Finding magic: Will young Native Americans vote? A data story

Kiowa artist Steven Paul Judd's Magic 8 ball. We asked: Will young Native Americans vote? The answer wasn't helpful ("She's your cousin.) Time to look at the data. (Photo illustration by Mark Trahant)

Mark Trahant

A report by Bureau of Economic Research finds that family income is a significant indicator when it comes to voting

This is an important election, right? We hear, read, and see evidence about that significance all around. There are so many firsts. So many youthful candidates. So many … yada yada yada. It begs the question: Will young people even vote? What about Native American youth?

Let’s look at the data.

Back in June, Pew Research crunched the numbers and reported: “Generation X, Millennials and the post-Millennial generation make up a clear majority of voting-eligible adults in the United States, but if past midterm election turnout patterns hold true, they are unlikely to cast the majority of votes this November.”

Here is what happened four years ago: Only 39 percent of Gen Xers who were eligible turned out to vote, as did a significantly smaller share of eligible Millennials, 22 percent. But Pew also said to remember that 2014 is not representative because it was a low turnout election across the board. A glimmer of hope.

But what about this election?

Polling by the Harvard Institute of Politics and its survey of 18- to 29- year olds says young Americans are “significantly more likely to vote in the upcoming midterm elections compared to 2010 and 2014. Overall, 40 percent report that they will ‘definitely vote’ in the midterms, with 54 percent of Democrats, 43 percent of Republicans and 24 percent of Independents considered likely voters.”

One reason for that is President Donald J. Trump and his job approval at only 26 percent.

“This is a generation with creative purpose to address the challenges they see,” said Mark Gearan, director of the Harvard Institute of Politics. “More than ever, young voters have shown they are ready to stand up and be heard. Our students have asked important questions at a historic moment in American history, and I think their work captures something special ahead of the election. Our candidates and political parties would benefit tremendously from paying close attention to what is now the largest bloc of potential voters in America.”

However a new NBC News/GenForward survey of millennials ages 18 to 34 reports that less than one third say they will vote for certain, 26 percent say probably vote, and a quarter are unsure. Almost one in five young people say they will not vote.

And this survey — surprise, surprise — breaks down the data by ethnicity, yet does not include any data about Native Americans. The usual, right?

However there is a new report by the Bureau of Economic Research that looked at low-income and voting nationally. This study has an huge reveal: Family income is a significant factor in voting patterns.

Randall Akee is a David M. Rubenstein Fellow with the Economic Studies program at Brookings. He is an Associate Professor at the University of California, Los Angeles in the Department of Public Policy and American Indian Studies. (UCLA photo)

One of the report’s authors is Randall Akee, Native Hawaiian, a professor at UCLA and a Brookings fellow. The research included rural communities in North Carolina in 1993. “Halfway through the study, a casino opened on the Eastern Cherokee reservation and all adult tribal members — regardless of employment status — were eligible to receive a portion of the profits,” according to the Brookings Institute. Matching that data with voting records they found that families who “received cash transfers from the casinos grew up to be more active voters as adults than their counterparts in the survey who did not receive these transfers.”

Turns out you can measure the difference.

“An annual increase of approximately $4,700 (in 2000 dollars) increased voter turnout for children from below median household incomes by about 8–20 percentage points as compared to their relatively richer counterparts (who also received the income transfers),” the study found. “However, no such change in voting behavior was found for the parents of the families receiving transfers, suggesting the time to target voter behavior with income-intervention programs is during adolescence.”

In other words one way to improve voting patterns is to fix poverty -- and it’s especially important for young people who then become active voters.

Mark Trahant is editor of Indian Country Today. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. Follow him on Twitter -@TrahantReports


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