In response to Trump’s 2016 presidential victory – and the accompanying conservative wave that overtook Congress that year – political candidates in the 2018 midterm elections, such as Alexandria Cortez Ocasio, ran and won on platforms that explicitly challenged politics as usual. Recent studies have shown that Millennials, those born from the early 1980s to the late 1990s who now comprise the largest age cohort in our nation (Andrews 2016), have opposed many of Trump’s policies. Does this opposition affect Millennial political engagement? Have young adults been mobilized to participate more? Or has Millennial distrust in political institutions been further eroded, leading to greater detachment?
Millennials are less likely to vote and to affiliate with the two traditional parties (Pew Research Center 2015). However, Millennials are active in other ways, matching and in some cases exceeding older adults in informal activities such as volunteering, signing petitions, and attending rallies (Pew Research Center 2018). Although there is a consistent tension between challenging and reinforcing traditional politics, it is more palpable in today’s national politics than in recent history. This tension has muddied the waters, making it unclear if politics is reinforcing or eroding democratic values, in general, and among Millennials, specifically.
Millennials are the most diverse adult cohort in American history. Because of this diversity, we expect political engagement to vary across subgroups in terms of race and ethnicity as well as partisanship. The deepening racialization of American politics during the Trump presidency (Edsall 2019) is an important component to understanding factors that influence political engagement, among both Millennials and non-Millennials. To capture dynamics such as these, we plan to compare Millennial political engagement and voting levels following the 2020 presidential election to survey data we collected following the 2016 election. We will compare Millennials with older adults as well as examine trends among Millennial subgroups. Our expectations of how Millennial political engagement will compare pre- and post- Trump presidency is grounded in our understanding of this generation’s unique set of values and experiences (Rouse and Ross 2018).