It’s no secret that Hollywood is ruffled by the current political climate in this country – a phenomenon certainly not restricted to the glamorous elite, but one that they have the opportunity to express on a more widespread and public stage (and miss no opportunities to do so, as evidenced by, oh, every award show since 2016). Apparently, though, Hollywood stars are self-aware enough to know they are not the solution to quell what ails them. For that, they are turning to Millennials.
The problem is, they know we aren’t too excited about it.
You see, at this point we’re the largest living age cohort in the United States – but we’re also politically disaffected. In the 2012 midterm elections, only about 12% of us turned out to vote, which frankly is just pathetic. We did better in the presidential election in 2016 but, still, not even half of us – only 44% – voted, according to NPR.
But never fear – Hollywood is here. On February 1, one of my favorite comedians, Billy Eichner (originally of “Billy On The Street” fame and subsequently “Difficult People,” among other shows), appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live to launch a star-studded effort to get Millennials to vote, by, comically (but also seriously), “glamming up the midterms.”
Eichner launched the Glam Up The Midterms initiative by debuting a video on the show featuring himself, Kimmel, John Oliver, Conan O’Brien, Sarah Silverman, Seth Meyers and other comics on Kimmel’s show. The bit, in a very tongue-in-cheek way, compared the midterms to glamorous Hollywood award shows in an attempt to get young people excited enough to get to the polls using words like ‘glamorous,’ ‘elegant’ and ‘sexy.’
It’s a funny shtick, sure. But it’s not going to work.
Eichner’s initiative, while funny, also assumes that to inspire Millennials to vote, a bunch of celebrities need to tell them that by doing so they’re engaging in something as glamorous as attending the Academy Awards. It’s the same rhetoric that older generations often use about Millennials, which is best described by the moniker, “the selfie generation.”
But we’re not voting because we don’t think it’s cool, or because we don’t think it will make us look good on social media, or, in essence, because it isn’t adding to our sense of self-worth. Millennials haven’t had great election day turnout because we feel like our options are, well, crappy. The folks running for office often aren’t in our age bracket (or anywhere near it) and often don’t represent our values.
I know it sounds like I’m just blowing smoke with that assertion, but polling shows that I’m not. A survey of 1,876 Millennial adults aged 18-34 found that 71% feel that Republicans and Democrats aren’t getting the job done, and that a third political party is needed. (I should note that a broader definition of Millennials would include those up to 36 years in age). Six in 10 Millennials surveyed said they disapproved of how Congress was doing its job. About 59% had an unfavorable view of the Republican party, and 42% had an unfavorable view of the Democratic party.
Kevin Shin, a 35-year-old Long Beach resident who is running for the 7th Council District, was not surprised that most Millennials desire a third party. Shin is an independent. “Over the last few years there have just been a lot of things about the political process and about our current political environment that have really turned me away from the two-party system,” he said. “I feel like neither party truly represents my values.”
Shin is applying for the endorsement of Run For Something, a nonprofit organization dedicated to encouraging progressive Millennials to run for office. He never foresaw running for office, but eventually his work as co-founder of the nonprofit Walk Bike Long Beach – which advocates for a safe and healthy transportation network – led him to it.
“It’s one of those things where you start to realize that, no matter how much time and effort and heart you put into your advocacy work, at some point you’re going to bump up against the folks who are on the inside of the system,” Shin said. “And there comes a point where . . . you can only do so much from the outside.”
Andrea Marr, a 34-year-old Navy veteran and city council candidate in Costa Mesa who has been endorsed by Run For Something, doesn’t necessarily think that a third party is needed. But she does think Millennials are turned off by the current political climate, which she called “awful.”
“On one hand I think it turns off a group of folks from politics,” she said of the political climate in the U.S. “On the other hand, it motivates others to get involved to try to change that. I certainly consider myself part of that second group. So the worse it gets, the more determined I am to have a positive impact and talk to people about how we can be making our community better.”
While Marr, a Democrat, doesn’t see a need for a major third political party, she does believe there should be more room for varying perspectives within the reigning parties. And she was not surprised to hear that Millennials were disengaged in the last major election. “I think that part of what we saw in 2016 was just really an obsession with a sort of cult of personality. It wasn’t about policy,” she said. “It was about Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. And neither of those people were figures that Millennials could relate to.”
Sofia Pereira, 30-year-old mayor of Arcata, California, is also the community manager of She Should Run – a nonprofit established in 2011 to encourage women to run for office. She believes that, to get Millennials to vote, the options need to better reflect their generation. “I think that the more we have candidates who represent and reflect the diversity of our communities, the more Millennials will be engaged,” she said.
“I think Millennials are innovative and deeply care about where our communities are going and where our country is going,” Pereira said. “And I think we now are opening up the doors for younger people to see that they can bring their talents and experience to the public sector and to bring that into government where we really need that diversity of perspective.”
While Pereira couldn’t provide demographic data about the women who have decided to run for office with the assistance of She Should Run, she said, “I will say anecdotally we definitely have a lot of Millennial women in our community who we work with who are looking at running for offices, from the local to state level.”
Among the sampling of Millennials quoted here who have chosen to be politically active in their communities, not one of them ever came close to mentioning glamor as their source of inspiration, or as the key ingredient missing from America’s political climate. Because glamming up politics isn’t going to get Millennials to the polls. Candidates who represent their values – which apparently the two parties don’t seem to be repping very well – will do the trick. The question should be, how do we encourage those people to run? The old guard has done plenty of good for this country, but is it still?
“Absolutely young people need to lead that charge,” Shin said. “But there also needs to be the older generation being willing to step aside and allow us to actually pursue that.”