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Gen Xers and Millennials Out-Voted Older Generations in 2016

It’s the first time the younger generations have beat out Baby Boomers, Silent Generation voters and Greatest Generation voters

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smithsonian.com

The number of Millennials and Generation Xers who cast votes in the 2016 election surpassed the number of Baby Boomers, Silent Generation voters and Greatest Generation voters for the first time reports Reid Wilson at The Hill. That generational shift in voting power will continue in future elections according to a report put out by the Pew Research Center, likely reshaping the political landscape of the United States in coming decades.

According to the study, out of 137.5 million votes cast last November, 69.6 million came from voters under the age of 51, while voters in the older generations cast 67.9 million votes.

The switchover is an inevitable part of demographics. Richard Fry, a labor economist at the Pew Research Center, tells Wilson that Baby Boomers, those born roughly between 1946 and 1964, have been the most numerous voters since 1984. Though they remained the largest block of voters in 2016 with 48.1 million voter representing 35 percent of the electorate, that was down 2 million from peak of 50.1 million Boomer voters in 2004. As the oldest Boomers reach their 70s, their numbers will continue to decline.

Millennials, defined by the study as those between the ages of 18 and 35 in 2016, will continue to grow as part of the electorate not only because immigration and naturalization will add to their numbers, but because as people age their voting participation tends to increase. The Greatest or Silent Generation had a 70 percent voting participation rate last year, while Boomers voted at 69 percent, Gen Xers at 63 percent and Millennials at 49 percent.

The study reports that the shift in the electorate has political implications. For instance, 55 percent of Millennials identify as Democrats or Democratic-leaning independents while 33 percent identified themselves as leaning toward the GOP. Millennials tend to hold more liberal social views as well, looking favorably on topics like gay marriage and marijuana legalization.  

Danielle Kurtzleben at NPR reports that this change in ideologies doesn't necessarily provide a clear political forecast though. Other studies show that Millennials are more polarized than other generations, with more identifying with extremely conservative or extremely liberal positions. More Millennials also self-identified as conservatives at high school graduation than either Baby Boomers or Generation Xers did at the same age.

Kurtzleben points out that one of the most surprising aspects of the study is that it took this long for younger voters to take center stage—there are currently 126 million eligible Gen X and Millennial voters versus 98 million Baby Boomer and older voters, according to Pew.

Then again, even though eligible Gen X and Millennial voters were roughly equivalent to Baby Boomer and Silent Generation votes in 2012,  while 70 percent of the older generations turned out that year, younger voters only turned out at 53.9 percent, casting fewer total votes.

About Jason Daley

Jason Daley is a Madison, Wisconsin-based writer specializing in natural history, science, travel, and the environment. His work has appeared in Discover, Popular Science, Outside, Men’s Journal, and other magazines.

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