Will the Millennials End Partisan Gridlock? Don't Get Your Hopes Up


Political gridlock, lack of momentum on crucial economic and foreign-policy issues, and extreme partisanship have disillusioned the millennials in the U.S, according to this recent survey conducted by the Institute of Politics at Harvard University. While political disagreement is not new, the extreme forms that it has taken recently are quite unprecedented and perhaps indicate a shift in the political climate of the country. Given the fact that millennials played a key role in President Obama’s election (and re-election), their importance cannot be downplayed. One needs to ask, whether, given this shift, the millennials will ultimately make both parties obsolete.

They might — but it's not likely. Millennials' party loyalties are becoming solidly entrenched. As this TIME article points out, the millennials are largely liberal on many social issues, and even though they dislike large top-down institutions, they prefer making their own decisions. The country seems to be moving in a more socially liberal direction, with same sex marriage, and the legalization of marijuana being two issues that have won wide support. The article points out, "Millennials are comfortable with big goals and even big spending. But they’re also happy to circumvent the state altogether and enlist anyone who can help achieve those goals.” As issues such as immigration, the economy, and national security are discussed and debated in Washington, the young seem to be growing more disillusioned with the way things are going, as more than half said that the country is headed in the wrong direction.

The Harvard survey brought out some other striking findings, some of which were unexpected. For example, millennials are equally split over the NRA and support for gun control laws hasn’t shifted in the recent past. While there are arguments that the Democratic Party is in decline, with given President Obama’s drop in popularity and youth feeling frustrated that the change he promised hasn’t been delivered, the reality is that the on many issues, Americans are becoming more socially liberal. This doesn’t bode well for the conservatives. The issue of gun control seems to have divided millennials, as it has the other age-groups. As the Harvard survey points out: "Nearly a majority, 49%, support making gun laws more strict, while 35% believe gun laws should be kept as they are; 15% of 18- to 29-year-olds tell us that they prefer less strict gun laws. But those recent tragedies and resulting public discussion do not appear to have strongly increased youth support for stricter gun laws.”

 “One issue that didn’t seem to matter to the millennials is that of border control,” points out Eva Guidiarni, student chair of the study group at Harvard University. She pointed out that 40% of youth are undecided on the immigration-reform issue, and any group that reaches out will gain their support, she added.

Young people largely believe that politicians of today are incapable of solving the problems of today. What does this disillusionment mean? Does it mean that they will stay out of the democratic process, or become so partisan that they are not able to look at both sides of an argument? Will they vote based on ideological, rather than pragmatic grounds? One can point out that this tech-savvy generation is taking control of its own destiny and throwing its support to groups (and individuals) who can offer them solutions. While party loyalties may get entrenched in the short term, this may in the long run lead to disillusionment if neither party delivers the results it promises.

Perhaps the ones who may gain from this gridlock will be the independents, who may offer solutions and ideas that appeal to a young and restless millennial generation. While it remains to be seen how the cynical millennials will react to ongoing political stalemate, one can see how they might either stay with their current political party, at the risk of becoming ideological, or be pragmatic and go with the independents or the opposition, if either group offers a better solution to the issues that are of concern to them.