Tides of Change in Millenial Politics

USA Today ran this piece recently on December 15th:

Forty-five percent of 18- to 29-year-old Americans say they approve of the way Obama is handling his job; 46% disapprove of his job performance, according to a year-end USA TODAY/Pew Research Center Poll. The president’s approval rating with young Americans — which stood at 67% just ahead of his second inauguration less than a year ago — now mirrors the general population, according to the poll. [1]

Why the recent change? What are young people today finding to be politically important? And how can we quantify these opinions?

According to PBS News Hour on December 4th:

“For the last 13 years, Harvard’s IOP has conducted the Survey of Young Americans’ Attitudes Toward Politics and Public Service. The 24th edition of the poll, conducted from Oct. 30 to Nov. 11, 2013, among 2,089 young adults between the ages of 18 and 29, showed five trends in regards to health care, fiscal issues and changes in party affiliation and political approval. The results show a general disappointment in the government and shifts in the youth contingent of the Democratic base.

Aside from health care, fiscal issues remain supreme as a political concern for millennials, with student loan debt at the top of the list. A majority of those surveyed from the Republican, Democratic and Independent parties support the “Buffet Rule” — having people who make over $1 million a year pay 30 percent of their income in taxes — over the five other options to choose from to reduce the deficit.

They also support cutting foreign economic aid in half and reducing spending on the U.S. nuclear arsenal. Concern over the amount of student loan debt — the highest it has ever been in history — transcends political affiliation, with 58 percent saying they have student loan debt and 57 percent saying it is a major problem with very little deviance between the political parties.

When asked about their opinions on elected officials and politics in general, the numbers did not bode well for Mr. Obama, Congress and the Democrats. The youth vote was critical in Mr. Obama’s election and reelection. After a hard year for the Obama administration, millennials are now trending like older adults, with 41 percent approval and 47 percent saying they would recall and replace the president if given the option.

Congress fared worse than the president, with 52 percent saying they would recall and replace all members of Congress. Approval ratings of both parties were low and approval ratings for the Republicans only get lower. But Democrats should not be too quick to celebrate. The poll also showed a trend that may raise some concern for that party.

The IOP’s Della Volpe and his team broke the millennial generation into a first and second wave: the first wave being millennials from 25-29 and the second of millennials ages 18-24. While the first wave has kept trending more towards the Democratic side, 18-24 year old voters are leaning more towards the conservative side, following in the path of their older siblings, parents and grandparents.

…While millennials have invested a lot of hope in this administration and its progressive outlook, dysfunction in government has led to a general sense of disappointment. It is a trend that could spell trouble for the Democrats, with cracks showing in what was their once very strong youth base. [2]

One thing’s for sure, in order to win the next election in 2016, the opinions of millennials soon representing a larger portion of the voting population will need to be weighed carefully.

But one piece of good news has arisen this year – millennials are getting more active in politics.

Last March the Roosevelt Institute published “A New Deal for Students”, rallying around student load reform, of which they said:

“Young people across the country increasingly face insurmountable obstacles to their future economic success. The youth unemployment rate is 12.5%, significantly higher than that of other groups of Americans and almost double the national average. On top of bleak job prospects, young Americans who invest in higher education in pursuit of a better future are witnessing diminishing returns and growing long-term burdens in the form of student debt. To date, student debt in the United States towers over $1 trillion dollars, surpassing the cumulative amount of credit card debt.

Students from the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network (RICN) and the United States Students Association (USSA), are taking up the urgent challenge that our political leaders are failing to address. Through individual research and initiative, we have drafted a set of concrete and innovative recommendations to ameliorate the growing problem of student debt and provide relief to the heavy economic burden that limits the potential of America’s future entrepreneurs, nurses, lawyers, small business owners, and workers.

In this report, students outline our arguments for a better system of paying for higher education. Policy recommendations range from tax incentives for students committed to staying in their home states to raising the federal minimum range to supporting new graduates to teach in rural areas.

What we want is critical debate and, above all else, action by our lawmakers on this critical financial issue affecting millions of young Americans.” [3]

The important aspect of this is that millennials are taking the time to evolve their political ideas, and professionally recommending ideas for reform that are important to them. You may not agree with all 8 items outlined in “A New Deal for Students” – such as the government’s role as a lender of student debt – but the bright side is that after years of low voter turn out for millennials, hopefully this time participation and debate will increase as this generation grows older – and wiser.

As time goes on and the baby boomers, Gen X, etc. retire, this country will eventually become run by the millennial generation – seeing their political involvement now for the prospect of their own future provides hope for our way forward, regardless of which party you do or do not gravitate towards.

So I challenge you the reader to weigh your values carefully. Where do you want to see reform in government? We’ll cover this in an upcoming survey.

Image: IMG_2092 by John Martinez Pavliga http://www.flickr.com/photos/virtualsugar/3978654027/

Work Cited:

1. http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2013/12/15/usa-today-poll–obama-millennials/4012257/

2. http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/2013/12/harvard-poll-shows-trouble-for-health-care-frustration-with-politics-among-millennials.html

3. http://www.rooseveltcampusnetwork.org/policy/new-deal-students