University of Kentucky

Poster Title

On Jobs, Values, and Misguided Polls: An Analysis of Young Voters ‘Bowling Alone’ in Kentucky’s 2014 Midterm Elections

Institution

University of Kentucky

Abstract

The importance of young voters has increased with population size and political impact. Millennials 18 to 29 year olds, which have surpassed Baby Boomers as America's largest population group (Taylor, 2014), showed their power to swing elections when they showed up to re-elect Obama. According to the Pew Research Center, they swung battleground states including Ohio and Virginia, which border Kentucky, home to one of America's most watched midterm elections with its 2014 U.S. Senate race. The question arose: Would young voters flex their newfound political muscles in the midterms or would they follow trends and remain "bowling alone" (Putnam, 2000)? Although at least 10 million young people voted nationally in the 2014 midterm elections, they remained "bowling alone" with a turnout rate of 21.5 percent compared to 20.9 percent in 2010 midterms (CIRCLE, 2014). As the nation gears up for the 2016 presidential race, insights into how young voters think become increasingly valuable. An in-depth case study of first-time voters in Kentucky's 2014 midterms compared their "coming to public judgment" (Yankelovich, 1991) on which candidate to support in the U.S. Senate race with their voting decisions in a local mayoral election. The key determinants focused on issues and values for both races. A third determinant was party affiliation in the U.S. Senate race and character in the non-partisan mayoral election. News coverage was not found as a key determinant in their voting. The most important issue to young voters in the federal and local elections was jobs, but a content analysis of front-page newspaper headlines revealed little focus on jobs. Instead, news coverage, especially the U.S. Senate race, focused on conflict and horse race factors. Among the big losers in the midterms were the pollsters, as none predicted the 15- point victory for Sen. Mitch McConnell. For young voters, who kept journals of their coming to public judgment in the 10 weeks leading up to the election, seven possible factors emerged in their decision-making: issues, values, personal contact, character, competence, opinions of others, and party affiliation. In the mayoral race, the young voters had personal contact with the candidates, unlike the U.S. Senate race. Nonetheless, personal contact did not emerge as a key determinant. Public safety was a key issue for the young voters in the mayoral election, whereas in the U.S. Senate race, student loans and the Affordable Care Act were key. The case study, using quantitative and qualitative research methods, involved 19 Honors students. An analysis of their journals revealed 74 percent, 14 of 19, fell in line with Yankelovich's 7 Stages of Coming to Public Judgment. Findings from this study will be valuable to campaign managers and politicians, scholars researching young voters, and journalists covering future elections.

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On Jobs, Values, and Misguided Polls: An Analysis of Young Voters ‘Bowling Alone’ in Kentucky’s 2014 Midterm Elections

The importance of young voters has increased with population size and political impact. Millennials 18 to 29 year olds, which have surpassed Baby Boomers as America's largest population group (Taylor, 2014), showed their power to swing elections when they showed up to re-elect Obama. According to the Pew Research Center, they swung battleground states including Ohio and Virginia, which border Kentucky, home to one of America's most watched midterm elections with its 2014 U.S. Senate race. The question arose: Would young voters flex their newfound political muscles in the midterms or would they follow trends and remain "bowling alone" (Putnam, 2000)? Although at least 10 million young people voted nationally in the 2014 midterm elections, they remained "bowling alone" with a turnout rate of 21.5 percent compared to 20.9 percent in 2010 midterms (CIRCLE, 2014). As the nation gears up for the 2016 presidential race, insights into how young voters think become increasingly valuable. An in-depth case study of first-time voters in Kentucky's 2014 midterms compared their "coming to public judgment" (Yankelovich, 1991) on which candidate to support in the U.S. Senate race with their voting decisions in a local mayoral election. The key determinants focused on issues and values for both races. A third determinant was party affiliation in the U.S. Senate race and character in the non-partisan mayoral election. News coverage was not found as a key determinant in their voting. The most important issue to young voters in the federal and local elections was jobs, but a content analysis of front-page newspaper headlines revealed little focus on jobs. Instead, news coverage, especially the U.S. Senate race, focused on conflict and horse race factors. Among the big losers in the midterms were the pollsters, as none predicted the 15- point victory for Sen. Mitch McConnell. For young voters, who kept journals of their coming to public judgment in the 10 weeks leading up to the election, seven possible factors emerged in their decision-making: issues, values, personal contact, character, competence, opinions of others, and party affiliation. In the mayoral race, the young voters had personal contact with the candidates, unlike the U.S. Senate race. Nonetheless, personal contact did not emerge as a key determinant. Public safety was a key issue for the young voters in the mayoral election, whereas in the U.S. Senate race, student loans and the Affordable Care Act were key. The case study, using quantitative and qualitative research methods, involved 19 Honors students. An analysis of their journals revealed 74 percent, 14 of 19, fell in line with Yankelovich's 7 Stages of Coming to Public Judgment. Findings from this study will be valuable to campaign managers and politicians, scholars researching young voters, and journalists covering future elections.