Republicans are poised to gain control of the U.S. Senate if younger voters fail to turn out.
Nearly half – 47 percent – of millennial voters say they will cast ballots for Democrats, while 32 percent lean Republican and 21 percent say they’re still undecided.
But the problem for Democrats is that only about 23 percent of those registered voters – ages 18 to 32 – are expected to turn out Nov. 4.
Younger voters swept President Barack Obama into the White House in 2008, when 52 percent of them cast ballots, and propelled him to a second term in 2012, when about 49 percent of them voted.
In between those two presidential election years, however, only 24 percent of millennial voters cast ballots in the 2010 midterms, when Republicans gained five seats but fell just short of a Senate majority.
Presidential elections always draw stronger turnout, particularly among younger voters, but Millennials seem particularly unmotivated this time around.
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Although the economy has improved, many millennials remain deep in debt, working jobs that offer few benefits, and have moved back in with their parents.
Obama, who remains popular with younger voters, isn’t on the ticket, and political strategist Celinda Lake said few candidates are addressing the issues millennials care most about.
“The candidates are fairly old, and so many students are in debt,” Lake said. “Issues like immigration, Ferguson, (and) marriage equality are not really being addressed.”
Young voters overwhelmingly cite the economy as the most important issue facing the U.S. — with a particular emphasis on job creation — with many others citing debt and spending, terrorism and national security, education, and health care as crucial.
More than half of registered voters ages 18 to 34 also cited climate change and access to abortion and contraception as very important concerns in the midterm elections.
Recent polls have found the U.S. Congress is less popular than head lice, traffic jams, and Nickelback – and polls predict strong turnout of better than 40 percent factoring across all age groups.
But those voters aren’t particularly enthusiastic about their options. Only 32 percent of all voters said they were “extremely motivated” to vote next month, compared to 50 percent who said the same thing ahead of the 2010 midterms.
Most of the voters who bother to show up in November will be older, and older voters tend to favor Republicans.
“(Millennials) are an action-oriented coalition — show me what you did,” Lake said.
Only 25 percent of all likely Democratic voters described themselves as “extremely motivated,” compared to 44 percent of Republicans.
That enthusiasm gap may be enough to hand control of the Senate — and thus, both houses of Congress — to the Republicans, particularly in states such as Alaska, Iowa, and Kansas, where final results could be razor thin.
Turnout among younger voters is expected to be about half the 2012 totals, Lake said, and even a modest improvement over expected participation by millennials could swing any of those races.
For example, young voter participation is expected to plummet in Iowa from 54 percent to 26 percent, while Kansas will likely miss 73,000 previous young voters if turnout drops from 41 percent to 21 percent, as expected.
“The impact of young people is enormous,” Lake said.
In Florida, she said, roughly 590,000 younger voters will stay home this year if turnout plunges from 52 percent to 22 percent — or, in other words, more than eight times more votes than the winning margin in the 2010 gubernatorial race.
“The dropoff among younger voters is way more than the margin in many of these races,” Lake said.