Guest Editorial: Many pols don’t understand the internet age

Farmington Daily Times
Guest Editorial

New political polling about millennials has been widely reported as a surprise.

Despite the Trump administration’s troubles and a period of strain for congressional Republicans, Democrats this election cycle are actually losing points among millennial voters.

There’s a message here, but it’s not just for Democrats. Without a new generation of officeholders reflecting a deep understanding of what world we’re living in, both parties will struggle with maturing younger voters.

As a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll reveals, over the past two years, 18-to-34s have moved away from Democrats by almost double digits, leaving the party of Obama with 46 percent support. Those same voters are now just two points away from favoring Republicans on the economy — a loss of 12 points for Democrats.

Some might attribute the changes to the impact of identity politics. White millennial men did the biggest about-face the poll captured, flipping from pro-Democrat to pro-Republican by a 9-point margin.

But if those voters have been relatively less captivated by the rhetoric and results flowing from left-wing identity politics, there’s not much sign they’ve gravitated toward some kind of right-wing version. Two-thirds of all millennials polled say they don’t like President Trump.

While reading the tea leaves of polling snapshots is hardly an exact science, the broader political context shaping attitudes this election season shouldn’t be hard for Republicans or Democrats to interpret.

As was plainly shown by the recent congressional hearings in which elected representatives unevenly grilled Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg, too few public officials have an adequate grasp of what the internet and related technology is doing to our culture, our economy and our lives.

Consider that the Democrats under Obama enjoyed incredible branding as the party that was aligned in an up-to-the-minute way with social trends and an awareness of the current world. In the Trump era, however, the brand has been badly damaged.

And at the same time, even though Democrats have turned out to be way more out of touch and unsure of the future than they seemed under Obama, mainstream Republicans have been scrambling to catch up too. That’s why federal politics is such a volatile mess today.

And that’s why young voters heading toward middle age are rightly dubious that President Trump or congressional Democrats embody a political path forward that can properly process the new technological reality.

Generational tokenism isn’t going to be enough to rescue either party from the establishment blues. We’ve already seen the sharp limits of that strategy, whether a Sandra Fluke campaign for Democrats or a Marco Rubio campaign for Republicans.

Another option not showing solid results is filling slates with candidates drawn from the online extremes, with ultra-polarizing ideologues accustomed to rising in the ranks by magnetizing the most haters.

Those limitations still rule for savvy younger people with the chops for political office. They understand and explain that even though today’s technology poses serious threats to stability and harmony as we knew it, we’re not going back to some pre-digital normal.

That’s the right place to start building a workable new political consensus in America.

But under today’s circumstances, many talented young Americans think their best bet is to withdraw from political life. In passing the torch, older officials will have to find a way to change at least some of their minds.

Orange County Register, May 10