Disillusioned Millennials Could Make The Difference On Election Day

Corie Whalen Stephens Spokesperson, Generation Opportunity
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It’s time for politicians who have taken advantage of young Americans to face the facts: We’re pretty much over you. Talk to most twenty-somethings, and you’ll likely hear that whatever enthusiasm we had for President Obama has waned substantially – to the point where a solid majority of us disapprove of his performance. If the data tell us anything, it’s that Millennials are extremely independent-minded and pragmatic. These tendencies only grow stronger as we age.

The latest Millennial attitudes survey from Harvard’s Institute of Politics (IOP) reinforces this point. IOP’s new data on 18-29 year olds, released this week, contains findings consistent with trends discovered in their last several surveys, and is similar to what a recent Reason/Rupe poll found. Of particular note for those concerned with the midterm elections: Millennials most likely to vote this year support Republicans by a margin of 51 to 47 percent, and 26 percent aren’t committed to either party.

The GOP shouldn’t pop the champagne quite yet, however. Millennials aren’t suddenly partisan Republicans just because we’re not happy with Democrats. Most of us feel alienated by our increasingly hierarchical political system. When asked who is responsible for the nation’s gridlock, 56 percent responded to the latest IOP poll by saying “everyone.” 62 percent of the most likely voters said they would be perfectly content to replace every single member of Congress. This speaks to the data that shows young Americans are skeptical of large institutions generally.

The upcoming election will tell us a lot about the long-term loyalties of Millennials. It’s likely that we will grow further into our independent tendencies, and become the type of voters that politicians must capture to win. This is a sentiment that IOP Director Maggie Williams expressed, saying: “Candidates for office: Ignore Millennial voters at your peril.”

This is important because new data shows that young Americans are moving back toward our traditional, pre-Obama role as crucial swing-voters. That gives our generation a lot of power to assert ourselves.

The information we have on Millennial attitudes consistently demonstrates that there’s a major opening for candidates interested in facilitating a turnaround for free market ideas. It’s also clear that the time for action is now. Young people are willing to give politicians of any party a listen, but only if they prove their worth. Polling has shown that party labels mean less to Millennials than previous generations, with over half of us eschewing partisanship entirely.

Would-be leaders of all stripes have an opportunity to earn our trust by sitting down and actually listening to our concerns. The average graduate leaves college with over $30,000 in student debt. We face a youth unemployment rate of nearly 15 percent. Obamacare, which 57 percent of us oppose, more than doubles health care costs for many of us. Cronyism that favors giant corporations over innovative startups makes it harder for us to improve our lives through entrepreneurship and hard work. We are well aware that this isn’t the hope and change we were promised.

Politicians can earn our votes by supporting equitable policies that don’t foist an undue economic burden on our generation. An 18 year old’s lifetime share of the growing 17 trillion national debt is $800,000. This isn’t fair, it’s hampering our future economic prospects, and we know it. Millennials have come to believe that we can’t trust anyone in politics. As Harvard IOP senior advisory board member Ron Fournier noted, this particular trend has gained traction over time. It’s little wonder why.

Despite this cynicism toward politics, polling from Harvard, Pew, and Reason has consistently shown that young Americans do care deeply about our country and want to be civically engaged. The fact is that most would prefer to help others outside of the political system – a positive development for those of us who believe government is ineffective as a charitable institution. The latest IOP poll shows that one-third of Millennials would consider volunteering for a political campaign. On the other hand, a full 67 percent of us say that we would volunteer our time to support a charitable cause.

Will the silver lining amid all this data about disillusionment be that Millennials ultimately support those who work limit government’s destructive power over our generation? Given who is currently the most enthusiastic about voting, this could very well be the case. Tuesday will be a good first step toward learning if the trends found in this year’s polling bear out politically. It will then be up to Millennials to continue asserting ourselves as an independent voting bloc unwilling to be taken for granted. Politicians, you’ve been warned.