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Millennials, Gen Xers outvoted older generations in 2016, what that could mean

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Generation X hit a high point in voter turnout for the 2016 presidential election. Coupled with a similar response by Millennials, it marked the first time in decades Baby Boomers and older voters didn't represent the highest turnout. 

The findings in a Pew Research Report released July 31 cast a view toward predicting voting trends in the future. In particular, it offers a glimpse as to voting patterns relating to religion and social issues. 

Millennials – those born from the early 1980s through mid-to-late 90s, depending on the source study – and Generation Xers (born from 1961-81) represented 69.6 million votes, a slight majority of the 137.5 million cast, in the 2016 presidential election. Between those two Millennials have the larger numbers. However, they have yet to turn out on election day in the same manner as Generation X. It's likely though not certain, said the Pew report, the Millennial vote will outpace Generation X's in the 2020 election. 

The 'bridge' generation

With their top spot, even if temporary, as America's leading voting block Generation X's views on political and social issues merit study. According to a 2014 Pew report, those views basically bridge the ones of Baby Boomers and Millennials.

Asked if they were religiously unaffiliated: 21 percent of Generation X answered in the affirmative, as opposed to Millennials (29 percent) and Boomers (16 percent). Sixty-four percent describe themselves as "a patriotic person," compared to Millennials (49 percent) and Boomers (75 percent). On being in favor of allowing gays and lesbians to marry, Generation X responded with a 55 percent "yes" while 68 percent of Millennials gave approval and 48 percent of Boomers responding in kind. 

Exit polls from the 2016 election offer some insight among age-based voting patterns. Younger millennials, those 18-29, voted 55 percent in favor of Hillary Clinton while 37 percent voted for Donald Trump. Half of older Millennials and younger members of Generation X (45-64 years old) also went with Clinton, while 42 percent opted for Trump. Older members of Generation X polled preferred Trump (53 percent) over Clinton (44 percent). 

Religion among Xers, Millennials

Nones –those claiming no religion –  remain a stalwart of  Millennials, with as many as 35 percent having that distinction in a 2015 report by Pew. And while Generation X had fewer Nones (23 percent), those in the group claiming a religious group has dropped. 

Trinity College, based in Hartford, CT, studied Generation Xers in 1990 and then again in 2008. The school's American Religious Identification Survey revealed that during that span group members overall became less Christian and less Republican. The biggest drop came among Catholics, from 33 percent to 26 percent. Mainline denominations fell from 13 percent to 11 percent while Baptists dropped from 19 percent to 15 percent.

In terms of political affiliation, Generation X preferred the Republican Party in 1990 at a 34 percent level. Twenty years later, though, that figure had fallen to 26 percent. Meanwhile, favor with the Democrat Party had risen to 33 percent. 

Important to note, said the surveys authors, is that Generation X grew up in the shadow of the Religious Right. Nevertheless, as Gen Xers aged religious affiliation dropped. At the same time the number of Gen X Nones grew from 11 percent to 16 percent. That's a reflection of nearly 2.2 million people. 

"Generation X has shifted its allegiance to a surprising degree," said Barry Kosmin, director of the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture at Trinity College. "Many in this generation of Americans have abandoned their religious roots and political affiliations in adulthood. Historically and sociologically, that's an unexpected development."

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