Who could’ve predicted how millennials would vote?

Originally appeared in The Hill

At Achieve, we have watched the millennial generation (born between 1980-2000) grow, explore and change over the last seven years through our work on the Millennial Impact Project — which we have led with the support of the Case Foundation. In light of the recent turn of events related to the 2016 Presidential Election, many have turned to us and asked, “Did our research predict millennial turnout and voting choices on Election Day?”

Maybe predict is too strong a word, but in retrospect, our 2016 Millennial Impact Report offers compelling data to consider. 2016 gave us the chance to research whether this generation’s attitudes and behaviors toward social causes would change during a presidential election cycle. Concurrently, we were compiling The Millennial Impact Report Retrospective, which assessed findings drawn from more than 75,000 millennials survey respondents over the last five years on cause engagement. 


The juxtaposition gave us a truly unique advantage. We were intimately familiar with the millennial generation having identified trends and key findings to understand this generation’s interests, engagements and motivations as they relate to causes. Heading into Election Day, we also knew what millennial voters had said they would do. And, while our research is still being finalized and analyzed, we can say without hesitation that in a political climate, millennials engage with causes differently.

For example, data we collected for the preliminary 2016 Millennial Impact Report, Waves 1 and 2 leading up to the campaign foretold how millennials would engage on election day: from March through May to June through August, millennials’ belief that they could help make the country a better place to live dropped seven percent and by November, more than a quarter of millennials surveyed told us that they did not want to vote for either major party candidate.

When we released the initial data before the election, we were surprised as it seemed to run counter to everything we knew about this generation. One such example we had uncovered was that millennials were less liberal than thought and that females were not participating at the rate of males — both findings remained constant throughout the three waves. Now after the election, we realize that we are onto something. It has inspired us to dig deeper, ask even more questions and follow up on what may be a unique opportunity to understand what and how millennial engagement shifted over the course of the year—and reconcile it with our longer-term research on this dynamic generation.

You’ll soon be hearing about the conclusions we’re drawing from Wave 3 of the data collection. So far, we’re seeing a drop-in engagement, that they identified as important to them, across the board – in every type of engagement such as volunteering and donating.

This drop is also present across all genders – but most markedly among male millennials. For instance, we saw little to no change in cause engagement among males from Wave 1 to Wave 2; yet in Wave 3, males show decreased engagement in every single category, aligning them far more closely with female millennial engagement than at any other time during our research. We will be looking at this data even more closely to gauge what caused the drop.

We will seek to answer questions like: What elements impacted lower than expected millennial voting in the 2016 presidential election? How can our research inform understanding of who this generation voted for and why some millennials chose not to cast a ballot? 

Election behavior also begs larger questions about millennials

In the aftermath of the election, we must also all work together to find the answer to the question—what’s next for millennial engagement? And does participation and engagement (or lack thereof) during this election indicate a greater pattern to come?

The preferences and actions taken by members of the millennial generation before and after the election seem to tell a tale of two different generations. On one hand, we have a generation that is inherently driven to do good and engage, while on the other hand a significant number of millennials opted to not to exercise their right to vote. To understand what is happening in the next generation, we will turn to millennials themselves for the answer.

Achieve and the Case Foundation urge you to spend time with our findings and conclusions to assess how your organization can stay relevant to this powerful audience.  Data from the 2016 Millennial Impact Report, Wave 3 will be released in January 2017, while the full 2016 Millennial Impact Report with a complete analysis of all the data will be released in March 2017.