The past few elections have highlighted a major disconnect between the Millennial Generation and the Republican Party. Though some pundits have taken the party’s triumph in the 2014 Congressional elections as reason for optimism, that victory doesn’t spell the end of the problem. Millennials hold fundamentally different views from older generations on topics such as the role of government, the importance of community, the impact of the free market, and whether the nation is headed in the right direction. These differences are deep-seated and will not fade away with time.
In this report, we draw out and explain the characteristics that define Millennials as a political generation. We begin by providing a general overview of what generations are and why they matter, followed by a breakdown of the nation’s current political generations in order to give readers a sense of where America has come from and where it is going.
The remainder of the report closely examines seven basic traits of the Millennial Generation and explores their implications for politics generally and for the Republican Party in particular. We draw heavily on a Congressional Institute-LifeCourse survey that was specially commissioned for this report and was conducted in November 2014. We also draw on focus groups conducted by Presentation Testing as well as interviews conducted by LifeCourse with politically active Millennials. We conclude each trait discussion by outlining three main points that party leaders need to keep in mind when appealing to young voters.
Special: Millennials grew up in an environment in which kids were fussed over and their needs came first. Passionate culture wars over how best to raise and educate kids let Millennials know just how special they were. Now Millennial voters want their voices to be heard and respected by political leaders.
Recommendations: Treat young voters and children as VIPs; focus on policies affecting kids and young adults; resist the urge to “dumb down” messages aimed at youth.
Sheltered: Millennials were highly protected in childhood by a fortress of youth safety initiatives, which they took as evidence that they were truly valuable. This protection has translated into risk aversion in their young adult lives: Millennials are avoiding the stock market and real estate, turning away from entrepreneurship, and are trying to plan for the long term.
Recommendations: Help young people avoid risk—and plan for the future; make better outcomes information available to students, consumers, and borrowers; enable young people to get feedback on whether they’re safely “on track.”
Teamworking: From early childhood, Millennials have been encouraged by parents to work together and build important peer connections. As young adults, they are constantly connected to their friends and expect their leaders to take a stake in the well-being of the communities they hold dear.
Recommendations: Showcase positive roles for government and community; promote a culture of public service; adopt language of cooperation—sharing, teams, friends, helping, groups, connection, consensus, etc.
Conventional: Millennials are close to their families and espouse relatively conventional life goals. This attachment to family life is mirrored in their faith in big institutions: Though institutional trust is low across all age brackets, Millennials report higher levels of trust than older generations and want the government to help them achieve the American Dream.
Recommendations: Co-market to all generations using an expanded definition of “family”; help Millennials climb the meritocracy ladder so they can achieve the American Dream; recognize that Millennial views on many social issues can be leveraged to your advantage.
Consensus-Building: Millennials have been told throughout their lives to look after each other, which has led them to seek common ground and avoid conflict. They’re turned off by politics as a battleground and want their leaders to be more collaborative.
Recommendations: Be a good listener and treat all points of view with respect; go out of your way to find common ground with members of the other party; showcase bipartisan accomplishments achieved through compromise.
Confident: Millennials were surrounded in childhood by protective parents who encouraged them to reach for the stars, which led them to adopt high standards and expect big things from themselves. They want leaders to share their optimism and for it to translate into real progress down the road.
Recommendations: Keep messaging upbeat; address long-term policy issues—like infrastructure, education, fiscal stewardship, and public debt; always emphasize a positive and constructive vision when discussing issues and policy initiatives.
Globally Engaged: Millennials are coming of age in an era when threats to national security come not from powerful nations opposed to a “world order,” but rather from shadowy terror groups in a multipolar world full of failed states and power vacuums. They are globally engaged pragmatists. They want their government to provide order while upholding treaties and alliances.
Recommendations: Explain foreign policy initiatives in terms of interests and results rather than principles and motives; leverage Millennial support for a strong military and for strong relationships with national allies and peacekeeping organizations; avoid single-issue crisis mode—and articulatea comprehensive game plan for bringing order to a chaotic world.