Dear Future President, Here’s What Millennial Voters Really Care About

Photo: Troy Wayrynen/AP Photo.
If you're a presidential candidate hoping to snag that coveted 18-34 vote, you may want to read this carefully. Climate change, criminal justice reform, and gun control are the top concerns for millennial voters, according to a new poll from USA Today and Rock the Vote. Young voters showed a high interest in renewable energy solutions, body cameras for police officers, and background checks for would-be gun owners. "The Millennial Poll" surveyed 1,141 young adults between the ages of 18 and 34. Young voters, like Boomers and Gen Xers, pegged the economy as the most important issue for the 2016 election cycle. But millennials differed from other generations with a list of important issues that appear to be shared across party lines. Most importantly, the poll's findings prove one thing: Millennials are engaged on the issues. "This poll really demonstrates that young people are really paying attention," said Ashley Spillane, President of Rock the Vote, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization aiming to drive the youth vote to the polls. "This generation has so much access to information, and being exposed to campaigns and platforms that we haven't seen in previous cycles. And not just the 24-hour news cycle, they now have candidates engaging directly with them through social media platforms."
The candidates doing the best job of reaching young voters are Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders (the oldest candidate running for president). "It's not shocking to see young people leaning towards the candidate that is portraying themselves as outside the system," Spillane said. It's true that both Trump and Sanders are campaigning with an anti-establishment image. What this new poll reveals is that the outsider, anti-elitism message is working. If the Democratic primary were held today, 46% of young voters would support Bernie Sanders. Trump would win the GOP nomination with the support of 26% of young Republicans. But whether the next president is Trump, Clinton, Sanders, or Cruz, young voters — both Democrats and Republicans — want them to take on the same key issues. An overwhelming 80% of those surveyed said the United States should transition to mostly clean or renewable energy by 2030. That's a lofty goal, and one that would require the leadership of the next president. There's no partisan divide on gun control, either: 89% of young Democrats and 83% of young Republicans endorse universal background checks. Finally, criminal justice reform has been a key issue among young Black voters (note the prominence of the Black Lives Matter movement), but polling shows that it's important to all millennials. Two-thirds support reducing the prison sentences for people convicted of nonviolent crimes such as drug possession. Three-fourths of those surveyed want body cameras for police. While this is all very interesting, the significance of the findings hangs on one thing: voting. Millennials are notorious for low voter turnout, and the poll found that while more millennials seemed interested in the primaries and general election than in previous years, it was still a low number — only 33% intend to vote in the Republican primaries and 42% in the Democratic primaries. An impressive 60% are interested in voting in the general election. "When we talk about young people, we have to remember that we're talking about new voters. And we need to do a better job of encouraging them to participate in this process and engage in it," Spillane said. "It's our collective responsibility to make sure that young people are armed with the information they need."

More from US News

R29 Original Series