Millennials now make up about an equal share of the electorate as the Boomer generation, which has generated much commentary on millennials' participation in the upcoming election. Based on data from American high school seniors, I find that 88% of millennials predicted they probably will vote in a public election.
I used the yearly reports of high school seniors' attitudes collected in the Monitoring the Future Survey, an ongoing survey of American students' attitudes and behaviors conducted since 1976. The limitation of this data-set is that it doesn't include youth who dropped out of school before twelfth grade, which varies over time.
About 90% of Boomer (seniors 1976 - 1982) and Generation X (seniors 1983 - 1999) members reported they will probably vote in a public election, when asked while they were high school seniors. Thus, the 88% of millennials (seniors 2000+) predicting they will someday vote is slightly down from previous generations of American youth.
To put this into perspective, 83% of millennial high school seniors reported they think they will eventually choose to get married. By contrast, 78% of Boomers predicted they would eventually choose to get married, while 80% of Generation X reported they expected to marry. In context of actual marriage behavior, even as attitudes about expecting to marry are increasing, a small but increasing number of people will never get married. These disparities highlight a cautionary tale that expectations of future actions do not necessarily predict actual behaviors. Notably, voting expectations remain higher than predictions of future marriage across the three generations.
Past research shows Black men and women are less likely to vote or to marry compared with Whites. These differences in behavior reflect racial variation in predictions of future marriage and voting behavior. The Monitoring the Future data show young Black men and women are less likely to report they expect to marry or to vote in a public election compared to their White counterparts.
The differences in attitudes between Black and White youth are narrowing. Young Black men and women are increasingly likely to predict they will get married in 2014 (71%) than they were in 1976 (57%). Black youth's expectations about voting in a public election remain largely unchanged.
White youth are also increasingly likely to predict they will eventually marry but they are less likely to expect to vote in a public election in 2014 compared to 1976. By 2014, White youth were about as likely to think they will eventually marry as they were to expect themselves to vote in a public election.
Note: Public data about other racial and ethnic minorities are not available in the Monitoring the Future data-set and thus this analysis is limited to White and Black youth.