The Gun Debate and Millennial Voter Engagement

Millennials are engaging with politicsMillennials are engaging with politics

In the short time following the Parkland, Florida shooting, we have seen the gun debate rekindled. By now, the debate over guns and security does little, other than fill the cable news shows with the well-rehearsed talking points that followed the Columbine High School, Sandy Hook Elementary School, Orlando Pulse Nightclub, and Las Vegas, shootings.  

Both sides of the debate are hoping that the news cycle will move on and any legislative response will find cover from the NRA back under the desks of Senators, Congressmen, and Governors.

Unfortunately for them, this time is different.

This round of the gun debate is taking place right before midterm elections for the first time. With only seven months until votes are cast, any potential for a change in gun policy will likely be driven by millennials. Since the Parkland shooting, we have witnessed another feckless performance by politicians on the gun issue, and the Gen X and Y voters appear to be engaging by saying “enough” and forcefully demanding change.  

The millennial voter is ordinarily a footnote in most elections. Even though there are approximately 75.4 million millennials aged 18 to 36, they are a larger voting population than the 74.9 million baby boomers between the ages of 51-69.

Despite some noisy flirtation with Bernie in 2016, analysis by reports that only 49% of eligible millennials actually voted in 2016, as compared with 69% of eligible baby boomers — essentially the same rate that millennials voted in 2012. Some argue that when Bernie lost the primary, millennials went to the sideline with him. Another argument, which is as true now as it was then, is that in order to connect with the millennial voter, campaigns need to reach them where they spend a majority of their time: online. They also need to be reached in the right neighborhoods.

Part of the problem with reaching the millennial voter is that the political parties don’t seem to know where to find them. also reports that in the 2016 election, less than 40% young voters identified with the Democratic Party, and less than 30% identified with the Republican Party. The two major political parties are clearly having trouble attracting and maintaining a substantial, committed millennial base, partly because they still don’t have an effective strategy for communicating with them.
Millennials cut the cord years ago. They consume their news online and stream their entertainment through their smart phones and have all but abandoned email and cable news. They are active on social networks, but not the same networks their baby boomer parents are on, Facebook and Twitter.

Unique Voter Reach is a serious challenge for candidates and PACs that are seeking to promote or push issues message online, especially with the millennial voter. In order to execute targeted outreach that will reach millennials wherever they are online, you need to employ platforms that can accurately onboard the voter registration file at real scale and across multiple devices. Most importantly, you need to be able to reach them on the media content that they are consuming.  

Only 36% of millennials traffic inside the walled-garden of Facebook. On the neutral ground of the open Internet, that coverage increases but the match rates to digital IDs do not. This results in 40% matching for any voter using cookie-based IDs. Using this technology results in only reaching 15 million of the 75 million eligible voter millennials. 

In order to change the calculus for 2018, parties and campaigns need to address an issue, like gun reform, to prompt millennials, and be able to reach more of them through better onboarding methods. In general, candidates that focus on hyper-local issues with their online targeting are in line with the focus of the midterms. One of those issues that might be both local and national may turn out to be gun reform. If that turns out to be the case, it means that millennial voters have managed to keep up the pressure and as a result they may significantly increase their turnout at the polls.  

It is incumbent on candidates and parties to quickly build their online constituencies to include a specific effort targeting the young voter. Maximum unique user reach can be achieved by employing IP-based onboarding at better than 80% match rates, cross-device matching, and event-based targeting to engaged voters. 

Millennials have the potential to change the 2018 election if political parties find a way to harness the current engagement, inform them of the issues and get them to the polls in greater numbers.

Learn more about Semcasting’s Political Solutions.

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