While millennials might be socially progressive — studies from Pew Research Center show they favor legalization of same-sex marriage and marijuana more than previous generations — when it comes to the 2016 election, their top motivator is the economy.
The study, conducted by Bank of America and USA Today sampling 2,180 18- to 26-year-olds across the country, found that for 68 percent of those surveyed in Ohio, the economy was more important than social issues. Eighty percent said their personal financial situation would factor into how they voted.
Anne Marie Warren, market sales manager for Global Commercial Banking at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, said social issues in the news and landmark Supreme Court decisions — such as Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage in 2015 — might explain why young voters feel more drawn to economic policy as Election Day nears.
“If you think about it, you and your peers have had a very unique experience with sitting around dinner tables and having very tough conversations with your families, and standing up in your communities and recognizing that something uncomfortable was happening,” she said.
Warren added that while 75 percent of those surveyed in Ohio felt optimistic about their financial future, there were setbacks in how they viewed the economy. According to the study, 63 percent were worried about finding a career path to support their ideal lifestyle, about half “have doubts” about the economy, about one-third rate the job market as “poor” or “somewhat poor,” and 47 percent carry student debt, which is 12 percent more than the national average.
“People are more worried about job opportunities, safety nets and the economy in this period of time, especially relative to parents and older generations,” Warren said.
Robert Greenbaum, a professor in the John Glenn College of Public Affairs who specializes in economics and economic policy, said that, given the economy during the late 2000s, the results didn’t surprise him.
“(The results are) consistent with the hangover from the Great Recession,” Greenbaum said. “This group of people grew up during generational-unprecedented economic challenge.”
Greenbaum said the financial slowdown caused by the 2008 housing crisis would have lingering effects on young people and their attitudes about the economy and voting for the long term.
“It will probably color their financial decisions for the rest of their lives,” he said. “Similarly, we saw that with the generation that grew up — and the children of the people who grew up — during the Great Depression.”
For some young voters, however, the prioritizing of the economy by those going to the polls can be frustrating.
“The election can be multifaceted,” said Nick Prayner, a third-year in marketing. He went on to say his reasoning behind voting for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton is based on social and financial issues addressed in her platform, but also in his opposition to Republican nominee Donald Trump.
Prayner, who identifies as gay, also criticized what he considered a lack of attention to LGBT issues over the course of the 2016 election.
“The other issues (besides legalized gay marriage) the LGBTQ community is facing, like homelessness or (forced) conversion therapy or (lack of access to) transgender-specific health care, things that are more controversial or less glamorous … people say, ‘Oh, it’s not the time for that, it can wait,’” Prayner said. “Is that a good enough reason to put them on the back burner? No, it’s not.”
Regardless of why people intend to vote, Greenbaum said the economy is is in better shape than people sometimes perceive it to be.
“We’ve had growth — it hasn’t been extremely rapid, but the recession we’ve come out of hasn’t been a typical recession. It would have been a lot to expect an immediate bounce back (from the Great Recession). ” he said. “I would just encourage people to vote.”