Avery has a post up over at Teen Skepchick about why Millennials, in his opinion, didn’t turn out to vote in this last election. To be blunt, they’re terrible reasons not to vote. Not at all surprising reasons, but terrible nonetheless.
When I say the reasons aren’t surprising, I mean that the reasons Avery gives for abstaining from elections are hardly unique to Millennials, much less to Avery. They’re pervasive in U.S. politics. I also mean that it’s very easy to trace those ideas to their source.
Media critics and news critics in particular have long lamented “horse-race” coverage of political races and elections. This is coverage that focuses on who will win a race to the exclusion of what it would mean for the electorate to be governed by each candidate. In its purest form, horse-race coverage is represented by Nate Silver’s poll tracking and predictions.
In its more common form, horse-race coverage is most of what we see leading up to an election. It is “X candidate is speaking in Y region of the state today. No candidate since 1983 has carried the state without carrying Y” instead of reporting on the concerns of the population in region Y and how they complement or compete with the interest of the rest of the population. It is “X will be speaking on Y issue today. In a recent poll, Z% of voters supported X’s position Y. What remains unknown is whether X’s position on Y will help to broaden their base” instead of reporting on the probable effects of passing the candidate’s policy proposal.
Horse-race coverage is the junk reporting on what a candidate wears, how charismatic they are, their campaign strategy, their campaign manager’s thoughts on their chances, and on and on and on. It is, in fact, most of what you see in an election season. Relevantly here, horse-race coverage is all that analysis dedicated to whether a candidate is “doing what they need to do” to appeal to a particular demographic, such as Millennials.
Given all that, it’s entirely unsurprising that anyone would focus on those issues in deciding whether to vote. It’s still wrong, and it still makes me grit my teeth every time I hear it. It’s all over Minnesota, where the DFL has frequently run perfectly competent (boring) bureaucrats for statewide office, but I’ll use an example that should be familiar to everyone. It’s the thinking that got us a second term of Bush-Cheney because John Kerry just wasn’t “inspiring”.
Sit with that a minute. That will tell you exactly why you can’t let horse-race priorities dictate your own political actions.
The thing to remember about elections is that they’re not about whether someone can convince you that they sufficiently care about you. They’re about the things you care about. Everything you care about, not just those issues that disproportionately affect you.
Do you care about (predominantly) women’s access to contraception and safe, legal abortions? How about ending the trend toward criminalizing people who experience miscarriages or are anything less than perfect incubators for the fetuses they carry? There were distinct differences between candidates in the vast majority of gubernatorial and state and federal legislative races on this issue. If you care about those issues but didn’t vote, you supported candidates who will act against your desires.
Do you care about raising the minimum wage to a point where people can live on it without working every waking hour? How about reversing the trend toward regressive taxation and greater income inequality? There were distinct differences between candidates in the vast majority of gubernatorial and state and federal legislative races on this issue too. If you care about those issues but didn’t vote, you again supported candidates who will act against your desires.
For that matter, even on issues that do disproportionately affect Millennials, the fact that few politicians campaign on that issue is a terrible reason to abstain from voting. Not every politician who supports an issue will make it a centerpiece of their campaign. So what?
There are and were huge differences between political parties on student loan reform, educational funding, and climate change, even if each issue had few champions. That’s important, because champions can’t make change alone. A handful of legislators can’t pass a bill. Executives, whether governors or the President, have by design very limited power to make changes. Those politicians who do champion the changes you want need peers who will vote with them, even if those peers don’t campaign on college campuses.
Besides that, as long as Millennials don’t turn out to vote, politicians classify them as “non-voters” no matter the reasons they give. It’s the very, very rare politician who will bother courting the votes of non-voters when there are more likely votes to be won.
It’s time to stop asking who cares about you, Millennials–and everyone else who still thinks this way about politics. It’s time to stop paying attention to news media telling you that the important thing is how the campaign is run or whether a candidate has made overtures to people like you.
Whether elected officials care about you or anyone else, they still go on to govern. Whether you vote or not, one of the politicians running still goes on to govern. They still go on to make decision you’re going to care about. Millennials are wonderfully known as the generation that cares, but all you can do by not voting is make sure those decisions benefit the people who care more, who care enough to vote.