While the media is split on whether Millennials are going to turn out to vote, they are in agreement on one point: if it does exercise the full force of its voting power, the second largest living generation in the United States has the potential to sway the course of elections nationwide.
But the question is: will they, or won’t they?
It turns out, much to my embarrassment, that my fellow Millennials make a lot of really stupid excuses not to vote. You read me right: stupid. I do not care if that’s insensitive to my peers, because, as far as I’m concerned, they’re being insensitive and obtuse about something we ALL should care strongly about: our role in the future of our democracy.
Many Millennials obviously do exercise their right to vote. Most voting eligible Millennials I know do. But research and polling shows many likely won’t vote in the midterm election. A survey of Millennials aged 18 to 34 by NBC News and GenForward found that only one-third said they would definitely vote in the midterms. About 19% of respondents said they would not or probably would not vote, and another 23% were “uncertain.” The remainder said they would “probably” vote.
In the 2014 midterms, only 22% of registered Millennials turned out to vote, according to Pew Research Center. But that midterm also experienced the lowest voter turnout overall – 42% – since data has been collected.
A low turnout by younger voters matters, Pew points out, because the generational gap in political preferences is wider than it has been in decades. While 59% of Millennials are affiliated with the Democratic party or “lean Democratic,” 48% of Baby Boomers and about 43% of the Silent Generation identify as the same. As a side note, I’ve previously taken issue with this “lean Democratic” or “lean Republican” identifier, which I feel is unfair to independents.
Generation X, Millennials and Generation Z make up the majority of registered voters, but they don’t have the same political leanings as their elders, as noted by Pew. If they continue to turn out to vote in low numbers, they’re likely to be saddled with candidates and policies they don’t endorse.
And that will be their fault.
Recently, I went out to dinner with a friend. Over tacos, we began discussing the upcoming midterms. Despite his current frustration with the political climate, my friend said he would not be voting. He was a “disaffected voter,” as he put it. “Are you judging me?” he asked. I sighed, looked at him squarely, and said, “Yes.”
A recent New York Magazine piece featuring 12 Millennials’ reflections on why they weren’t voting included mostly vapid submissions highlighting such illuminating reasonings as:
- Being too disappointed from the 2016 presidential election to try voting again. To which I say: If you’re disappointed, shouldn’t you be more motivated to make sure things swing your way this time? No, you say? OK, just stay home then. That’ll fix it.
- One individual’s political belief systems had changed over time, making him feel afraid of making the “wrong” choice – or looking back and feeling that way in the future if his beliefs change again. We all change. If inaction will make you feel like you did the right thing in a future where you hate how everything has turned out, suit yourself. Just don’t complain when we get there.
- Someone with ADHD who has never voted said he gets anxious about putting things in the mail, or showing up to vote on a specific day, particularly if he isn’t enthusiastic about the election. He argued that he wasn’t being irresponsible by not voting, but that it was up to others to make voters feel enthusiastic and engaged. I get the anxiety problem; voting can certainly be overwhelming, particularly when ballots are lengthy. But blaming other people for not making you feel engaged in your country’s future is a cop-out. We have personal agency, as people and as voters. It is up to us to make the difference we want to see in the world – or to at least try. The simplest way to do that is to vote. Nobody is going to give you a balloon for it. But you do get a sticker.
- One respondent was essentially too lazy/forgetful to mail an absentee ballot, and too confused by absentee ballot rules. . . . Has she heard of Google?
- Another did not have the time or energy. I do not have the time or energy to respond to that.
Apart for one person who said she was too sick to leave her home during the last presidential election and hadn’t registered absentee, the main theme of the New York Magazine responses was that Millennials who had not voted in the past and are choosing not to vote now are politically disaffected and feel uninspired by the candidates.
Despite the fact that Generation X, Millennials and Generation Z are the largest demographic of registered voters, Pew isn’t too optimistic about their voter turnout in the 2018 midterms. “If past turnout patterns hold – and taking into account that each generation has aged four years since 2014 – the data suggest that Gen Xers, Millennials and post-Millennials would not be a majority of voters in 2018,” Pew’s report stated. “More specifically, extending the historical trends forward, one would expect roughly 47 million of the votes cast in 2018 would come from these three younger generations (up from 36 million in 2014), compared with 55 million votes cast by Boomer and older voters.”
While Pew acknowledged that there are no guarantees that the past will repeat itself, it often does. So, moving forward, how do we engage these Millennials who are disaffected, unenthused, and admittedly lazy about voting?
What can we do differently? Perhaps if those of us Millennials who ARE firm believers in the importance of voting can continue to earnestly try to inflame the passions of our peers, we’ll get somewhere. But we’ll have to do it en masse.
Maybe we need to make voting easier. I’d suggest hooking it up to Facebook, but the Russians would have a field day with that.
We could try to “Glam up the Midterms,” as comedian Billy Eichner and his other Hollywood elite friends have tried to do with a comic, star-studded online campaign that simultaneously makes fun of Millennials who desire to be like celebrities while using that desire to encourage them to vote.
We could yell at them, like angry old people who had to walk five miles in the snow to their polling locations (and to school, and everywhere in the perpetual winter of their pasts) when they were our age.
I guess if I knew the solution, both parties would be throwing money at me. I’d be rich.
At that dinner, I told my non-voting friend that I understood why he was disaffected, and why he was frustrated. But the only way to change that, I noted, was if a heck of a lot of nonvoting people just like him decide to do something about it.
And then we both shrugged, and changed the topic.