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By Hannah Finnie and Simran Jagtiani
September 16, 2016
Caption : Voters, from right, Adrian Vanderhave, Philip Toomey, and Adrian Stephens, cast their vote at a polling place in University Park Elementary School in University Park, Md., Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2008. Lines stretched around buildings and down city blocks as people waited hours to cast ballots in the historic presidential race between Barack Obama and John McCain. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)     Credit : AP/Manuel Balce Ceneta.

Millennials may be the most diverse generation in history, but concern for higher education and student debt cuts sharply across race and gender lines. According to a new poll released by Generation Progress Action, three of the top five issues most likely to bring young voters to the voting booths this November relate to higher education.

The poll, conducted by Public Policy Polling of registered voters aged 18-35, found that young voters are more likely to vote for a candidate who supports debt-free college for working families, free community college, and student loan refinancing. As Millennials overtake Baby Boomers as the largest generation and begin to fully define the workforce, Millennials’ priorities will become America’s priorities. And the results are in: Millennials want their elected officials to address the rising costs of college, the staggering student debt crisis, and an economy that continues to leave many young Americans behind. Read on for a deeper explanation of the issues that motivate Millennials—and a vision for the Millennial agenda.

Higher Education and Student Debt Drive Millennial Motivation

Even if Millennials are able to find employment (a major if: the youth unemployment rate is still twice the national average), they’re still burdened by unwieldy amounts of student debt and a system of higher education that is all too often out of reach. The results from the poll show that these concerns top Millennials’ priorites: 78 percent of Millennials would be more likely to vote for a candidate who supports free public college for families that earn less than $125,000 a year, and 74 percent support free community college for all. An overwhelming majority of Millennials (71 percent) also said they would be much or somewhat more likely to support a candidate who supported student loan refinancing (unlike mortgages and most other kinds of loans, student loans cannot be refinanced to take advantage of current lower interest rates). Together, these were three of the top five issues Millennials said would make them more likely to vote for a candidate of the 14 issues polled.


Though student debt was a rarity a generation ago and students could work their way through college, the cost of college has grown 1,120 percent since 1978. And, what’s more, people of color are disproportionately burdened by this growing debt: according to a national analysis of student debt data by Generation Progress and the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, black and Latino Americans are especially impacted.

Millennials Want Economic Stability

As the last members of the Millennial generation complete college and find and settle into jobs, Millennials’ primary concern is a stable concern. Thirty-four percent of the young people polled said that “jobs and economy” is the most important issue of the 2016 election, and 24 percent say that it’s the second most important issue.

As the youth unemployment rate continues to hover around ten percent, young people believe that the U.S. needs to focus on job creation as a way to help boost the national economy. Millennials polled acknowledged the importance of government intervention, but want to see federal funds being used proactively towards this goal. A majority (66 percent) of Millennials said they were more likely to vote for a candidate who will put young people to work by using federal funds to rebuild American infrastructure, American manufacturing and clean energy initiatives, with 29 percent much more likely and 37 percent somewhat more likely.

But Millennials don’t just want more jobs—they want better jobs with better benefits. Sixty-nine percent of Milllennials polled said they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who had a plan to put affordable childcare and paid family leave within reach for young Americans trying to start families. And 67 percent said they’d be more likely to vote for a candidate who supported raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Criminal Justice Reform and Gun Violence Prevention Matter To Millennials

In addition to higher education, student debt, and economic stability, Millennials also want their elected officials to make their communities safer, through criminal justice reform and enhanced gun violence prevention efforts. Notably, 71 percent of Millennials polled said they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who was committed to holding law enforcement officers accountable for their actions, increasing office and leadership diversity, and eliminating racial profiling. Moreover, 69 percent said they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who supports laws that prohibit gun purchases by perpetrators of hate crimes, individuals with ties to terrorist organizations or individuals with a history of domestic violence. And 62 percent said they’d be more likely to vote for a candidate who supports the goals of the Black Lives Matter movement, while just 19 percent said they’d be less likely.

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