Millennials, Causes And The Election: How Millennials’ Perspectives Of Personal Impact And Activism Change In An Election Year

The 2016 Millennial Impact Report investigates how millennials’ cause engagement behaviors may change during an election year, and how these changes may be influenced by important demographics such as their political party affiliation and/or their political ideologies, geographical location, age and race/ethnicity or by the emerging candidates for election. This study also examines millennials’ interest and activation in specific causes that may be differentiated by their support of a particular political party.

There are few events in the United States that make social issues and affiliated causes – including those who support and those who oppose them – as public and popular as presidential election cycles. With the changing landscape in the U.S. brought on by a presidential election year, Achieve, the research team behind The Millennial Impact Project, wanted to understand how – or if – this generation’s philanthropic interests and involvement changes as well, and how these changes may be influenced by important demographics such as their political ideologies, gender, age and more.

The Millennial Impact Project has consistently shown millennials value cause work – that is, any activities that are philanthropic in nature – and are engaged with causes. But more than simply engaging with causes, Wave 1 (March to May; n= 350 each month and n= 1,050 total for the wave) of the 2016 Millennial Impact Study found that nearly all (90%) of millennial respondents think people like them can have an impact in the U.S. to make it a better place to live.

This is an aggregate response of those who indicated people like them can have a small impact (23%), a moderate impact (37%) and a big impact (30%). Only 5 percent of respondents do not think people like them can have an impact at all.

However, though most millennials believe they can make an impact in the U.S., respondents on average only somewhat believe they are activists (i.e., a person who behaves intentionally to bring about political or social change).

Respondents were asked to rate on a scale of 0 percent to 100 percent how much they agree with the statement: “I am an activist (a person who behaves intentionally to bring about political or social change).” The average response was just over neutral (54%), while the median response for this question was 60 percent, indicating respondents somewhat believe they are activists.

Personal Impact & Activism by Gender
When looking at personal impact and beliefs by gender, male millennial respondents more than female millennial respondents believe a person can have a big impact in the U.S. About a third (34%) of male millennial respondents believe a person can have a big impact in the U.S., compared to only 27 percent of female millennials. Conversely, 39 percent female respondents believe a person can have a moderate impact, versus 34 percent of male respondents.

In addition, male respondents more than female believe they are activists. The average response of male millennial respondents indicated they somewhat believe they are activists, with an average of 60 percent and a median response of 67 percent. Female respondents selected more neutral answers to this question, with an average of 49 percent and a median response of 50 percent.

In general, females are found to be more engaged with causes than males. For example, the 2014 Millennial Impact Report showed female millennials were more likely than male millennials to donate to and volunteer for causes they care about. However, previous Millennial Impact Reports did not ask respondents how much impact they believe they can have or to what degree they consider themselves activists, so no real comparisons can be drawn about personal beliefs during a presidential election year versus a non-presidential election year.

Activism by Political Ideology
Millennial respondents who self-identified as having conservative-leaning ideologies believe they are somewhat activists, with an average response of 58 percent and a median of 65 percent. Liberal-leaning respondents responded more neutrally, with an average response of 50 percent and a median of 55 percent. Respondents who identified their political ideology as neutral, however, have a much lower belief that they are activists, with an average response of 43 percent and a median of 44 percent.

The trends that emerged in Wave 1 related to millennials’ beliefs about personal impact and activism specifically give rise to a number of thoughts and questions, such as: What specific characteristics are included in millennials’ understanding of activism? How do millennials who only “somewhat” consider themselves activists understand how they are able to create change? In what other ways might millennials be creating change or having an impact in making the U.S. a better place to live?

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