Generation X, Millennials and the post–Millennial generation make up a clear majority of voting-eligible adults in the United States, but if past midterm election turnout patterns hold true, they are unlikely to cast the majority of votes this November. Not only are younger adults less likely to participate in midterm elections, but Millennials and Gen Xers have a track record of low turnout in midterms compared with older generations when they were the same age.
As of April 2018 (the most recent data available), 59% of adults who are eligible to vote are Gen Xers, Millennials or “post-Millennials.” In the 2014 midterm election, which had a historically low turnout, these younger generations accounted for 53% of eligible voters but cast just 36 million votes – 21 million fewer than the Boomer, Silent and Greatest generations, who are ages 54 and older in 2018.
Since 2014, the number of voting-eligible Gen Xers, Millennials and post-Millennials has increased by 18 million. Some of this increase stems from Gen Xers and Millennials who have naturalized and become U.S. citizens. But the bulk of it is due to the addition of 15 million adult post-Millennials (18 to 21 years old) who are now voting age.
Meanwhile, the electoral potential of Baby Boomers and older generations has declined since the last midterm. Driven mainly by deaths, there are now 10 million fewer eligible voters among the Boomer and older generations than there were in 2014.
The generational makeup of the electorate matters because, as Pew Research Center surveys have shown, generational differences in political preferences are now as wide as they have been in decades. For example, among registered voters, 59% of Millennials affiliate with the Democratic Party or lean Democratic. About half of Boomers (48%) and 43% of the Silent Generation identify as or lean Democratic.
Whether Gen X and younger generations will be the majority of voters in the November midterms will depend on how many of those who are eligible actually turn out to vote. In the 2016 presidential election, Gen X and younger generations were a majority of voters. But turnout in midterm elections tends to be significantly lower than in presidential elections, particularly among younger adults.
In the 2014 midterm election, only 39% of Gen Xers who were eligible turned out to vote, as did a significantly smaller share of eligible Millennials (22%). It’s important to note, however, that the 2014 election is not representative of all midterms, as only 42% of all eligible voters reported voting – the lowest turnout in a midterm election since consistent data have been available.
It’s difficult to predict who will turn out to vote in the upcoming 2018 midterm. A reasonable scenario might be that eligible voters would turn out as they have, on average, in past midterm elections. Gen Xers and Millennials have consistently underperformed in terms of voter turnout in midterm elections, compared with Boomers when they were the same age. Millennials have had the opportunity to vote in four midterm elections (2002, 2006, 2010 and 2014). Among Millennials who were between the ages of 18 and 24 during these elections, 20% turned out to vote, on average. By comparison, 26% of Boomers in that same age range turned out to vote in midterm elections between 1978 and 1986.