Updated: Dec 28, 2021
A majority of young adults passively “bump into” news, rather than actively seeking it out. Getting and discussing news is less likely to be a major part of young people’s family life growing up, and they are not following the news closely. A study done by the 100 Million Project, found that just 16 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds today follow news about politics “very closely,” compared to 40 percent of voters overall. They also found that 18-29 year olds are least likely to say that they are closely following news about issues affecting their local community, their state government or political figures in Washington. This lack of interest in the news has consequences: these same young adults report themselves as less knowledgeable about important issues facing the U.S. and their local communities.
Social media is young adults’ primary source of news. Among 18- to 24-year-olds, 40 percent say they most often get news or information by seeing it on social media. Just over a quarter of young people are checking social media several times an hour, amid a campaign season when we see the mass proliferation of mis- and disinformation, from QAnon, to “Plandemic,” to miracle COVID-19 “cures” and more. The fact that the youngest potential voters are relying on social media is worrying because when we look at the next age group up, we see a distinct difference in news habits between voters and non-voters ages 25 to 29. In this age group, non-voters rely primarily on social media for news and information, while voters are more likely to say their primary sources are news websites or apps, with much more stringent editorial controls to weed out bad information.
Among the disengaged young adults, apathy is a primary driver. Among the 18- to 24-year-olds who aren’t registered, 28 percent say they aren’t interested or don’t care. When asked what could motivate them to vote, their top answers were “nothing,” followed by the ability to vote online. Among respondents, 14 percent said they could be motivated to vote by a candidate they believe in, 11 percent with better quality information, and 10 percent if they believed their vote would affect the outcome. The big picture: for a subset of young people, apathy runs deep, and it will be a tall order to persuade them to re-engage with the democratic processes taking place around them.
Young adults are highly skeptical about elections. Only 15 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds are confident that elections represent the will of the people, compared to 45 percent who are not very confident or not confident at all. Nearly half of college students believe that the 2020 election was not fair and open, and a majority say it was not administered well. The reasons for their distrust? Half say that problems at polling places (such as long lines or broken voting machines) would lead them to have major doubts about the fairness of the election; followed by evidence of foreign interference (48 percent); the election winner losing the popular vote (46 percent); low voter turnout (46 percent); or if most voters cast ballots by mail (31 percent). Nearly three-quarters — 74 percent — will have doubts about the fairness of the election if it takes weeks to count, a distinct possibility due to the unprecedented number of mail-in ballots this year.