On November 2nd, Urbanful put out an article on how millennials’ transportation habits are changing the way cities plan for the future; on November 5th, it became clear that millennial’s voting habits have an equally profound effect on public policy, in the opposite direction.
High profile ballot initiatives on a proposed light rail in Austin, TX and increased funding for transit projects in St. Petersburg and Gainesville, FL went down to defeat amid low voter turnout from 18-29 year olds.
Overall, it was a mixed night for such measures in cities across the country, and results were similarly ambivalent on the state level.
This equivocal outcome for transportation policy would be of little note on an eventful election night had it not conflicted with the trend documented at the beginning of this article as well as preliminary polling.
Access to multimodal transportation and reliable public infrastructure are priorities for millennials. “More than half (54%) of millennials surveyed say they would consider moving to another city if it had more and better options for getting around,” according to a recent report, “and 66% say that access to high quality transportation is one of the top three criteria they would weigh when deciding where to live.”
A poll from the Austin Chronicle had proposition 1, the light rail project, passing 52% to 43% in a city that has attracted a flood of young people in recent years, looking for a mobile, urban lifestyle.
So what explains the surprising defeat? It likely has something to do with the disconnect between millennials stated priorities and their commitment to bringing these to the voting booth.
Based on recent results, voters between 18-29 are about half as likely to vote in midterms (23%, 2010) as they are in presidential elections (45%, 2012). This trend is supported historically.
Advocates may take solace in the fact that 2016 is a Presidential election year, but if engagement and outreach in future midterms does not change, such optimism will prove unfounded.
The bottom line is, despite the apparent popularity of pro-transportation policies among millennials, individual initiatives will continue to flounder if their most ardent supporters fail to get out and vote.