Why Millennials Should Vote

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.

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Why Millennials Should Vote
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6 thoughts on “Why Millennials Should Vote

  1. 1

    Good post, and I agree with you.

    I also wish you luck; I suspect the US may be one of the worst democratic countries in which to try to push this particular boulder uphill.

  2. 2

    There is a vicious cycle when politicians stop caring about a demographic and that demographic stops caring about voting. Because even if you can persuade that demographic to start voting, they may have trouble deciding who to support. It might be easier in a country with only two viable options and one one of them is comprised of Saturday Morning Cartoon Supervillains, but when the differences between the parties are more subtle and they all seem to ignore or actively screw you over, it’s very easy to look at a ballot paper and say, “I literally want none of these people in office.” And the most cynical of us don’t simply want none of them to win, they want them all to lose.

  3. 3

    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”.

    And Bush only got into the Presidency (with a nudge from a partisan SCOTUS) because Al Gore was wooden and was going to be no different than Bush., (we were told by Ralph Nader and the MSM) and enough people fell for it to put the election into the hands of the Court.

    I know because I was one of them. Thank the FSM I live in CA so my vanity vote throw-away didn’t make a difference in the Electoral count, but it’s still something I’m ashamed of. Not only was I ignorant of the real differences between Bush and Gore (most importantly I had no idea just how radically conservative W was, which would’ve been apparent had I spent a little time doing some research into his record instead of listening to Chris Matthews), but I had the same belief that my protest vote or simply sitting out elections would magically make politicians start paying more attention to the issues that matter to me. I didn’t realize that that’s not how it works, (especially in a reality where one demonic Party wants nothing more than for a large part of the population to just stay home on election day.) First candidates have to recognize that you will actually vote before they will start listening to your concerns. There’s also the problem that D voters don’t take mid-term elections seriously because it’s only for Governor and Congress-critters and many don’t understand just how much damage can be done by elected officials outside of the Oval Office. Anyways, 14 years later and guess how much my Nader vote helped move the country back towards Liberalism as I planned?

    And here we sit awaiting the decision by the Roberts Court (brought to you by George “no-different-than-Gore” W Bush) which may gut one of the biggest pieces of Progressive legislation in decades and strip Millions of the most vulnerable Americans of health insurance. Heck just the SCOTUS rulings alone* (Citizens United, Hobby Lobby, Heller etc.) should be a lesson enough of how dangerous it is for any concerned American to abstain from voting. Especially in mid-terms when the GOP has a decided edge and can (and did) take control of the Congress that actually writes the laws. How many times must we repeat this lesson? Politics are won by those who show up (and donate, and canvas etc.) It’s crucial that we do so, because the other side sure will. Being informed and voting is the very least we can do.

    *Not to mention: Iraq, Katrina, the Recession, NCLB etc.

  4. 4

    You may not believe this, but I just now got off the phone with Mitch McConnell. The senator had read Avery’s piece, and was VERY UPSET at the thought of Avery and so many others not participating in elections until the system changes itself to better suit them, but that he (the senator) and his colleagues would get started on making those requisite changes RIGHT AWAY. Mind you, I thought I heard a giggle as McConnell hung up, but that could have been the bloke from the NSA.

  5. 5

    Here’s the comment I just left over there:

    Hmmm… “There are plenty of issues that millennials care about that politicians don’t seem interested in addressing. Student loan debt is one. A living minimum wage is another. ”

    I’m 54 yo, and I just spent months working my ass off as a volunteer to reelect my congressman and my governor (Joe Courtney and Dan Malloy, respectively, of Connecticut), both of whom are my age or older. Student loan debt has been a signature issue of the former, and raising our state minimum wage a signature accomplishment of the latter… along with paid sick leave, tough new gun safety laws, decriminalization of pot, and legalization of medicinal pot.

    I’m not a millennial, and neither was either of those candidates… but our sons and daughters are. Do you really imagine we’re just not “interested in addressing” the issues they care about, or that will shape the world they must live in?

    Also, one of the last campaign rallies I attended, just a couple days before the election, was on campus at UConn. The rally was for the whole Democratic ticket, including the congressman and governor mentioned above, but also including a young woman who just a few years ago was a student there, and the president of the UConn College Dems. Since then, she has served three terms as a state representative (one of the youngest in the state), and last week — by dint of the efforts not just of old farts like me, but of a great many millennials — she was elected to the state senate.

    If young people want their issues addressed, not only should they vote, they should vote for other young people (preferably young women, IMHO)… and if there aren’t any other young people on the ballot, they should run for office themselves. The one thing that won’t get their issues addressed is disengagement.

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