Kristen Soltis Anderson

Millennials question the ‘safe bet’

Politicians and business leaders ignore millennials at their own peril, says CUNA GAC keynoter Kristen Soltis Anderson.

January 17, 2018

If you own a dog, chances are you didn’t vote for Mitt Romney in the 2012 Republican primary.

That’s one interesting insight Kristen Soltis Anderson relates in her book, “The Selfie Vote,” and it’s a prime example of how today’s pollsters mine data to better understand consumers in both politics and business.

Anderson will address the 2018 CUNA Governmental Affairs Conference, Feb. 25  to March 1.

“You may know that someone is Republican, but that doesn’t tell you if they’re a Rubio Republican or a Romney Republican or a Trump Republican,” she says. “You have to get more sophisticated about sifting out those signals.”

In the Romney example, Anderson explains how a fellow pollster used consumers’ shopping data to find a correlation between pet-related purchases and a lack of support for the candidate. It illustrates how what may appear to be a homogenous group may actually have important differences.

Anderson, co-founder of Echelon Insights, examines societal trends and how they affect consumers’ decision-making from their politics to their purchases. She’s particularly interested in the millennial generation—of which she’s a member—and how America’s shifting demographics could affect future elections.

Politicians and business leaders ignore millennials at their own peril, Anderson says.

There’s a common misconception that millennials don’t vote, but that’s one of many fallacies surrounding this cohort. “There are more millennials eligible to vote than there are baby boomers in places like Alabama and Virginia,” she says, and increased millennial turnout is driving some of Democrats’ victories in those states.

“You have to understand millennials because they’re changing a lot of society’s institutions,” Anderson says. “We’re now in an era where millennials are quite eager to make their voices heard.”

Conventional wisdom holds that young voters typically are Democrats, but they become Republicans after they age. But Anderson’s research doesn’t bear that out.

“The world is changing quickly,” she says. “There’s a lot of technological change that influences how we connect with one another. We have changes with culture, whether it’s the rising diversity we see in America or changing norms around religion and family. These are things that millennials embody.”

Rather than fearing these changes, political and business leaders should find ways to embrace them. For credit unions, that means understanding that millennials tend to be risk-averse and wary of commitment, she says.

“We’ve come of age in an era when a lot of the things we were told were responsible, safe choices weren’t: Go to college, get married, buy a home, put money in the stock market,” Anderson says. “Then we saw the economic collapse. We’ve seen the cost of college skyrocket, and people having debt but no degree. We’re questioning what seemed like the safe bet.”

She advises credit unions to help their millennial members understand the risks associated with their financial choices, whether it’s buying a home or investing for retirement. “Help them feel less afraid of making those commitments. Also, understand we have high expectations for speed, transparency, and accountability.”

While the millennial generation is diverse racially and ethnically, it’s united by the fact that it’s the first demographic group to come of age when having the internet was the norm.

“So when I buy a product, I should be able to look at a bunch of reviews and see what other people think,” Anderson says. “There should be accountability for whether that product is good, and if I order it, I should be able to snap my finders and it shows up at my doorstep.

“This has permeated not just how we deal in the consumer world, but also how we view government,” she continues. “We have a high expectation of transparency and accountability, which puts a lot of demands on our public officials—for the good.”