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The Millennial Vote

Why are millennials feeling so marginalized when it comes to today's politics? And what implications does this have, with the election less than two weeks away?

While watching the post-debate commentary last Wednesday, one man that was being interviewed by an anchor - maybe in his late twenties - stood out to me, expressing dissatisfaction at how the candidates rarely breached topics that were important to millennials. Even I, technically a millennial if using the US Census Bureau’s definition of 1982-2000, didn’t realize this until he brought it up. Millennials are often dismissed, and often stereotyped as entitled and lazy.

But the millennial vote is more important than many believe, and therefore, there should be more of a focus on the issues important to them. On June 25, 2015, the US Census Bureau reported that millennials, defined as those born between 1989 and 2000, now outnumber baby boomers by about 12 million, and represent more than 25 percent of the population. Seeing as such a large portion of the population consists of millennials, putting these issues at the forefront of political campaigns could encourage them to vote, and swing an election one way or the other. In fact, David Cahn, co-author of "When Millennials Rule: The Reshaping of America," believes that if “[millennials] turn out and vote for [Hillary] Clinton, she wins. If they don’t, she loses.” The fact that one generation can have such a large influence on the outcome of an election isn’t surprising, but it is a testament to the importance of their votes. 

Now, if only they voted. A poll by GenKFD on January 11, 2016 found that that while millennial voters make up 36 percent of all eligible voters, 85 percent of these voters feel ignored by the 2016 presidential candidates, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Republican nominee Donald Trump. Additionally, the US Census released data that showed that youth voter registration and turnout was at a 40-year low in the 2014 midterm elections. This feeling of disenfranchisement isn’t without reason. 

The topics predetermined by Chris Wallace to be covered at the third and final debate were the national debt and entitlements, immigration, the economy, the Supreme Court, foreign policy, and fitness to be president. Yet topics important to millennials generally lean more towards issues such as jobs and student debt, racial issues, the environment, and reproductive health. As a technical millennial, I can say I care very much about these issues and think it is imperative that they are addressed in order to move forward as a society.

Throughout the third debate, Green Party candidate Jill Stein repeatedly criticized the candidates on Twitter for not focusing on the environment. One tweet read: “still waiting to hear about climate change, student debt, health care, criminal justice reform, etc. Just war, war, war.” Stein is correct in asserting that a shockingly large portion of time was spent addressing war - all three of the debates addressed foreign policy in some way, especially policy involving Syria. The back and forth included contentions about airstrikes, ground troops, and who was being outsmarted by Putin. However, the general consensus of the American public is fairly well established - an Economist/YouGov poll conducted in 2013 found that only a quarter of those polled are in favor conducting airstrikes against Syrian government targets and nine percent favor sending in ground forces. To summarize, the majority of people don’t want to dip their toes into the messy disaster we call the Syrian civil war. They are in favor of providing aid or taking action in other ways, but all the candidates could focus on is who to kill or whether or not to take back a certain city. The implications of this conflict are serious and this is not a topic to be taken lightly; however, there are still other issues in America that we can’t afford to wait on addressing.

Yes, one of the topics covered was reproductive rights, but only the issue of abortion was addressed. There was no mention of sexual health and contraception. The discussion during the third debate was obscured by Trump either avoiding Wallace’s question on Roe v. Wade or repeating the very eloquent phrase “rip the baby out of the womb at nine months”, which is factually incorrect and only serves as a scare tactic. Additionally, abortion wasn’t even mentioned in the previous two presidential debates. Regardless of where one stands on this controversial issue, the fact that reproductive rights are so scarcely covered - and when they are, rarely focus on anything but abortion - doesn’t bode well for those wishing to appeal to millennial vote.

Coverage of the environment and education was minimal at best. The candidates rarely discussed these topics, and when they did, their policies did not align well with millennials’. Former Democratic candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders was able to draw a staggeringly large portion of the millennial vote because of his liberal views on the issues that are important to millennials. During his campaign, which ended in July, he pledged to fight for free higher education, come down hard on big business and the wealthy to benefit the poor, and increase access to certain welfare programs. He also promised to address the daunting issue of climate change. Similarly, Obama was able to do the same in the 2008 and 2012 elections - because he addressed issues that millennials actually cared about. 

Another reason Sanders and Obama were so successful in getting the millennial vote is the millennial generation is far more liberal than previous ones. A Gallup poll conducted in May of 2016 reported that 28 percent of millennials describe themselves as liberal, compared with 21 percent of Generation X, 21 percent of baby boomers, and 18 percent of traditionalists. This overwhelmingly positive support of Sanders and his liberal views could be seen on everywhere from Twitter to Instagram - essentially social media platforms that were dominated by youth - in the form of posts and tweets, videos and funny hashtags. In contrast, coverage of the other two main contenders for the Democratic and Republic nomination - Clinton and Trump, respectively, was mostly negative.

On November 8, 2016, fate of our great nation will be decided - will it come to lie in the hands of Clinton or Trump? There’s a gigantic portion of America’s electorate that they both still have yet to fully address. They have autonomy over their own campaigns; hopefully, they will realize the significance of the millennial vote and adjust their agenda to represent that 25 percent of the nation that’s feeling ignored.

Posted: Oct 26, 2016 by Elizabeth Kraisinger

Much insight in this post, Elizabeth! Fewer millennials turned out for Hillary and that was part of her loss.
Comment by: Sally - 11/15/2016 08:41 AM

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