Cause Engagement During a US Presidential Election Year

In 2016, Achieve, supported by the Case Foundation, seized upon a rare opportunity to examine how a national socio-political event might influence millennials’ attitudes toward cause engagement: the U.S. presidential campaign.

We hypothesized that the issues of interest to millennials would change during the political season based on where they aligned ideologically, and that their cause-related engagement would increase via both social media and traditional activism.

We reported our findings in three waves and a final report. Highlights included:

WAVE 1: MARCH - MAY 2016

  • Millennials identify as more conservative-leaning than liberal-leaning.
  • The majority of millennials have little or no trust that the government will do what’s right.
  • Millennials only somewhat believe that they are activists.
  • Most millennials believe people like them can have an impact in the U.S.


  • The percentage of millennials who believe they can make the country a better place to live dropped, most notably among females.
  • Even when millennials stated their support of or opposition to an issue, they didn’t show a strong affinity for direct action.
  • By the end of Wave 2, more than a quarter of millennials surveyed did not want to vote for either major party candidate in November.
  • Facebook is still the most popular social media platform on which millennials post about issues they care for.


  • A third of millennials said they either wouldn’t vote at all or for a major party candidate just a month before the election.
  • The percentage of millennials who held a neutral political ideology grew throughout the research period.
  • Millennials don’t feel loyalty toward political parties, but instead vote based on which issues they care about and which candidates they believe best speak to those issues.
  • Education remained the number-one cause issue throughout each wave of research before the election. Yet, post-election interviews revealed respondents moved away from this previously reported position, ranking employment, economy and health care before education.


Quantitative and qualitative data captured by our researchers did not support our original hypotheses. However, what we learned was of even more significance:

  • Millennials equate activism with protesting and petition signing. They neither see themselves as activists nor exhibit much overt action in support of causes they say they care about.
  • However, they do educate themselves about causes that capture their interest and share what they learn via social media channels. At the same time, millennials have a strong desire not to create tension or spark arguments in their inner circles. They’ll share information, but they won’t usually try to change anyone’s mind.
  • Millennials want government to become less divisive in order to accommodate what they see as society’s increasing open-mindedness toward many formerly contentious social issues.

Click here to download the final report.