The Millennial vote is here to stay -- and it demands progressive action.
In the days leading up to the 2012 presidential election, journalists from across the political spectrum dedicated large portions of airtime and print space to answering one critical question: would Millennials turn out to vote? The resounding hypothesis seemed to be yes, but in significantly lower numbers than they did in 2008. And we’ve heard their logic before: young people are apathetic, jaded, lazy, and spoiled.
Interestingly, the polling numbers seemed to back up their conclusions. In mid-October, with less than a month to go until the election, the Harvard Institute of Politics released a study that seemed damning to any campaign relying on the youth vote. The study indicated that between 2008 and 2012, the percentage of “definite young voters” decreased dramatically from 63 percent to 48 percent and the percentage of young people describing themselves as “politically engaged” had dropped from 43 percent to 25 percent.
But on Election Day, Millennials proved the numbers wrong. A staggering 23 million members of the largest, most diverse, and most progressive generation in American history made their voices heard. Some stood in line for hours, some sent in absentee ballots, and some went the extra mile and worked for a campaign or registered their peers to vote. But no matter how they did it, a solid 50 percent of eligible Millennial voters cast ballots in this election—a number that mirrors the 2008 turnout nearly exactly.
Millennial America proved that it’s a political force that will not be discounted, that will not be silenced, and that will not let this country make decisions without its input. We defied expectations and made it to the polls because, despite our current political climate of hyper-partisanship and gridlock, Millennials still believe government can be a force for social good. And we’ll keep working toward making that more of a reality now that the election has passed.
As the post-election stats keep rolling in, it’s becoming ever more apparent that voters between 18 and 29 were critical to President Obama’s re-election. According to data published by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) at Tufts University, Millennial voter turnout in swing states averaged 58 percent. If Millennials had not voted, the critical states of Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania, and Virginia would have swung Republican rather than Democratic.
Millennials helped decide this election and will continue to exert their influence. We may be young and idealistic, but we are not blind to the shortcomings of our political system. The polling may have been skewed because we don’t always engage with politics through the same means the generations before us did, but we are dedicated to ensuring that the political institutions we inherit represent our interests, our values, and our principles.
We voted because we haven’t given up and we know that government can improve lives. Campus Progress reports that 64 percent of Millennial voters support the DREAM Act, a bill providing pathways to legal status for undocumented students. Eighty-four percent support accessible, affordable contraception for women. Sixty-two percent favor the legalization of gay marriage. Eighty percent still believe in the American Dream.
And every day, we’re using social media to share information and opinions, and to jumpstart political movements to push forward on these values and beliefs. We’re blogging about the issues that affect us. We’re entering the corporate world and pressuring it to be more socially responsible as we do. We’re pushing for progress, and now, through a Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network project, Government By and For Millennial America, Millennials across the country are developing both pragmatic and visionary policy ideas that speak to the issues that influenced our votes.
Despite our optimism, we are also acutely aware of our government’s inadequacies. Millennials overwhelmingly support increased government involvement in improving public education and making college more affordable, and we believe that our current economic system unfairly favors the wealthy.
Millennials want a government that provides for its people equitably. We want a government that rewards hard work with fair labor practices and reasonable hours. We want a government that encourages its youth to enroll in colleges that it ensures are accessible, affordable pathways to future success. We want a government that fosters its people’s prosperity and isn’t afraid to make unpopular choices to do so.
We voted because we are engaged, we want change, and we’re not afraid to work for it. The Millennial vote is here to stay. As we become a more critical voting block, our lawmakers must become more hospitable to progressive ideas. Our generation is not interested in maintaining the status quo. We don’t want to wait and see if the ineffectual legislation of the past pans out in the future. To continue to earn the support of Millennial voters, our politicians must overcome partisanship and gridlock and move forward on critical issues like the environment, education, and social justice. Millennial voters will continue to vote, and we’re voting for progress.
Jean-Ann Kubler is a former Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network Summer Fellow and a senior government major at Skidmore College.