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The 'Nonjudgmental' Generation: Courting The Millennial Vote


This summer, millennials officially became the largest group in the country's population. Census data also shows they're more diverse than all generations before them. Millenials don't always vote in huge numbers, but when they do, they can make a difference. NPR's Asma Khalid explores what issues are on their minds and what that might mean for elections to come.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: So full disclosure - I am a millennial. And for starters, millennials do not like to be categorized. They don't even like the label millennial. But for our purposes, we'll use it like the Census Bureau to refer to people born between 1982 and 2000. I was at a Bernie Sanders rally in Virginia where I met Benjamin Purdy. He's a junior in college.

BENJAMIN PURDY: Do you want to use my selfie stick?

KHALID: He was using a selfie stick while carrying a friend on his shoulders, and as he waited for Sanders to take the stage, he explained that he's concerned about economic issues.

PURDY: One of the main issues for me is prison reform. And it's just sucking so much money out of our budget to put people, especially nonviolent, like, drug offending criminals, in jail for such long periods of time. We could be spending that money maybe lowering tuition costs for college students like me so that it's a little bit more affordable for us to go to college.

KHALID: Nearby, I met this 29-year-old financial analyst, Kelly Beale. She says she's worried about health care and justice, especially racial justice.

KELLY BEALE: Civil rights isn't where it should be for everybody. It's better, but with the whole Black Lives Matter movement, like, it's obvious that it's not there yet. And I feel like we're not adjusting it properly.

KHALID: Across the lawn is 25-year-old Cassie Harrison who tells me that this generation is more flexible about social norms.

CASSIE HARRISON: I think we like to question things a little bit more. And so I do think that we are a little more liberal.

KHALID: Liberal, say, about things like gay marriage, and that was a common theme in this crowd. They are deeply concerned about equality and justice, whether that's racial, economic or environmental.

ALEX DRESCHEL: I'm a registered Republican, but I'm definitely more of a progressive Republican, you know - I consider, like, a millenial Republican.

KHALID: That's Alex Dreschel hundreds of miles to the north up in New Hampshire. He's a business student from a military family, and he's decked out in that sort of quintessential New England, preppy style - polka dot shorts and a polo shirt.

DRESCHEL: In my opinion, the Republican Party needs to evolve a little bit, so I'm more relaxed on some social issues that other Republicans wouldn't be.

KHALID: A study from the Pew Research Center finds that millennials like Dreschel who identify with the Republican Party are also often liberal and certainly more liberal than older Republicans, especially on issues of sexuality and immigration.

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON: This is a rather nonjudgmental generation.

KHALID: That's Kristen Soltis Anderson, a GOP pollster. She also wrote "The Selfie Vote." It's a book about the politics of her generation. She says millennials don't see immigration as a cultural threat.

ANDERSON: For a lot of older voters, they don't understand why they have to press one for English, for instance. You know, they're remembering a time before that they wish we could go back to.

KHALID: She says where older voters are angry about immigration, most millennial's grew up with immigrants.

ANDERSON: You'll see young voters of all stripes saying the system is broken and it needs to be fixed, but it - I think it doesn't come from the same kind of cultural anxiety place, but rather more from a - the system seems so broken why can't we enforce laws?

KHALID: In a campaign season so far that's been dominated by anger, millenials, she says, are not angry. They're disappointed. And the millennials I spoke to are disappointed - disappointed by all the partisan name-calling and a lackluster personal economy. But analysts say it's unclear whether that disappointment will translate into votes. Asma Khalid, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Asma Khalid is a White House correspondent for NPR. She also co-hosts The NPR Politics Podcast.
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