Millennial political engagement is as important as ever

Rewon Shimray | Cartoonist

With voting season around the corner and the deadline for registration for the primaries having just passed, the Lariat wants to remind young voters of the importance of being engaged with local and national politics. It is important for the general public to stand strong against the notion that our votes do not matter, that our voices are not heard on the ballot or that we should refrain from acquiring information out of fear or disagreement.

It is easy to feel discouraged by the perceived weight of an individual vote compared to overall outcomes, especially as talk of election meddling and debates over the effectiveness of the electoral college ensue. The unfortunate reality of elections is that, as of today, there is no such thing as a perfect voting system.

Millennials specifically should not feel discouraged by the perceived ineffectiveness of showing up to the polls. Not only is there power in numbers, but it was recently reported by the Pew Research Center that Millennials now match Baby Boomers as the largest generation in the US electorate. According to the research, “both generations comprise roughly 31% of the voting-eligible population,” thus, “it is only a matter of time before Millennials are the largest generation in the electorate.”

Another article from the Pew Research Center followed Millennial trends in the 2008 Obama McCain election: “Young voters were unusually active in the campaign. Fully 28 percent of young voters in battleground states said they had attended a campaign event, far more than among other age groups.” Additionally, according to a 2011 Huffington Post publication, “Millennials cast ballots in larger numbers than young voters had in any recent presidential election … Had young people not voted, Obama would have led McCain by only about 1.5 percentage points instead of seven.”

Years since have produced less impressive results. A 2016 Millennial Report from the Case Foundation, an institution that creates programs to address chronic social challenges, sought to understand how millennials would engage with the causes they support during a presidential election. This report was part of a longer-term project called the Millennial Impact Project. Conducted under the assumption that the Millennial generation would be one of revolutionary change, the study intended to “amplify the voices” of the Millennial generation through “research, discussions and convenings.”

The study found that the generation of “movers and shakers” were not as radical as had been predicted. The report hypothesized that the presidential election would change the way Millennials engaged with social causes. According to the Case Foundation, “After three waves of quantitative surveys and a deeper qualitative post-election survey, the results show [the election] did not.”

Dissimilar to what was predicted, the study found that “Millennials reject labels, and specifically the term ‘activist,'” and concluded that “Millennials prefer creating change among family and friends, rather than large networks.” The study further concluded, “The results seemed to challenge everything we thought we knew about this ‘next greatest generation’ of change-makers.”

This being the case, it is important that young, eligible voters band together for greater social causes. If the Millennial generation puts up a change-making front but fails to back up its image with tangible change, it will not be able to harness its potential as a significant portion of the voting population.

Similarly reported by the Center for Information Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, young voters in the 2016 elected voted at a similar rate to the previous primary election in 2012 — close to 50 percent. This was comparatively low to the significant increase in Millennial votes between the 2004 and 2008 primary elections.

Given both of these notions — that the number of millennials have reached the number of Baby Boomers, and that Millennials have recently failed to exercise their right to vote — it is as important as ever that young people engage in political discussion and better understand political ideology.

Students and professionals spend years of their lives dedicated to the study of political science, but this should not intimidate those less-dedicated to politics in the least. Of course, it is best to obtain a strong grasp on America’s political workings before hitting the polls, but more practically for some, involvement can be as simple as reading the news for 20 minutes each day, taking an extra political science course in school or conducting a quick google search to learn more about elected officials in your area (You can find your House of Representatives member here, and guidelines for how to contact them here).

In a New York Times op-ed column titled “Please Don’t Call Him Presidential,” writer Michelle Goldberg urged readers not to take Trump’s State of the Union Address seriously. While it is valid to disagree with the president or his beliefs, a sense of animosity is not a valid reason for ignoring what is widely considered to be an important political event. Whether you personally agree with the content or the manner of the speech, you should still watch with open eyes and ears, if for nothing else, to remain informed and better formulate personal opinions, be they in accordance with Trump or not. It is far better to understand troubling material than to live in the shadows, unaware of the workings of our world.

A previous editorial from the Lariat emphasized the importance of taking into our own hands the search for truth and justice: “We need to demand integrity from our leaders, but during the absence of honesty in this administration, it is our responsibility to combat government-sourced lies with individually-found truths.” Thus, while tuning into the political chatter channeled through the media is important, it is equally important to conduct your own research and personally fact check your sources. Remain informed, but be diligent in filtering the information you entertain as truth.

Feb. 5 was the last day to register as a Texas voter for the primaries on March 6. Though unfortunate for those who missed the deadline, it is never too late to redeem one’s lack of political engagement by, respectably and out of curiosity, tuning into political discourse. Looking ahead, Tuesday, Oct. 9 is the last day Texans can register to vote for the general election on Nov. 6, 2018. All of Texas’ executive officers will be up for election, as well as a seat in the Senate and all 36 seats in the House of Representatives.