MIAMI – (June 4, 2015) – The lack of news and information about local political candidates and issues is the primary reason millennials give for why they do not vote in local elections according to a new report. The report, which explores the causes behind low turnout for local elections among young adults, was released by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation in association with Lake Research Partners.
The report aligns with other research that suggests young adults continue to vote at lower rates than other age groups, even as overall voter turnout is declining. This report explored the “why” behind these numbers by conducting focus groups with millennial (ages 20-34) drop-off voters who participated in the last national election but not in recent local elections. A total of 60 millennial drop-off voters participated in a series of focus groups held in Akron, Ohio; Miami and Philadelphia to represent geographic, cultural and demographic diversity.
“Millennials’ attitudes about local government range from confused to skeptical and this is keeping them away from polls during local elections,” said Jon Sotsky, Knight Foundation director for strategy and assessment. “Identifying ways of encouraging higher voter turnout in local elections is especially important because young adults are moving into cities and urban areas at higher rates and can be influential agents for changing their communities for the better.”
“The report highlights that young adults care about their cities and have many concerns that local government can address, but these potential voters lack the information, habits, and social cues that would prompt them to engage and participate in local elections,” said David Mermin, partner at Lake Research Partners.
The report identifies several common themes about the motivators and barriers for voting in local elections. Importantly, the findings reveal that that the voting process itself is not a barrier to participation. Most focus group participants did not report any issues with the steps involved in voting: registering, knowing where their precinct location is, or obtaining a ballot. They did however express the following barriers:
• Lack of information and media coverage: Lack of information was found to be the biggest barrier millennials cite for not voting in local elections. Focus group participants said they had almost no information about the candidates and issues in local elections; they also emphasized low trust in the information that did exist.
• Poor understanding of local government: Millennials do not see the connection between local government and the issues they care about. Focus group participants asked whether things like schools and public transit “count” as local government. Even though many are involved in charity, service or social activities in the community and see issues to address, they do not see how local government influences issues important to them and as such are less likely to vote.
• Limited community attachment: Millennials move more than any other age group—and the research revealed that increased mobility means decreased political participation. Millennials who had spent more time in a city and especially those born and raised there were more likely to indicate their intention to vote in local elections.
• Social norms: Focus group participants who expressed greater motivation to vote often explained this value was ingrained through their families and upbringing. However, millennials are rarely encouraged to vote by their peers and current social networks.
• Uninspired framing of local voting: Millennials were far more swayed by positive, aspirational messages that elicited pride in their city and showed how voting could lead to tangible results. They were less swayed when voting was framed as a responsibility and civic duty.
Using these themes as a basis, the report outlines several opportunities for better engaging millennials in the voting process and filling information gaps—from offering welcome packets for newcomers to the city and engaging millennials on digital platforms, to partnering with organizations that have established connections with young people and reframing the value of voting.
This report forms part of Knight Foundation’s efforts to engage people in shaping their communities and strengthening democracy. Knight recently closed its latest News Challenge on Elections, which offers a share of more than $3 million to better inform voters and increase civic participation before, during and after elections. Winners will be announced in July 2015.
About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. We believe that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more visit, knightfoundation.org.
Contact: Anusha Alikhan, Director of Communications, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, 305-908-2646, [email protected]