Social Media, Causes, Politics & Millennials: How Online Cause Engagement Changes in an Election Year

The 2016 Millennial Impact Report investigates how millennials’ cause engagement behaviors may change during an election year, and how these changes may be influenced by important demographics such as their political party affiliation and/or their political ideologies, geographical location, age and race/ethnicity or by the emerging candidates for election. This study also examines millennials’ interest and activation in specific causes that may be differentiated by their support of a particular political party.

The changing landscape in the U.S. brought on by a presidential election year drove Achieve, the research team behind The Millennial Impact Project, to seek how—or if—this generation’s philanthropic interests and involvement change with it, including how these changes may be influenced by important demographics such as their political ideologies, gender, age and more.

We know through years of research within The Millennial Impact Project that millennials value cause work (any activities that are philanthropic in nature) and are engaged with causes. We also know that millennials are highly involved with social media, as indicated by other sources and compared to other generations. Research from Pew, for example, shows that 82 percent of adult internet users aged 18-29 have a Facebook account, compared to 79 percent and 64 percent of adults aged 30-49 and 50-64, respectively. Instagram and Twitter for millennials also outpace that of other generations, as 55 percent of adult internet users aged 18-29 have an Instagram account (compared to 28% and 11% of those aged 30-49 and 50-64, respectively) and 32 percent have a Twitter account (compared to 29% and 13% of those aged 30-49 and 50-64, respectively).

But how do millennials use social media to engage with the social issues they care about, specifically during a presidential election year? Wave 1 (March to May; n= 350 each month and n= 1,050 total for the wave) of the 2016 Millennial Impact Report indicated that the majority of millennial respondents had posted on social media about the issues they care about in the past week.

Nearly two-thirds (61%) of respondents indicated they had posted on social media (whether creating their own post or engaging in another’s post through comments, retweets, etc.) at least once in the past week. Of those who had posted in the past week, the most respondents had posted 1-3 times (31%).

Respondents of the March survey indicated slightly more social media engagement than those of the April survey, as 66 percent posted at least once in the past week in March versus 61 percent in April.  This downward trend continued in May, as only 57 percent reported social media engagement in the week prior to taking the survey.

Facebook was by far the most popular social media platform respondents used to post about or engage with social issues online, as indicated by 88 percent of millennials. Twitter ranked second for social issue engagement on social media (56%), followed by Instagram (49%) and YouTube (41%). Snapchat and Google+ were used by about a quarter of respondents (at 28% and 27%, respectively).

Social Media Engagement by Gender

By gender, male respondents reported using social media to post about and/or engage with issues they’re most interested in more than females. Nearly three-fourths (71%) of male millennials respondents had posted on social media about issues at least once in the previous week, compared to 51 percent of female millennials. Female respondents, however, were slightly more likely to have posted on Facebook than were males—a trend that is in line with other data sources, which show that in general, more women have Facebook accounts than men (77% versus 66%, respectively).

Social Media Engagement by Political Ideology

By political ideology, Wave 1 found that more conservative-leaning millennial respondents had used social media to post about and/or engage with issues they’re most interested in than liberals in the week prior to the survey being taken. Sixty-six percent of conservative respondents reported posting at least once on social media in previous week, compared to 59 percent of liberal respondents. Conservative respondents also reported more activity on individual social media platforms.

What’s Next?

Through November, Achieve is surveying a unique sample of 350 millennials on a monthly basis to continue tracking their perceptions and behaviors related to cause engagement and politics as Election Day draws nearer. Following all quantitative surveys, Achieve will work to validate findings with qualitative interviews.

The trends that emerged in Wave 1 related to cause engagement via social media specifically give rise to a number of thoughts and questions, such as: In what ways are millennials using social media during this election season? As the election season advances, will the gap between male and female millennials’ social media use decrease? Why are more conservative-leaning millennials more active on social media than liberal-leaning millennials?

Keep up with Achieve’s study on millennials and their engagement with causes and politics during a presidential election year throughout 2016 at, and look for the full results and findings of the study after Election Day.

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