How Can Obama Engage Millennials, Even After Reelection


A majority of young Americans supported the president’s re-election, but as Washington D.C. gets back to normal – or as normal as Washington ever gets – there is an inevitable danger of disengagement. In 2008, Organizing For America failed to transform into a quality infrastructure that could translate voter support into policy support. Now, in 2012, there is this same opportunity to mobilize voters and the same questions – how should the Obama administration continue to engage young people around the issues? What steps should the administration take to maintain a connection to Millennial voters?

To his credit, the level of transparency during Obama’s first term was impressive, and the White House is to be commended on their efforts to reach out to young people and listen to their concerns. Still, we feel disconnected from the process of governing and perhaps feel skeptical that just sharing our priorities has any true impact on outcomes in Washington. Truly sustainable millennial engagement comes from making a better case for how our efforts and contributions are already changing the system. What happens to our ideas and feedback? It isn’t always clear. Follow-up should be part of any engagement or communication process. Tangible ways to foster and build a stronger foundation are needed.

It’s crucial we figure out a way. Looking forward to the next four years, we can see numerous issues from immigration reform to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Young Americans, along with the broader middle class, will be affected by the decisions made here in Washington. For many millennials, participation in the conversation surrounding the given issues is as important as choosing between options: the people at the table during discussions ultimately define the choices put before us. To ensure that young Americans respond to calls of action and show up at the table may require asking us more than a yes-or-no question. Sometimes we want more than signing a petition to tell the leader of the opposition that we oppose his proposal. We want a chance to evaluate the options on the table, discuss short and long-term consequences, examine the inevitable trade-offs; in sum, many of us hope to have greater access and insight into the process of governance.

To accomplish this goal of greater access, one suggestion is relatively straightforward. The White House website, under the issues tab, should have up a category for millennials (it could also say young Americans or young adults). This helps inform us about the conversation. If you use search terms, you can find numerous pages geared towards young people: there’s a fact-sheet on the president’s youth record, a page on young social entrepreneurs and more. We’re a core constituency just like any other and information that pertains to us should have an easy-to-locate landing page. To take a step further, that end, it would be nice to segment your e-mail lists to have a millennial email list. By signing up, an individual would get updates that relate to our generation.

Another suggestion is to take a look at the Millennial Blueprint. Millennials care about details, process and nuance and the future. Organizations such as the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network (along with the Roosevelt Institute and Roosevelt | Pipeline) have put forth their own vision. In 2009, they released a Millennial Blueprint, followed up by a CBO scored Millennial Budget and most recently, Government For and By Millennial America (to be released early in 2013). Team Obama: Have you read it? What do you think? Responding to these plans is what long-term sustainable engagement looks like. The Millennial Blueprint is the type of investment that millennials will make and are capable of doing when they are truly asked to participate. The Presidential Youth Council is working to establish a group of young advisors for the president, a positive sign that our voices may be heard in a consistent narrative construct. Perhaps that is the vehicle for follow up on the Blueprint.

As we age, this generation will continue to rise up in the ranks of leadership, living out the consequences of decisions made today and making future choices that will affect our children and grandchildren. Still, there are millions more of us who are eager to engage on the local level. The Obama campaign had thousands of young people across the country in neighborhoods turning out the vote; individuals who cared about the election’s outcome and what it would mean for the future. Is there a next step, a real tangible quality step, for this network of young people? Something more than mass emails and petitions? Tapping the power of young people to turn out votes is part of a single coherent effort to elect a candidate. We understand mobilizing Millennials around singular issues is a vastly different ambition.

One opportunity might be found the continued discussion around Social Security, a program supported by the majority of Americans. Many Millennials fear it won’t be around for them at all, and still support the policy. Perhaps if young people believed instead that they could help reform it to be around for their own children, they would have more of a vested interest in the both the conversation and the outcome.