Millennials: They’re well-educated... wait, never mind they’re not well-educated enough. Maybe that’s why they’re bad with money. Oh wait, they’re actually pretty good with money. But they definitely don’t like marriage… just kidding, the percentage of millennials who want to get married is roughly the same as it was in the previous generation.
The point is, for all the emphasis brands place on targeting a demographic that apparently covers everybody from infants to thirty-somethings, the so-called millennial generation resists easy generalizations. Of course that hasn’t stopped the Internet thinkpiece machine from churning out wildly reductive articles on a daily basis about what millennials are and are not. The Guardian’s Nadja Popovich captured this absurd trend with her amazing “Millennial Madlibs” micro-site.
Now the latest “brand” — because let’s face it, that’s all a politician is — to explicitly target the millennial set is Republican presidential hopeful Jeb Bush. He just launched a website and Super PAC called “Millennials For Jeb” which asks young voters to “Help Make 2016 The Millennial Election.”:
The Millennial generation, ages 18-33, makes up nearly a quarter of the voting age population in the Country and only 50% of Millennials affiliate themselves with either the Democrat or Republican party. Despite the potential to be a real political force, only 21% of Millennials cast a ballot in the 2014 election. We believe this shows that the current political system does not appeal to Millennials’ more moderate nature. We are going to change that.
But there are a few reasons why “Millennials For Jeb” is dead on arrival. First off, the underlying logic behind Bush’s targeting of millennials is flawed. He’s right that only 50 percent of millennials affiliate themselves as either Democrat or Republican. But that doesn’t mean they are much more disillusioned with partisan politics than their parents are. Last January, Gallup found that only 56 percent of America’s broader voting public identified as a Democrat or Republican. In other words, if millennials are less likely to vote than the rest of the country — which is true, though by not as dramatic a margin as you might think — it’s not because they are necessarily more moderate.
Furthermore, the assumption that, because they don’t vote, millennials are not politically active is equally flawed. According to an internal study conducted by Twitter, 53 percent of users between the ages of 18 and 34 use the platform to tweet about current events.
And finally, if a candidate wants to reach millennials, a standalone website is hardly the best way to do so. The website notwithstanding, however, Millennials For Jeb may actually have the right idea about targeting youngsters, claiming that it will only pay for ads on social media platforms as opposed to radio and television spots. It’s no secret that traditional television and terrestrial radio have played a diminishing role in the consumption habits of Americans, both millennial and otherwise.
But candidates will likely need to move beyond mere social media to reach audiences, and instead create their own “content” — sponsored or otherwise — on semi-open publishing platforms like Buzzfeed and Medium. As I wrote after John Boehner’s team posted a takedown of Obama’s community college plan using Taylor Swift GIFs, 2012 was already the social media election. Now 2016 is shaping up to be the “content election,” and sites like Medium have been courting politicians to self-publish on their platforms. If 2012 was the year of lame political tweets nobody asked for or needs, 2016 will be the year of lame GIF listicles nobody asked for or needs.
(By the way, if the Bush team is looking for a content angle, I hear millennials are pretty into 90s nostalgia these days. Perhaps he could launch a “Bush vs Clinton” Tumblr that plays on the cultural signposts of the last “Bush vs Clinton” fight in 1992, like “Home Alone 2″ and “Achy Breaky Heart”… See, this is why I don’t work for political campaigns).
In any case, there’s nothing revolutionary about Bush’s outreach to millennials. It’s simply your basic grassroots “Get Out The Vote” campaign that isn’t likely to increase the numbers of young Republican voters.