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Millennial Radio Listening Habits Differ by Political Views

3 minute read | June 2016

Young voters had a big impact in the past two Presidential elections. This time around, the question on everyone’s mind is will they come out in large numbers again? For political strategists pondering the answer to that question, radio is making a case as an important medium to include in the media mix.

Nielsen’s most recent State of The Media: Audio Today report revealed that 92% of Millennials listen to radio each week. On the radio airwaves, recent data from Nielsen is revealing that a variety of different formats can reach various voter groups. These insights are critical as candidates are looking to reach Americans by specific voter groups. That means understanding these young voters’ favorite stations will be key as November approaches.

Country radio is America’s top format among listeners 18-34 years old, with more than 66 million tuning in to these stations each week. Still, while Country is the preferred format for Millennials, other formats also apppeal to this young and diverse demographic. In particular, Urban radio, which mixes increasingly popular hip-hop tunes with R&B and rap, has seen listenership among 25-to-34 year-olds rise an impressive 35% from 2011 to 2015.

Country Radio Listeners Lean More Conservative Than the Total U.S.

Overall, Country radio listeners largely mirror the total U.S. radio audience, though they represent a larger share of Mild Republicans and a smaller share of Independent voters. Still, just as many Democratic voters listen to Country radio as Republican voters in the country’s top markets.

Beyond the more general Country radio format, two other kinds of Country radio—New Country and Classic Country—reach slightly more nuanced listener groups. New Country stations tend to skew younger since their playlist is made up of more current hits, while Classic Country tends to skew older since their playlist is made up of more familiar Country songs from the past. Given that young voters are much less likely to be affiliated with a specific party than older voters, it’s not surprising that roughly 31% of the New Country audience are Unregistered, which is six points higher than the U.S. average. Meanwhile, Classic Country listeners lean heavily conservative: 39% of the audience is registered Republican, and more than two-thirds of this group classify themselves as Ultra Conservatives—13 points higher than the U.S. average. In addition, of the 36% of the audience registered Democrat, the majority identify as Conservative Democrats.

Urban Formats Deliver Democratic Voters

Overall, Urban format radio stations, including Urban Adult Contemporary and Urban Oldies, lean heavily Democrat. More than 44% of these radio listernes identify as either Super Democrat, Left-Out Democrat or Conservative Democrats. That’s 12% higher than the total U.S. population. But while this group leans Democratic, Left-Out Democrats comprise the largest portion of the Urban formats’ audience, and they may feel very disconnected on many of the issues a campaign is built upon. Their favorite local radio station in the community in which they live can be an important place to reach these possibly undecided voters.

Left-Out Democrats aren’t the only undecided voters campaigns can reach through the Urban formats, as well as the Contemporary Hits Radio (CHR) formats, which see cross-over in both songs and audiences. Unregistered voters make up more than one third of the Urban and CHR audiences, not surprising given that those 18-34 make up 38.2% of listeners. Getting this largely young group to cast their ballots could lead to a decisive win for any candidate. 


Nielsen combined portable people meter (PPM) data and Experian’s Political Voting Behavior to determine which radio formats resonate with specific voter segments across four major political groups—Democrats, Independents, Republic and Unregistered. The study looked at listening and voting behavior of more than 70,000 panelists, 18-plus, in 45 major U.S. markets. 

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