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What young voters care about

  • The national youth unemployment rate is 12%
  • 76% of Millennials expected to vote in presidential election
Will Millennials play an important role in this year's election?

Young voters came out in record numbers to participate in the 2008 presidential election, but here’s the thing about the young vote in any presidential election: it never looks the same.

With every new presidential election season comes a new group of bright-eyed and bushy-tailed eligible young voters who couldn’t participate last time around. And with the big day upon us, and the popular vote in a virtual dead heat, young people are an attractive target for both campaigns.

President Obama was successful in capturing the youth vote back in 2008, for a variety of reasons, but as young people continue to struggle, the issues have become more relevant to them. This time around, most of the biggest issues are ones that have significantly impacted the Millennial Generation, those between the ages of 18 and 29.

Unemployment among young Americans has been hovering right around 12%, significantly higher than the national average, while college students continue to graduate with record-level, and often insurmountable, debt. But as they face these issues, according to a new survey, young people do plan to do their part on Election Day.

To give you an idea of the potential effect these voters can have in a national election, there are about 46 million youth eligible to vote in 2012, according to data from Tufts University’s Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, or CIRCLE. And this is a brand new opportunity for many of these young voters, about 16.8 million, who are newly eligible to vote since the 2008 election. CIRCLE surveyed a group of young voters back in the summer and then again in mid-October, to get a feel for how engaged our young people are, and if they began to care more as the election got closer.

The Obama campaign seems to once again be making more of an effort to attract young voters, according to Circle's data. But what sways a young person to vote can vary greatly, and can have absolutely nothing to do with politics or civic duty. According to Circle's data, young voters are more than 40% more likely to head to the polls on Election Day if they're asked by a friend to vote.

Generation Y: Looking for jobs – and an identity

After surveying the same group twice, CIRCLE found that the number of Millennials who say they’re “extremely likely” to vote in the election jumped by 10 percentage points to nearly 55%, while two-thirds of all the young people surveyed now say they’re either extremely likely or very likely to vote on Tuesday.

Although they may be procrastinators, there’s no doubt young people will turn out to vote, but reaching the 2008 levels may be difficult.

A survey back in September from the Pew Research Center found that compared to 2008, young voters are “significantly less engaged” in this year’s election. In fact, Pew’s research showed that the share of Millennials following campaign news very closely (18%) is only about half of what it was at the same point four years ago (38%).  Young voters also “lag far behind” older voters in terms of interest in the campaign and intention to vote.

Pew found that about 63% of young voters say they definitely plan to vote this year, down from 72% back in 2008. But it’s important to note that survey was taken in September. Although that’s still pretty close to election time, young people don’t function the way that older Americans do, for the most part as a generation, Millennials get engaged when they have to.

Considering the number of issues involved in the election that have directly impacted the Millennial generation over the past four years, and will continue to impact them over the next four, it’s almost impossible to understand how any of these young people would choose not to vote. Regardless of who they vote for, America’s young people need to be engaged in helping shape their future. Only 29% of 18- to 29-year-olds say the economic policies coming out of Washington are helping them, according to the youth advocacy group Generation Opportunity. On top of that, just 38% believe that today’s political leaders reflect the interests of this country’s young people. So why would any of these young people miss out on this chance to be heard?

The right to vote can be an extremely powerful tool in America, maybe that’s something young people just don’t understand quite yet. Because if these Millennials really do have a realistic grasp and understanding of what exactly their generation is facing, then they would vote. So ahead of the big day, there are a few figures young people should keep in mind.

Let’s take a look at some of the numbers relevant to young Americans in this election:

63% -- The employment rate of Americans ages 24 – 34, according to the Department of Labor in October

58% -- Percentage of adult Americans who are dissatisfied with the opportunity for Gen Y to have a better standard of living than their parents, according to a recent Gallup poll

Here are a few figures from the youth advocacy group Generation Opportunity:

  • 89% -- Percentage of Millennials who say the current state of the economy is impacting their day-to-day lives
  • 84% -- Percentage of Millennials who plan to delay or cancel altogether a major life event or change, due to the state of the economy
  • 32% say they are going back to school/getting more education or training
  • 31% say they're starting a family
  • 27% say they will change jobs/cities
  • 26% say they are paying off student loans or other debt
  • 25% say they are saving for retirement
  • 23% say they will get married
  • 76% -- Percentage of young Americans who plan to vote in the election for president
  • 76% -- Percentage of Millennials who believe that the lack of opportunities available in America is shrinking the middle class
  • 64% -- Percentage of Millennials who believe the availability of more quality full-time jobs upon graduation is more important than lower student loan rates
  • 61% -- Percentage of Millennials who say more quality full-time jobs with health insurance benefits is more important than the ability to stay on their parents’ plans until age 26
  • 29% -- Percentage of Millennials who say the economic policies coming out of Washington are helping them
  • 12% -- The national youth unemployment rate.
  • 21.4% -- youth unemployment rate for African-Americans
  • 13.4% -- youth unemployment rate for Hispanics
  • 11.8% -- youth unemployment rate for women

Generation Opportunity is a non-profit, non-partisan organization that engages young Americans in important economic issues facing the country and specifically facing young people.

What Millennials can do to get out of debt

Young Americans have faced a pretty grim situation over the past few years following the Great Recession. Not only has the overall youth unemployment rate hit 12%, but an additional 1.7 million young adults who currently aren’t working aren’t even counted in that figure, because they aren’t in the labor force, meaning they’ve given up trying to find a job. No job typically means no health care, and on top of all that, many of today’s young people are drowning in student loan debt. In fact, nearly one in five American households has student loan debt, and the average is now more than $26,000.

America’s young people care about job creation, and how that’s going to happen, because without a job, these struggling young people can’t get out of the hole they’ve been left in, thanks to the Great Recession. And it’s real, sustainable jobs that these young, savvy college graduates are after, which is a good sign – they aren’t going to settle.

Generation Opportunity conducted a survey specifically in the state of Michigan and found that Millennials do care about the big issues, and they plan to vote based on those issues. When it comes to the direction this country is heading, only 28% of Michigan Millennials agreed that “generally speaking, things in the United States are heading in the right direction.” So, they know things are pretty bad.

On top of that, 57% of those same Millennials say if America continues on the same path it’s on, we will no longer be a global leader in five years. So they get it, but what it comes down to is their decision to head to the polls on Tuesday.

Michigan’s Millennials will play an important role at the swing state’s polls. So what do these young people think about some of the big issues such as student loans, energy and health care?

  • 64% -- Believe the availability of more quality, full-time jobs upon graduation is more important than lower student loan interest rates
  • 60% -- Believe the availability of more quality full-time jobs with health insurance plans is more important than the ability to stay on their parents’ health insurance plans until they are 26
  • 65% -- Would increase production of domestic American energy sources like oil, natural gas, and coal if given the opportunity to set America’s fiscal priorities
  • 77% -- Would decrease federal spending if given the opportunity to set America’s fiscal priorities
  • 70% -- Prefer reducing federal spending over raising taxes on individuals to balance the budget

Stay on top of the election with HLN’s up-to-date coverage.

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