Chicago millennials outpace baby boomers at the ballot box, lead turnout surge

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Chance the Rapper closes out a rally for mayoral candidate Amara Enyia, second from right, last month. File Photo. | Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Complete coverage of the local and national primary and general election, including results, analysis and voter resources to keep Chicago voters informed.

A surprisingly large number of young voters turned out on Tuesday — a group that’s often seen as politically apathetic.

Tuesday evening, the 25-34 age group had cast the largest number of votes — about 162,000 — according to the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners. The 55-64 age group was running second, with some 142,000 votes.

And Chicago millennials had plenty of company across the nation.

Roughly 31 percent of those aged 18 to 29 voted in the mid-terms, the highest participation level for that age group in a quarter century of midterm elections, according to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University.

What motivated younger voters to show up at the polls?

Darria Riley, a 26-year-old from Englewood who works at an eye care center, says that she really wanted to see Gov. Bruce Rauner launched from office — and she believes a loathing for President Donald Trump was likey the prime motivator for her peers. She also credited appeals for political engagement from figures like the Chance the Rapper.

“Everybody thinks that we’re the generation that doesn’t [care] about anything,” said Riley, who said the stereotype isn’t true; she votes in every election. “I feel like we always get the short end of the stick.”

One local political expert said a fear that the issues millennials hold dear — diversity, immigration, climate change, among others — may be under threat was a driving force.

“The perceived assault on that makes the election more real than what’s happening with trade or interest rates, tax deductions and those kinds of things,” said Kent Redfield, professor emeritus at the University of Illinois Springfield.

Redfield also pointed out that Democrat J.B. Pritzker’s gubernatorial campaign made a “big push” to connect with voters via social media, something that would almost certainly be seen by younger voters.

Longtime political consultant Don Rose also pointed out that this election saw a high number of “independent, progressive” groups pushing the anti-Trump vote.

“There was a tremendous push by … many organizations as well as the party organizations to get out the millennial vote, and it showed up here as it did in many other parts of the country,” Rose said.

Owen Elrifi, 21, a student at the University of Chicago, agreed the efforts to inform young people about the voting process worked. He saw a positive impact from a program called UChi Votes, which arranged for an early voting site to be opened on campus, among other measures.

“There has been such a push this year, nationally and at our school to to increase young voter turnout. … I’ve seen a lot less people who are uninformed,” Elrifi said. A lot more of his peers had “information accessible to them” — and they were able to “vote in an informed way,” he said.

Mayoral candidate Amara Enyia, 35, who is courting younger voters with help from Chance and Kanye West, heralded the voter turnout, saying millennials “are a force to be reckoned with and understand that they have the ability to change the direction of this city.”

John Jackson, visiting professor at Southern Illinois University’s Paul Simon Public Institute, agreed that younger voters may have been motivated by “quality-of-life” issues and also may have seen what happened when the youth vote failed to support Hillary Clinton in large numbers.

“Maybe they’ve learned some lessons,” Jackson said.

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