Trustworthy information, education and more local coverage needed to help engage these residents
— While young adults are known to be community-minded, they may not be as connected with local elections and government.
Millennials (20- to 34-year-olds) are less likely to vote in local elections due to lack of information and disengagement with these issues, according to a recent Knight Foundation report, called “Why Millennials Don’t Vote for Mayor: Barriers and Motivators for Local Voting,” which concludes that increasing local news and social media coverage about area political issues could help reverse this decline.
Those surveyed for the report, including Akron residents, say the biggest barriers to voting are simply a lack of information about issues, elections and candidates. Millennials also report lower levels of trust in government: only 33 percent of those surveyed reported that they trust their local government, which is half the number of the rest of the population. The same group also reports a mistrust in area media sources.
Other factors contributing to this trend include diminishing local news coverage and high mobility rates and low home ownership rates among Millennials.
Voter turnout during the 2014 midterm election was the lowest it’s been in 72 years (36 percent) and even lower among Millennials (21.5 percent), according to the report. Voter turnout in local mayoral elections in the 144 largest U.S. cities dropped from 24.9 percent in 1999 to 21 percent in 2011, the report adds.
Although Millennials are often involved in charity and service activities in their communities, a number of those interviewed for the study have problems seeing the connection between local government and the issues they care about.
And those who stay put in one city are more likely to participate in voting on local issues, so home ownership rates directly correspond to participation in local elections. Unfortunately, Millennials own homes at lower rates than other age groups.
One Akron participant surveyed said “…you have more control over your involvement in the community when it comes to activism or volunteering. But when it comes to voting, I feel like it’s all the same or you have two choices usually, essentially the lesser of two evils and so you go and you make your decision and then at the end of it you feel like is that really doing anything, is anything going to change? Probably not.”
Solutions to this drop-off may be found in a number of areas. One obvious remedy is to increase the volume of local news and voter information through community blogs and citizen websites like the Akronist.
Another is for community and neighborhood leaders to host educational forums tailored to Millennials, or engaging this age group using social media, smartphone apps and other digital tools. The report also noted that many Millennials do not seek out existing information about local elections, so engaging this group with media channels that they’re comfortable with could be key.
Focus group participants for this study said they were more motivated by positive messages that elicit community pride and turned off by negative campaigning during election time.
The report also concludes that voting and other types of civic engagement are learned through friends and family, so connecting with Millennials using these social norms is important.
For the report, researchers from Lake Research Partners conducted six focus groups that included a total of 60 Millennial drop-off voters across Akron, Miami and Philadelphia, with participants selected to represent the underlying demographics of their community.
To learn more and download the report, click here.