Future of Sharing: Harvard’s Resident Millennial Expert Talks Politics & the Sharing Economy

John Della Volpe, Director of Polling at Harvard’s Institute of Politics and Founder and CEO of SocialSphere, has been studying Millennials since 2000. It all started, said Della Volpe, with two Harvard students who wanted to survey Millennials and find out why they were volunteering but not voting. Della Volpe has been polling and analyzing this generation—which he defines as people born between 1980 and 2000—ever since. Della Volpe discussed what he considers to be the defining characteristics of the Millennial generation, which include placing less importance on money and more on flexibility, and a relationship with the rest of the world that’s based on a collaborative approach to solving problems. Millennials also have famously low levels of trust in institutions ranging from Congress to the media, and increasingly identify as liberal, but decreasingly identify as Democrats. Della Volpe also talked about the role that Millennials played in the election. If Clinton had won 60 percent of this cohort instead of 55 percent, Della Volpe said, she could have won the election. Eighteen to 29-year-olds represented around 18 percent of votes cast in the 2016 election, but 100 percent participation among this demographic would have doubled that percentage—only about half of people in their 20s voted in the election.

Della Volpe discussed the popularity of Bernie Sanders, President Obama’s approval ratings, and the reasons why young people are flocking to cities. He believes that cities offer the sense of community many Millennials seek. While they may be temped to raise their kids there, too many cities don’t have the requisite education infrastructure. Della Volpe talked about what Millennials are looking for in their careers (doing something they can be proud of, flexibility, the opportunity to be mentored, and feeling like their opinions matter) and the ways in which the sharing economy fits into the Millennial desire for flexibility. He sees the benefits of people pursuing the arts or nonprofit work earning money through the sharing economy, yet worries that for many young people, the American dream is difficult to achieve in our current economic climate. He argued that elected officials worried about a perceived apathy among Millennials should take a page from the sharing economy’s book. The sharing economy is a prime example of institutions and corporations empowering young people to create their own experiences, Della Volpe says. Elected officials need to identify young people who are passionate about a particular issue, empower them, and ask them to do something.