Guest Opinion: Millennials, don't waste clout

The Arizona Republic
Aug. 13
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Young people distrust political parties but should not abandon the political process.

The future should belong to the young – for their sake and for the sake of the nation that needs their innovative ideas and energy.

If young people don’t make their voices heard, they and the nation lose.

That’s why it is alarming that only 28 percent of those ages 18-30 think both major political parties do a good job of representing the American people.

This level of distrust is troubling.

A low opinion of Republicans and Democrats suggests this youngest cohort of voters may sit on their political clout.

Or to be more exact: They may squander their power to make politicians pay attention to their concerns.

Millennials could exercise significant political influence because of their numbers. They could force change. They could energize the political debate and make the system be responsive to their vision of the future.

Millennials now have nearly as many voters as the Baby Boomers.

As of April there were about 69.2 million eligible voters between the ages of 18 and 35, according the Pew Research Center. There are 69.7 million Baby Boomers, ages 52 to 70.

When it comes to voting, however, the two groups are not equal.

Pew reports that in 2012, 69 percent of boomers voted. Only 46 percent of Millennials did – and that was down from 50 percent in 2008, when the youth vote was energized by Barack Obama’s first run for the presidency.

For context, the so-called Silent and Greatest Generation, aged 71-plus, were the most likely to vote in 2012, with a whopping 72 percent casting ballots. Sixty-one percent of Gen X, ages 36 to 51, voted that year.

One could argue the young people simply aren’t interested in politics. But the energy of the young people behind Sen. Bernie Sanders during the Democratic primary shows this group is very much interested in politics if they feel connected to the politician’s message.

When it comes to political parties, there is a real disconnect.

recent survey by GenForward found two-thirds of those ages 18 to 30 felt Republicans did not care about people like them. Overall, only 53 percent of the young people thought Democrats cared about people like them.

This represents an interesting racial split. Majorities of black, Asian-American and Latino youth thought Democrats cared about people like them. White youth did not.

Fifty-eight percent of white youth said the GOP didn’t care about people like them and 52 percent said Democrats didn’t.

The GenForward survey included a balanced sample of young people from different racial and ethnic backgrounds. It was conducted by the Black Youth Project at the University of Chicago with the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

It reveals a lack of confidence in the political parties, and a particularly disturbing racial split.

Millennials should not duck out of politics.

These young people need to use their numbers and their vision to reshape the parties and the politics of this nation into something they can believe in and participate in.

As the youngest group of voters, they have a particular responsibility to offer a forward looking vision.

The nation needs their energy.