Before the 2012 presidential election, there was so much hype over the importance of the millennial vote it seemed dizzying, if not overstated. But true to the buzz, millennials came out and their vote proved influential. With midterm elections a few days away, their vote still is.
In The Atlantic’s 2011 piece, “A Blueprint for Winning the White House,” the author states: “After [President Barack] Obama’s victory in 2008, I argued that he had assembled a ‘coalition of the ascendant’: that is, he ran best among groups that were themselves growing in society, like minorities, the Millennial generation and college-educated whites, especially women.” Two years ago, in its post-race coverage, Politico suggested Mitt Romney likely would have won had he split the millennial vote evenly with Obama, such was their turnout.
Unfortunately, according to the Census Bureau report, dreams fell short of reality. The turnout rate among 18- to 24-year-olds fell to 41.2 percent in 2012 from 48.5 percent. Other reports about 18- to 29-year-olds showed no change. But (many) millennials were still dazzled by Obama’s hope and change and cast their ballot in his favor. Two years have passed since that (second) love affair began and, just in time for the seven-year itch, the young marrieds have decided: The grass looks greener on the other side.
A Harvard study released Wednesday said the millennials who lean liberal aren’t planning on voting at all in this midterm. Only 47 percent of the Democrat supporters are coming out to vote, compared to 51 percent who support Republicans. Republicans have never led in this category so this could be an advantage to them. With black and Hispanic voters sitting on the sidelines, and the gender gap at almost 50-50, the Democrats may be in a world of hurt.
Millennials On Voting: Meh
I think this study shows something even more compelling—and a long-term view is more insightful. First, statistically, fewer people vote in midterm elections. That aside, millennials make up close to one-fourth of America’s voting population. They could use this chance to really influence political change one way or another. Yet, according to this, they will abstain.
Millennials have gotten somewhat of a bad rap. They’ve been called narcissistic and lazy, unmotivated and uncaring, doubtful and jaded. As a millennial myself, I would agree some of these labels seem earned, others are a bit excessive. (Of course half of millennials have taken a selfie—this capability wasn’t even available during Generation X’s peak.) But still, how can you complain about the high cost of owning a home and the inability to afford a car, or how hard it is to find a job or a mate if you’re too busy sitting around taking selfies, wallowing in a sea of your own Instagram photos, whilst the world in all its political and economic cycles spins around you? How long can you really blame Bush for a war that shouldn’t have happened (you just started voting when he came into office) and Obama for a recession he can’t seem to rescind when you can’t even bother to cast your vote in the political process?
A 2014 Pew Research Center study on millennials came up with several key findings, one of which was they “have fewer attachments to traditional political and religious institutions.” You don’t say. In another Pew study, where they broke down the population into eight groups, the three most likely to vote are the ones most ideological, politically engaged, and overwhelmingly partisan. Midterms are akin to British royal weddings: You have to be really into it to participate.
According to the Harvard study I cited at the beginning, millennials aren’t exactly indifferent—they discuss their political beliefs—they’re just lazy about their indifference. Is there anything more insulting to a country based on one of the rarest forms of government, founded on some of the most unique ideologies, by some of the most ambitious people of that time? A piece in The Atlantic last month said one-third of millennials didn’t think involvement in politics would produce any results. That’s overkill. Precisely such political involvement over the last 238 years has produced all kinds of results—some good, some terrible. One thing is certain: sitting out produces nothing.
Perhaps I’m being too simplistic and utopian but I’m pretty sure the founders would have a few words for millennials, and it wouldn’t include a “selfie.” While millennials indifference might bode well for Republicans this election, it could flip around in favor of Democrats for the next. Regardless of who is ahead, a vote is a vote and involvement is a necessary privilege that shouldn’t be abused, by any generation.