In Joe Biden’s narrow victory over Donald Trump for the presidency, every vote and every demographic counted. Much has been said about the gender gap that powered Biden’s win, with women favoring him by 15 points, according to a CNN exit poll. And pundits have noted that small shifts in voting blocs such as seniors, Catholics and white evangelicals might have proven decisive in swing states like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. But one other demographic might have also proven decisive: adults 18-29.
The youngest demographic tends to vote for Democrats by wide margins. In 2016, they went for Hillary Clinton by 19 points. But according to exit polls, young adults favored Biden by 24 points. And a lot more of them decided to vote.
According to Tufts University’s Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning & Engagement (CIRCLE), young adult turnout rose from 42%-44% about a week after the 2016 election, to 50%-52% this year. And once all the ballots are counted, CIRCLE expects those numbers to rise to 53%-56%, surpassing the previous high of 51% in 2008.
The youth vote might have swung the election to Biden. According to CIRCLE, in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan and Pennsylvania -- four of the five states that Biden flipped, handing him the presidency -- Biden’s margin of victory among young adults surpassed his total vote margin. This phenomenon is especially pronounced in Georgia, where at press time, Biden is winning by a mere 14,000 votes, while winning among young adults by a whopping 188,000 votes.
Biden wasn’t the choice of young adults in the Democratic primary; they supported Bernie Sanders in large numbers. And there’s nothing inherently young-skewing about a moderate politician with 50 years of government experience, who turns 78 later this month. So why did so many young adults literally line up to vote for him -- and what can marketers learn from this?
*Easier access: Despite the very real barriers to voting that continue to exist around the country, this year, those barriers were a little lower. As a result of the pandemic, many states allowed for universal vote-by-mail, or expanded early voting hours.
Young adults are among the demographics that have the hardest time voting in person: they have school, they’re juggling part-time jobs, and many have child-care obligations. So making it easier to vote from home, or vote early at the polls, made it easier for young adults to participate. Lesson for brands: Allow young adults direct access to your brand from home.
*A relatable running mate: In interviews, young voters (especially people of color) said they weren’t particularly thrilled or motivated to be voting for a white man in his late 70s. However, they were excited to be voting for Kamala Harris, 56, and the first Vice President to be a woman, Black or South Asian, shattering three glass ceilings at once. Her in-person rallies electrified audiences, and her victory gave Black women and South Asians in particular a reason to rejoice. Lesson for brands: if your brand doesn’t inherently speak to young adults, combine it with a brand that does.
*Reasons to care: Finally, young voters had issues of great concern that drove them to the polls. Among young Biden voters, 41% said COVID-19 was their single most important issue. Meanwhile, 21% said racism was their biggest issue, and 12% cited climate change, while just 8% said “the economy/jobs.” Three of Biden’s campaign promises were to comprehensively address the pandemic, institutional racism and climate change, and young voters clearly responded. Lesson for brands: Link your brands to young adults’ most pressing concerns, in a meaningful way.By following the Biden playbook, almost every brand can win the vote with young adults -- aviator shades optional.