I recently debated with a friend at our morning coffee session at Java House in Dupont — he a professor of politics and international affairs at a local university — about why millennials don’t vote.
He suggested it’s because the political parties don’t put up candidates who excite them and blamed the parties. I, on the other hand, blame millennials themselves who don’t take the time or make the effort to get involved in politics doing the work required to pick the party candidates they would want to vote for.
According to a Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data, “As of November 2016, an estimated 62 million Millennials (adults ages 20 to 35 in 2016) were voting-age U.S. citizens, surpassing the 57 million Generation X members (ages 36 to 51) in the nation’s electorate and moving closer in number to the 70 million Baby Boomers (ages 52 to 70). Millennials comprised 27% of the voting-eligible population in 2016, while Boomers made up 31%.”
So were they to get involved and vote they have the clout to make a real difference. They may not see changes overnight but changes will come. Their lack of involvement plays into the view of millennials that they only want instant gratification.
Aaron Levy wrote about millennials in Forbes magazine saying, “Millennials have grown up in an on-demand society with pretty much everything at our fingertips. Take a typical day in the life of a millennial, Katy.
“Katy wakes up and realizes she’s out of milk, eggs and mouthwash, so she hops onto Amazon, and by the time she’s home from the gym, there’s a delivery at her door. She eats breakfast and orders her ride to work. While at work, Katy toggles between her work email, Gchat, text messages and seeing what everyone’s been up to on Facebook and LinkedIn. On her Lyft home, she orders dinner from her phone and gets it just in time to sit on her couch and choose from thousands of titles to binge watch for the night.
“We live in a world where virtually anything can be taken care of in a matter of minutes, right from a device that’s the size of our palm. The impact on our habits and society is noticeable. Our need for instant gratification is at an all-time high. If we want something, we no longer understand what it means to wait.”
You can surmise that this need for instant gratification is what keeps millennials out of politics. You can’t get involved in politics if your attitude is “if I don’t get what I want right away I will stop being involved.” That view is in total opposition to the form of government our founders set up. Their ideas came to fruition in the United States with two major political parties and where getting something done requires compromise.
Former President Barack Obama framed it best in a recent speech when he said: “Making democracy work means holding on to our principles, having clarity about our principles, and then having the confidence to get in the arena and have a serious debate. It also means appreciating progress does not happen all at once but when you put your shoulder to the wheel, if you’re willing to fight for it, things do get better. And let me tell you something, particularly young people here. Better is good. I used to have to tell my young staff this all the time in the White House. Better is good. That’s the history of progress in this country. Not perfect, better.”
Our country will be better off when millennials get involved in the political process. When they are willing to do the work and share their ideas and help to move the nation to a new generation of leadership. There are a host of young candidates representing the diversity of our country running for office this year, from county commission to Congress. These young candidates are black, Asian, Latino, white, men, women, straight, LGBT. Some served in the military and know what it means to risk their life for their fellow Americans. They are smart and believe in a better future for America.
So we can only hope millennials will respect those young candidates who put themselves forward enough to come out and vote. That is the minimum these folks who are putting themselves on the front line should be able to expect from their fellow Americans.
Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBT rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.