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Millennials Could Change the Political Landscape–If they Vote, SF Chronicle February 23, 2018

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds, Politics.
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In 2016, a political tsunami crashed on our shores with the outburst of populism and the election of Donald Trump. Now, less than two years later, we should prepare for two more big waves of change: the rise of Millennial voters and the passing from the scene of a generation of political leaders. Together they could produce a major transformation of our political landscape.

What we do know is that the political views of Millennials are very different from those of their Boomer parents. A Pew survey found that older voters are growing more conservative as younger voters become more liberal. According to a World Values Survey, for example, only 30 percent of voters born after 1980 believe it is absolutely essential to live in a democratic country, while 72 percent of Americans born before World War II find it essential. Millennials are broadly insecure and concerned about the future, with a recent poll by the Institute of Politics at Harvard’s Kennedy School showing 67 percent are fearful about America’s future, while 54 percent believe America is on the wrong track.

What we don’t know is whether Millennials are prepared to step up, vote and play an active role in political life. Voter turnout in the 2016 election is a cautionary tale: only half of eligible younger voters voted, compared with about two-thirds of older voters. Millennials are strongly negative about President Trump’s job performance, along with that of Congress, the Republican Party and, to some extent, the Democratic Party as well. An NBC News/Gen Forward poll showed that 71 percent of Millennials feel the political parties do such a bad job that they favor the creation of a third party. Herein lies the concern: Are Millennials so disillusioned about politics that they will not actively engage? “Will they continue to value community service over politics as they do now?”

With this generation’s deep concerns about their own job prospects, student debt, unaffordable housing and expensive health care, their liberalism aims in those directions. While society’s safety nets have been largely constructed with the aged in mind, Millennials will be interested in exploring greater stability for young people and families with children who, as Jacob Hacker, director of the Yale Institute for Social and Policy Studies, points out, “face the greatest risks.” Ironically, this leads them to resonate with two politicians in their 70s: Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

In some yet uncertain ways, Millennials may also want to rethink government itself. Technology is their natural domain, and they will want government to be far more responsive. It seems likely that they will ultimately want to see government do more with less, as has been the case with businesses and nonprofits. Professor Dave Andersen, a political scientist at Iowa State University, sums it up this way: “The repeal and replacement of government writ large, I think, is a Millennial value right now.” My own students over the years have even wondered why we have state governments, seeing them increasingly as an unnecessary layer of middle management between the local and federal governments.

I recall a 97-year old man being interviewed, with the questioner reminding him he had seen a lot of change. “Yes,” he answered, “and I was opposed to every one of them.” Change is difficult, but it is likely to be the order of the day as our political landscape opens up to new voters and leaders.

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