CivicLEADS: Millennial voters’ backgrounds provide insights into civic behaviors

November 7, 2016

ANN ARBOR—For the first time in decades, the Baby Boomers and previous generations are predicted to pass the torch to a new generation of voters. The Pew Research Center reported in May that Census data show the number of voting-age Millennials to be nearly equal to the number of Baby Boomers. Another Pew report from August suggests that Millennial and Generation X voters may outnumber older generations at the polls during the 2016 presidential election.

Data from ICPSR’s Civic Learning, Engagement, and Action Data Sharing (CivicLEADS) project provides some insights into the civic behaviors of Millennials, who were as young as 14 when some of CivicLEADS studies were conducted in the 1990s. We asked members of CivicLEADS’ advisory committee, who are also primary investigators of some of the archive’s studies on youth civic learning and engagement, about the effects Millennials’ backgrounds may have on their voting behavior.

Millenial ages for CivicLEADS studies

Age of Millennial study participants, projected to 2016. Click on the image to enlarge.

“How does the analysis of Millennials’ past youth civic education and engagement data help increase our understanding of their current and future political involvement and/or voting behavior?”

Table of some questions and responses from CivicLEADS studies.

Sampling of questions and responses from CivicLEADS studies. Click on the image to enlarge.

“Each national election offers a chance to study young people’s political socialization: to learn who grows into an active and effective citizen, and why,” said Peter Levine, the associate dean for research and Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Tufts University. “Certain patterns have been generally consistent in election years for decades. For instance, young people who have more economic and social advantage tend to participate more; families, community groups, and schools affect young people’s civic knowledge and engagement; and often civic engagement begins with an invitation that turns into a habit.”

Judith Torney-Purta, professor emerita of Developmental Science and Educational Psychology at the University of Maryland, said the CivicLEADS dataset from the IEA Civic Education Study conducted with nationally representative samples of 14-year-olds in 28 countries in 1999 would be particularly useful. “These civic engagement data from nearly 20 years ago are relevant in understanding the attitudes and civic knowledge of individuals now in their 30s.”

As Pew’s analysis focuses on Millennials’ potential in this election, we won’t know their true impact until the election is over. As Levine said, “Analysis of survey and voting data in the 2012 election confirmed that school-based civic education increases students’ knowledge of politics, and explicit encouragement to vote increases turnout. At the same time, both the influences on civic engagement and the nature of politics are changing rapidly. For instance, social media influence youth and serve as a forum for politics. Therefore, it is important to update our understanding of political socialization with data from the 2016 election.”

Whatever the election’s outcome, CivicLEADS provides researchers with high-quality data to take a look back into the past of today’s Millennials to see what other stories the data will tell.


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By Kory Zhao

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