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The Youth Vote: What will it take to win?

As the debate around who will be the next president of the United States continues, the fight for the youth vote is on. More informed and vocal than generations past, people are listening to the opinions of today’s youth and their influence is making an impact on commerce, the workplace, and the larger community.

Yes, young people have always been more liberal–and our youngest population is no exception–but what’s unique about this generation is how their political views have been shaped and what they’re expecting from our next leader. What will it take to capture the attention of the 80 million Millennials who occupy many different lifestages from student to parent? I believe it will take a candidate who reflects their unique values and understands both the aspirations and fears motivating their decisions every day.

America’s teens and young adults, the youngest of which are in the generation coming up behind Millennials, have been influenced heavily by the recession and have watched parents and older siblings flounder in an unsteady job market. They’ve experienced first-hand the consequences of financial instability—whether in the form of hefty student loans or working to help support an unemployed parent.

Both Millennials and Gen WE have suffered a healthy dose of reality at a very young age and it’s not just because of what they’ve witnessed in their own circles. Technology has exposed them to infinite realities from healthcare, climate change and immigration to an unsteady economy and social unrest. They are exceptionally informed of how policies impact all people and it’s this awareness that prompts them to demand more from leaders.

According to new research on youth and young Millennials from The Human Project, a proprietary research study from Zeno Group, not only do youth wield unparalleled influence, but there is a new global leadership paradigm emerging. In fact, there’s a whole contingent of students from elementary school through college who don’t aspire to be leaders at all if being a leader means what’s reflected in leaders today. Out of the 92 values The Human Project tracks, leadership is ranked 71st (with 1 being the most important), while happiness, equality and purpose are in the top five. Youth are eager for an overhaul of top-down leadership models in favor of something more collaborative, in which everyone benefits.

For some, this means a more liberal candidate who’s focused on social welfare programs.However, while this group is eager to help all citizens, they are also focused and concerned for their own future. The Human Project found that their #1 value is success, which can’t be said for any other generation alive today. They hunger for individual success (however they may define it) and equal opportunity for all  – an odd mix of idealism and pragmatism. This ‘individual collectivism’ poses a unique challenge for a political candidate trying to win first-time voters.

These young voters are more politically charged than ever, and are expecting more awareness, understanding and transparency from leaders, institutions and employers on every issue. The 2016 election results will do more than provide an affirmative look into what youth are expecting from leaders, and will forecast what’s to come for the future president’s prospects for reelection. It will also likely provide a window into what they’re expecting from the brands they will buy and evangelize.

So while there has been a heated debate around what it takes to capture the Millennial vote, it is also imperative that marketers start focusing on the next youth generation – the one quickly gaining the most influence both inside and outside households around the world.