in droves. According to nationwide CNN exit poll results, 7% of Tuesday’s voters were 18-24, while 6% were 25-29.  While these percentages are unchanged from 2014, overall voting levels skyrocketed (from 83 million to about 114 million, according to the New York Times), so young adults surged with them.

Secondly, the nation’s population is steadily aging, and millennials are aging out of the A18-29 demographic, so it’s quite an accomplishment for young adults to hold steady at 13% with a declining population share. And thirdly, exit polls might underrepresent early voting, where A18-29 posted the biggest increase of any demographic, nearly tripling over 2014, according to The Atlantic.

Not only did young adults show up, but they spoke in a resounding voice. In 2014, those 18-24 favored Democrats in the House by just a 10-point margin, 54% vs. 44%. This year, they supported Democrats by a staggering 37-point margin, 68% vs. 31%.

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In Texas, they supported Beto O’Rourke over Ted Cruz by a 68-32 margin, putting him within three points of winning a solid-red state. And in Nevada, they sided with Jackie Rosen over incumbent Dean Heller by a 65-29 margin, fueling Democrats’ one pickup this Senate cycle.

What drove young adults to the polls? Tom Steyer’s group NextGen went to college campuses to register students and encourage them to vote, and they saw numerous campus precincts report higher turnout as a result.

Facebook prompted users to post that they had voted, especially with a selfie. Candidates like O’Rourke and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez ran adroit social media campaigns which caused their candidacies to become social movements among young voters. Candidates like M.J. Hegar in Texas made compelling online videos that went viral. And apps like We Vote, Votedash, Countable and Vote With Me made it easier for young adults to vote.

What can brands—and candidates—learn from this 2018 youthquake?

*A social movement is stronger than a campaign. The candidates that resonated most deeply with young adults, like O’Rourke and Ocasio-Cortez in 2018, and Bernie Sanders in 2016, were full-fledged causes and movements. Young people are turned off to “political campaigns,” but inspired by and deeply committed to “social movements.” Look for ways to not just sell a product, but to involve young consumers with a cause or movement. You’re not selling a Prius, a SodaStream or Patagonia clothing—you’re helping people save the planet.

*Peer pressure works. When “nobody” voted, and it wasn’t cool to vote, nobody did it. This became a self-perpetuating vicious circle. But when “everybody” started voting, and it became cool to vote, everybody wanted to hop onboard.

Facebook selfies of people casting ballots, and apps like Vote With Me, tap into young adults’ deep sense of FOMO (fear of missing out). Use apps and social media to make it easy for consumers to show they’re using your product, and encourage their friends to do the same.

*Convenience counts. In previous cycles, there were so many barriers to casting a ballot: how to register, where and when to show up, what to bring, how to research all the candidates and issues, etc.

But now NextGen will show up at your college campus, register you, and encourage you to vote. And then apps will provide all the info you need in order to do so. Imagine how other complicated purchase funnels could be simplified through convenience, technology and meeting customers where they are, such as car buying, government and financial services, and health care.

By following these best practices, brands and candidates can win the votes of their youngest constituents for years to come.
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