Millennial focus shifted to civil rights after Trump's victory: Report

Counterprotesters of an “alt-right” free speech event in Boston Common on Nov. 18, 2017. (Yahoo News photo-illustration; photos: Scott Eisen/Getty Images/AP)

The U.S. presidential election inspired millennials to shift their focus toward civil rights and helping to improve the lives of others, according to a new report.

The 2017 Millennial Impact Report, released on Thursday morning, marks the 10th year of research into the millennial generation’s attitudes and behaviors toward social issues and cause engagement. The report defines millennials as those born between 1980 and 2000. Last year’s report found that the presidential campaign had little impact on the level of millennial involvement in social issues. But the researchers found that the election of a new president had the exact opposite result.

In short, the year-in-review depicts young Americans using nontraditional avenues to fix problems they see — largely out of frustration with the Trump administration and the status quo. Overall, there was a rise in cause engagement stemming from the belief that the country was moving in the wrong direction.

Amy Thayer, the director of research for the Millennial Impact Report, said they were interested in whether this generation’s priorities shifted as the overall environment changed since the 2016 elections. After all, Trump’s ascent had been riddled with allegations of racism and sexism, and his erratic behavior and rhetoric have resulted in a steady stream of controversies.

“The issue that most concerned [millennials] before the 2016 election was education, and interestingly the issue that most concerned nine months postelection was social justice,” Thayer said during a conference call on Tuesday. “We definitely saw that a lot of the issues remained constant. They may have shifted — whether they were in the top three or top four — but the larger, greater-good ones really started to elevate toward the top.”

Civil rights/racial discrimination beat out job creation and health care for the most important issue to millennials in aggregate. This is likely a reflection of the attention given to women’s rights and immigration during Trump’s first year in office.

Hundreds of people march through downtown Denver in protest of Donald Trump’s inauguration on Jan. 20, 2017. (Photo: Shutterstock)

According to Thayer, millennials have been acting on issues of general concern on a national level, whereas causes that affect their lives personally result in more local engagement. It’s been a mix: About 41 percent said they stay local, and 41 percent said they combine their time between local and national.

Research and marketing agency Achieve researches and compiles the report with support from the Case Foundation, a civic-engagement nonprofit. Neither endorses any political candidates or their organizations.

Derrick Feldmann, the founder and lead researcher for the Millennial Impact Project, said though previous years showed millennials being more engaged with politics overall, last year demonstrated a shift in one’s motivation for getting involved in any particular social issue. Previously, he said, millennials would be more likely to take action if they were personally affected by something, but now they are more likely to act if they see other people in pain or facing challenges.

“They are supporting a social issue. They don’t take formal roles from their perspective, but they are spending more of their energies trying to shoot for another milestone in that social issue with their peers and colleagues and friends,” Feldmann said during the webinar.

He added that those wishing to engage with millennials on social issues should look at them as having a “supporter” mentality.

Among the report’s other findings are that 39 percent of millennials think the nation is heading in the wrong direction. Only 29 percent think it’s going in the right direction, and 32 percent are unsure.

But it’s not just that millennials don’t like Trump. Many don’t even think he’s addressing the issues that matter to them. Forty-three percent said he had not addressed causes they care about, 8 percent said he addressed them well and 21 percent were not sure.

In aggregate, the millennials said they use social media only to share information but try to refrain from “uncivil public discourse.” They mostly consider petitions and protests more effective than social media.

“Sort of a stereotypical view of millennials is that they’re always on social media — they’re using social media to do everything. But in fact, they actually use social media to share about causes and provide posts to other people about causes,” Thayer said.

Millennials also generally place importance on voting. Just 66 percent think that voting will lead to changes they want, but 77 percent believe it is the duty of every citizen.

Feldmann said their findings were the result of several surveys conducted with a representative sample of roughly 3,000 millennials. The researchers investigated and analyzed the views presented in the report from November 2016 to January 2018.

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