With the presidential election only a year away, a discussion on Millennials’ role in politics becomes increasingly important. Every day, UC Davis students sport paraphernalia with certain political overtones. For example, notebooks and laptop stickers supporting the liberal Senator Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) have become prevalent. I’ve often wondered what this says about Millennial political values. On which side, if any, do we tend to stand?
I wasn’t all too surprised to learn nearly all Millennials agree that reproductive rights and marriage equality are of utmost importance. As one of the most compassionate generations, Millennial promotion of social equality is essentially a given. What did surprise me was that we generally identify less with political parties, are less concerned with politics and vote less frequently than preceding generations.
According to a poll by the Pew Research Center, a measly 19 percent of Millennials agree that most people can be trusted, compared to 31 percent of Generation Xers and 40 percent of Baby Boomers.
In a Harvard study of 18 to 29-year-olds, only about 50 percent of respondents said they trusted the military and 42 percent expressed faith in the Supreme Court. The numbers were more dismal for institutions such as the federal government and the United Nations.
Sad, right? These studies suggest that Millennials don’t like to be categorized or side fully with one specific party, especially when they are distrustful of such prominent institutions. This skepticism also negatively impacts our level of political involvement.
In an article for the Washington Post, Mindy Romero, founding director of the California Civic Engagement Project at UC Davis, argues that we don’t trust political parties because of our upbringing in a period of extreme partisan bickering and economic hardships from the Great Recession.
Our generation just doesn’t see evidence that our government is helping us.
Many liberal Millennials have a disdain for the GOP because of their belief that this party brought on multiple wars and a dreadful recession in less than 10 years.
“Democrats clearly have an advantage with Millennials,” said David Gergen, a political commentator and former presidential aide to Nixon, Ford and Reagan. “But they can lose it if they can’t get the economy moving or are beholden to the same old interest groups that younger people are rejecting.”
While Millennials tend to be socially liberal, we also care about a balanced economy. We want jobs after college so that we can pay our student loans (the average debt of a 2015 college grad amounts to $35,000). Eventually, we’d like to see the cost of education and the need for student loans diminished. Perhaps this is why many of us are counting on Democratic candidate Sanders. He appeals to our ideals and overall values regarding directness and accessibility.
In May, Sanders proposed the “College for All Act” to eliminate undergraduate tuition altogether. The bill would eliminate the $70 billion tuition expenses at all four-year public colleges and universities.
Still, the fickleness of Millennial opinion and low voter turnout make me doubt that this will be a Millennial-dominated election.