Florida’s Two “Super-Sized Generations”— The Boomers and the Millennials

by Dr. Susan MacManus
September 15, 2015

Susan A. MacManus, USF

David J. Bonanza, Palm Bay

An analysis of a recent Wall Street Journal/NBC poll concludes that “Millennials aren’t just younger than other Americans. They are different.”[1]

Generational differences, especially in racial and ethnic composition, political preferences, and the major means of getting campaign news, have become a major focal point of today’s campaigns. The 2016 presidential race itself “will mark the first time that Millennials will equal Baby Boomers as a share of eligible voters.”[2]

The growing popularity of the generational approach is in large part a product of today’s sharper dividing lines between younger and older generations, particularly the two largest (the Millennials and the Baby Boomers). The near parity of these two “super generations” over the past few election cycles has renewed the “young v. old” way of constructing campaign get-out-the-vote strategies, particularly as the “young-old” gap in voting patterns (candidate preferences) has widened. (See Figure 1.)

To be successful in winning Florida in 2016 and beyond, campaigns will need to micro-target voters differently across generations, sometimes even within the same party.  While it is true that “each generation has its story and no two generations are alike,” the Millennials “differ markedly from past generations” having been shaped by “massive advancements in technology, unparalleled communication access, and more media exposure.”[3]

Simply put, there is no better place to observe the evolution of generational politics than in Florida. The makeup of the state’s registered voters is much more age-diverse than is commonly thought. While many still view the state as a “gray” state—one dominated by retirees—that image is very outdated as the graphics in this column clearly show. The age breakdown of current registrants is 50 and older (53%), under 50 (47%).

A Quick Look at Today’s 5 Living Generations

There are five living generations of adults of voting age (18 and older)—each different from the other in the major events that have occurred in their lifetime and the political leadership in their early adult years.  The Pew Research Center’s delineation of these generations is shown in Table 1.[4]

Table 1. Today’s Living Generations and Their Early Political Experiences

Generation

Born

Age (2016)

Major Events

Presidents*

Greatest Generation/GI Generation Before 1928 89+ World War II, The Great Depression, The New Deal Franklin Delano Roosevelt
The Silent Generation 1928-1945 71-88 Postwar Happiness, Era of Conformity, Korean War Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower
The Baby Boomers 1946-1964 52-70 Civil Rights Movement, 60s Youth Culture—Save the World Activism, Drugs, Free Love, Vietnam War John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and Jimmy Carter
Generation X 1965-1980 36-51 MTV, 24-hour news, latch-key kids, transition to computers, AIDS Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton
Millennials/Generation Y After 1980 18 to 35** 9/11, Social Media, Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, Great Recession, BP oil spill George W. Bush and Barack Obama

Note: *President at the time a member of the generation turned 18 years of age.

**The youngest Millennials are in their teens. No chronological endpoint has been set for this group.

Source: Adapted from “Millennials in Adulthood,” Pew Research Center, March 5, 2014; http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2014/03/07/millennials-in-adulthood/sdt-next-america-03-07-2014-0-06/.

Millennials Surpass Baby Boomers in Population and Labor Force: Generational Conflict Likely

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the Millennial generation has surpassed the large Baby Boomer age cohort in size (2014)[5] and in the labor force (2015).[6] (See Figure 1.) Looking more long term, by 2030, the Millennials are projected to outnumber the aging baby Boomers by 22 million[7], which is why they have become of such interest politically. They are already a force to be reckoned with and will increasingly shape the political landscape much as the Baby Boomers have done over the past several decades. While these two “super generations” differ significantly in their demographic makeup, political and policy preferences, and media consumption patterns, the two are linked because the vast majority of Millennials’ parents are Baby Boomers. Clashes are inevitable!

Figure 1

The Widening Age Gap in Younger and Older Voter Presidential Candidate Preferences

Source: Pew Research Center, Millennials in Adulthood, March 2014, p. 12. Available at http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/files/2014/03/2014-03-07_generations-report-version-for-web.pdf.

Figure 2

Millennials Are Larger Part of Labor Force than Baby Boomers

 

A Look at Generational Registration Patterns in Florida: 2015

Reflecting a national pattern, Millennials in Florida still lag behind Baby Boomers in voter registration[8]—23 percent v. 34 percent. (See Figure 3.) However, the gap is expected to close in 2016—a presidential election year when parties and advocacy groups aggressively target young unregistered voters. And it is important to remember than in spite of the state’s generational registration differentials, there was considerable evidence that Millennials’ higher-than-expected turnout rates in 2012 were what gave President Obama a second term. According to exit polls, Florida’s Millennials were the most solidly Democratic voting bloc in 2012, while Baby Boomers leaned slightly toward Romney. In 2014, Florida’s Millennials turned out at lower rates, giving a victory to Republican Governor Rick Scott. Scott did far better among younger voters than did Romney in 2012—41 percent v. 29 percent—mostly attributable to a fall-off in turnout of young Democratic minority Millennials.

 

Figure 3

Source: Calculated from Florida Voter Registration System (FVRS) Voter registration and history extract file, Florida Division of Elections, using Pew Research Center generational age brackets.

 

By Race/Ethnicity

Millennials[9]are the largest and most racially and ethnically diverse generation in American history. In Florida, 42 percent of Millennial registered voters are nonwhite compared to 24 percent of the Baby Boomers and 16 percent of the Greatest Generation. (See Figure 4.) Millennials make up more than one-third (35 percent) of black and “other” racial minority registered voters, 30 percent of Hispanics, and 28 percent of Asian registrants (see Figure 5).

The Millennial generation’s growth and diversity has largely been a result of immigration, whereas the growth of the Baby Boomer generation was a product of a high birth rate of a larger white population in the period following World War II.  Growing up with people from more diverse backgrounds (racial, ethnic, religious, sexual orientation, family structure, political) has made Millennials more socially moderate than older generations. They are the only generation in which liberals are not significantly outnumbered by conservatives.

 

Figure 4

Source: Calculated from Florida Voter Registration System (FVRS) Voter registration and history extract file, Florida Division of Elections, using Pew Research Center generational age brackets.

 

Figure 5

 Source: Calculated from Florida Voter Registration System (FVRS) Voter registration and history extract file, Florida Division of Elections, using Pew Research Center generational age brackets.

By Gender

Gender differences in registration levels in Florida are widest among the Greatest Generation (63 percent female, 36 percent male) and narrowest among the Millennials (52 percent female, 46 percent male).(See Figure 6.). Overall, Greatest Generation era female registrants are a slightly larger percent of female than male registrants—3 percent v 2 percent. (See Figure 7.) In Florida, as in the United States at-large, women make up a much larger share of the older generations primarily because they live longer than men. (However, the life expectancy gap has been shrinking in recent decades.[10])

Females in the two younger generations are much more racially/ethnically diverse than are their elders.  Research shows that Millennials, especially minority females, tend to vote more solidly Democratic, while white Millennials are more evenly divided in their vote preference—females much more than males. Baby Boomer females are more politically divided than Millennials but less so than the oldest generation (Depression-era Greatest Generation) females who tend to be more heavily Democratic. Many of these oldest women never worked outside the home. Without a pension, they are more dependent on Social Security and other government programs and are strong FDR-Democrats.

 

Figure 6

Source: Calculated from Florida Voter Registration System (FVRS) Voter registration and history extract file, Florida Division of Elections, using Pew Research Center generational age brackets.

 

Figure 7

 Source: Calculated from Florida Voter Registration System (FVRS) Voter registration and history extract file, Florida Division of Elections, using Pew Research Center generational age brackets.

 

By Political Party

There are sharp differences in party registration patterns across the generations. (See Figure 8.) Baby Boomers are the most evenly divided from a partisan perspective—39 percent Democrats, 38 percent Republicans. Millennials have the most mixed pattern—38 percent Democrat, 35 percent No Party Affiliation (NPA) or minor party, and 26 percent Republican.

Democratic registration is highest among the oldest generation (46 percent) and lowest among the Millennials (38 percent). Republicans make up a larger share of the Silent (43 percent) and Greatest Generations (41 percent) and a smaller portion of Millennials (26 percent). NPAs are considerably more prevalent among Millennials (33 percent) and Generation X (27 percent) than each of the older generations.

Florida’s Baby Boomers make up a plurality of Republican (37 percent), Democrat (34 percent), and Other (minor) party registrants (33 percent). Millennials, however, form a plurality (33 percent) of NPAs.(See Figure 9.) Actually, Millennials and Gen Xers (27 percent) combined form a majority (60 percent) of NPAs.  Silent and Greatest Generation registrants have a higher proportion of Republicans (24 percent) and Democrats (20 percent), but a lower proportion of NPAs (12 percent).  

Studies show Millennials have been reared on negative images of politics—parties and politicians—and have higher levels of distrust of big government, big corporations, and big media than their elders. The key word is “big,” which they often equate with “ineffective” because, at least in the case of government, a high percentage of Millennials says it should do more to solve problems.[11]They are more likely to see little difference between Republicans and Democrats and tend to self-identify and register as independents, although they vote Democratic, especially minority female Millennials. Research has also found them to be more alienated by highly negative campaigns than older voters.

Figure 8

Source: Calculated from Florida Voter Registration System (FVRS) Voter registration and history extract file, Florida Division of Elections, using Pew Research Center generational age brackets.

 

Figure 9

 

Source: Calculated from Florida Voter Registration System (FVRS) Voter registration and history extract file, Florida Division of Elections, using Pew Research Center generational age brackets.

 

Largest Media Market Differences

An integral part of any statewide campaign (presidential or U.S. Senate in 2016) is deciding where to air TV ads and to send candidates and their high profile surrogates.  Among Florida’s five largest media markets, a plurality of registrants from each generation lives in the Tampa-St. Petersburg market. (See Figure 10.)  The Tampa-St. Petersburg market is the state’s largest market (as measured by registered voters.)

The top three markets to reach Millennials are Tampa-St. Petersburg-Sarasota (22 percent), Miami-Fort Lauderdale (22 percent), and Orlando-Daytona Beach-Melbourne (20 percent).  For the Baby Boomers, they are Tampa-St. Petersburg (24 percent), Orlando (20 percent), and Miami (19 percent). Higher percentages of Greatest Generation (17 percent) and Silent Generation (13 percent) are served by the Palm Beach-Fort Pierce market than any other large market. Similarly, the Jacksonville-Northeast Florida market reaches a slightly higher percentage of Millennial and Generation X registrants than other markets.

Among these five media markets, the proportion of younger registrants (Millennials and Gen Xers) within each is Jacksonville (52 percent), Miami-Fort Lauderdale (51 percent), Orlando (48 percent), Tampa (45 percent), and Palm Beach (42 percent). (See Figure 11.) Comparable statistics for the older (Silent and Greatest Generation) registrants served by each market are Palm Beach (25 percent), Tampa-St. Petersburg (20 percent), Orlando (18 percent), Miami (16 percent), and Jacksonville (14 percent).

 

Figure 10

         Source: Calculated from Florida Voter Registration System (FVRS) Voter registration and history extract file, Florida Division of Elections, using Pew Research Center generational age brackets.

 

Figure 11

 

Source: Calculated from Florida Voter Registration System (FVRS) Voter registration and history extract file, Florida Division of Elections, using Pew Research Center generational age brackets.

           

Generational Communication Differences: Millennials—“Digital Natives”

From a communication perspective, Millennials are described as “digital natives”—the only generation that has not had to adapt to new platforms of the digital era (the internet, mobile technology, and social media).  In fact, they have relied on such platforms “to construct personalized networks of friends, colleagues and affinity groups.”[12]

Community service, generated through online networks, is for some Millennials a more important form of civic engagement than is voting—in sharp contrast to the Boomers.[13]But that is likely to change as Millennials “get to the period in their lives when they vote in numbers more reflective of their demographic clout.”[14]

Economic Future: Generational Tensions to Escalate

Economically, the Millennials are aging into a different, more unpredictable, future than did the Boomers. The younger cohort, while the most educated generation in history, is strapped with higher levels of student loan debt and faced with a less lucrative job market with more low- paying, longer-hour, entry-level jobs than their predecessors.[15]Generational tensions will only escalate as more Baby Boomers reach retirement age and need economic support from the relatively low-paid Millennials so that they can maintain their lifestyles.[16]A high percentage of Baby Boomers (74 percent) know this and admit that today’s young adults are more stressed economically than they were when they were young.[17]

Campaigns Now Need Generational Experts

In order to devise more successful tactics to register and get out the vote, campaigns must track changes in the composition, partisan identification, policy preferences, and media consumption patterns of different generations.

In Florida, failing to pay close attention to the two largest living generations (the Millennials and the Baby Boomers) would be a big mistake. It behooves political parties and campaigns to focus on improving the registration rates of Millennials and their standing within that mammoth group destined to be a political powerhouse.  Ignoring generational replacement in calculating campaign strategies in a rapidly growing state like Florida could easily result in defeat.



[1] Gerald F. Seib, “Millennials’ Views Reveal Different Challenges for Each Party—WSJ/NBC Poll,” Wall Street Journal, August 11, 2015.

[2] Eligible does not necessarily mean registered voters.  Quote from Seib, 2015.

[3] Torus Marketing, “Move Over Boomers, Here Come the Millennials,” July 28, 2014, citing Pew Research Center research.

[4] This is a widely cited delineation but not the only one. Other demographers choose either different start and/or end years and give different labels to individual generations.

[5] Pew Research Center, Millennials in Adulthood, March 2014; MarketingCharts, “So How Many Millennials Are There in the US, Anyway?” (Updated), April 28, 2015; Ben Brown, “People Get Ready: Here Come the Millennials,” PlaceShakers and Newsmakers, March 10, 2014.

[6] Richard Fry, “Millennials Surpass Gen Xers as the Largest Generation in U.S. Labor Force,” Pew Research Center, May 11, 2015; Available at http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/05/11/millennials-surpass-gen-xers-as-the-largest-generation-in-u-s-labor-force/.

[7] Torus Marketing, “Move Over Boomers, Here Come the Millennials,” July 28, 2014, citing Pew Research Center research.

[8] One analysis of the 2014 election reported that 54% of Florida’s Millennials were not registered. Voter Participation Data Center, “Map the Change: Registering the Rising American Electorate Will Transform the Landscape,” August 27, 2015. Available at voterparticipation.org/2015/08/map-the-change-registering-the-rising-american-electorate-will-transform-the-landscape/.

[9] Millennials are also known as the boomerang generation and Gen Y. Torus Marketing, “Move Over Boomers, Here Come the Millennials,” July 28, 2014. 

[11] Tom Shoop, “Millennials: More Government Please,” Government Executive, nationaljournal.com, August 14, 2015. Based on the results of the Wall Street Journal/NBC poll conducted in August, 2015.

[12] Pew Research Center, Millennials in Adulthood citing Lee Rainie and Barry Wellman, Networked: The New Social Operating System, MIT Press, 2012.

[13] National Conference on Citizenship, “Two Special Generations: The Millennials and the Boomers,” September 22, 2008.

[14] Brown, “People Get Ready: Here Come the Millennials.”

[15] Ben Brown, “People Get Ready: Here Come the Millennials,” PlaceShakers and Newsmakers, March 10, 2014.

[16] Mike “Mish” Shedlock, “Clash of Generations: Boomers vs. Millennials: Attitude Change Will Disrupt Wall Street and Corporate America,” Mish’s Global Economic Trend Analysis blog, May 30, 2014.

[17] Pew Research Center, Millennials in Adulthood, p. 40.