ASST. NEWS EDITOR
Among the many historic firsts of the 2016 election, this is the first time Millennials (individuals aged 18-35) have matched the Baby Boomers (individuals aged 52-70) in numbers of voters casting their ballot.
For decades, Baby Boomers have wielded tremendous influence over American politics, but in this current election, Millennials have the power to breathe new life into American governance by voting-in elected officials who better represent their values. However, this is only possible if Millennials actually get out and vote.
Although young voters are demographically equal to the Baby Boomers, both at approximately 31 percent of the general electorate, historically the youth vote turns out in lower numbers than older generations.
After a turbulent election cycle with who could be considered two of the most disliked candidates in American history, Millennials in particular feel disappointed in the political system and may decide not to participate. As the electoral map around the country shifts to include new potential voters, candidates and political parties are faced with the dilemma of appealing to young people and the issues that disproportionately affect them, such as high college tuition rates, resource depletion, and women’s reproductive rights.
College students know better than almost anyone that higher education comes with a hefty price. According to College Board, the average annual tuition for an in-state student at a public university is $9,410 and $23,893 for out-of-state students. Students view college as a necessary survival tactic as opposed to the stepping-stone to financial success it was in the past.
The Institute of College Access and Success reported that 68 percent of public college graduates carry an average of $30,000 in debt. It is terrifying to possibly be $30,000 in debt before you can even enter the workforce, but that is the reality for more than half of the Millennials opting for cheaper public colleges. And yet, the heavy burden of college tuition has been a glaring omission from the 2016 presidential election after Bernie Sanders exited the race, aside from a few remarks from Hillary Clinton.
A mistake made by older generations that dissuades young voters is the idea that environmentalism is not connected to the economy. Climate change does affect everyone, but environmental issues are very much a socioeconomic issue, as well. Poor neighborhoods are more likely to be near freeways, production plants, and in areas with poor sanitation that can lead to health problems, like asthma.
Environmental issues are a top priority for young Americans. A 2015 global study conducted by Nielsen, an organization which reports on consumer habits and trends, reported that 75 percent of Millennials pay extra for environmentally conscious products and brands. Millennials will occupy the Earth longer than any other current voting block, and they want to see more aggressive action taken to combat climate change and promote sustainability.
In the past, these issues have not been at the forefront of American politics, and many young people may decide not to vote or engage in politics because they do not see their interests being represented by the candidates. An exception to this is Bernie Sanders, who was extremely popular amongst Millennials because of his dedication to issues that matter to them.
The political establishment made light of Sanders’ campaign and deemed him an outsider, but most Millennials saw themselves in the outsider narrative. Issues like affordable college and economic and racial injustice are often swept to the side by mainstream media and politicians as kids wanting “free stuff” or being “too sensitive,” but Bernie Sanders recognized the discontent amongst young people with the current political system he unapologetically spoke to.
When Sanders lost to Clinton, Millennials in particular felt the blow of this loss. One of the reasons some have decided not to vote is because they see this as a continuation of the status quo. Some “Bernie or Bust” followers have vowed to vote outside of the two party system with candidates like Jill Stein, who they feel better embody the movement Sanders built.
While it is easy for Millennials to feel discouraged by the 2016 election, it is the first opportunity for them to turn out to vote and show the rest of the country that they will not be ignored. If Millennials want a seat at the table and the opportunity to make decisions about their elected officials, they have to start somewhere. It is not just the presidency at stake either. The election offers Millennials the chance to vote on local legislators and ballot measures that further their interests.
Visiting Assistant Professor of Political Science Sara Angevine believes that the only way for Millennials to have their concerns taken seriously is to vote. “Historically, elected officials are less accountable to young people because they typically don’t decide elections.” Angevine said, “If Millennials voted in record numbers, elected officials would be more obligated to embody the youth vote’s agenda. If they don’t, they’ll get voted out of office,” Angevine said. “To not vote at all is basically accepting whatever outcome is decided for you.”