Winning the Millennial Vote in the 2012 Presidential Election Will Be Impossible If You Can't Make Us Care
Millennials aren't unique. Our adolescence was the same as every other generation before it – full of angst, rebellion, and self-discovery, except instead of Metallica we listened to emo rock. Teenagers don’t like being told what to do, regardless of whether they’re in 1968 or 2012. And therein lies the biggest problem with voting.
People either care or they don’t. If they care who becomes president, they’ll go vote for their party’s nominee and call it a day. If they don’t, they won’t leave work early and wait in line at the polls. If they really care, they’ll donate money or time to a campaign and maybe share some links on their social media to persuade some friends. If they really don’t care, they won’t even watch the returns on election night and will just hear about it when they wake up the next day.
But as millennials we are not real people yet. We’re just graduating from high school or college and we don’t really know what a mortgage is or a 401K, and most of us still have hourly wages and the diminishing, but ever-present, internalized belief that we are invincible. If Generation X’s theme song was “We’re Not Gonna Take It” by Twisted Sister, and Generation Y’s theme song was “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana … all we can hope is that our's isn’t Ke$ha’s “Tik Tok.” We millennials who grew up with crushes on Zach Morris and Hilary Duff, we who fought over which color Power Ranger we would be and are now fighting for coveted spots in grad schools and top internships. We can relate to our parents perhaps better than our parents could relate to theirs; at the very least most of our parents can text us back.
A key characteristic of a young person is that they will argue where an older person has already tired of arguing. That’s why 2008 was such a big year for the millennials – we could argue all day long about Obama. Was he black, or was he half-black, or was he half-white? Would you seriously not vote for him just because he’s black? He grew up in Kansas, of course he can understand middle America! How dare you call him elitist just because he went to Ivy League schools and is educated! How could you possibly vote for John McCain when his running mate doesn't read newspapers? Who deserves the Democratic nomination more, a black man or a white woman?
We argued our blue blood until we were red in the face. It was the perfect storm – we were armed for battle against the previous generation’s mistakes in foreign policy, racism, sexism, and economic equality. Obama was like Dr. John Prentice in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and we were secretly glad they didn't approve.
So what are we supposed to do now? We have another bland white dude running against the black guy we’re quite frankly tired of fighting for. We've learned more, we know which policies have worked and which ones haven’t. But there’s no spark left because we used it all up: the novelty is gone and we've become distracted. Politics, even for the informed and educated, can become really boring once all the intelligent arguments are used up and repeated ad nauseam. That’s not to say that we shouldn't still keep arguing and fighting – this campaign season brought about women’s issues in a very new way that should still be fought for. But we’re tired of fighting each other about it. Let the pundits and the reporters and the politicians tire themselves out;they chose to make a career of it. We tried it and we got bored.
The spark is gone. We’re not excited about this election because it’s not different. Obama is no longer different, and Romney certainly isn’t different. Some of us have stayed Democrats and others have switched teams - that's normal, and life goes on. So what determines whether or not we millennials vote this November is going to be whether we can get excited about it again. It will come down to whether we strongly support one candidate, or strongly oppose another. If we haven’t lost the idealized appreciation for the political process then we will participate, but only because we care.