Millennials aren’t checked out of the ballot box

by Jose Gutierrez

Millennials have a notorious reputation. Older generations call us lazy, narcissistic, entitled and delusional. One of the most prominent stereotypes is that Generation Y is that we’re politically apathetic. I used to believe that to be true, that we cared more about the number of likes on our profile photos than about our chaotic American government. I was in a grand illusion that millennials lived in a politically-indifferent bubble detached from society, but that’s not the case at all.

To see the profound influence we’ve had on the American government, one should look no further than President Barack Obama. It’s no secret that the younger generation favored him more than the other presidential hopefuls, but just take a moment to realize that either Sen. John McCain or Mitt Romney could quite possibly be the current president of the United States had we not voted.

In 2008, the Huffington Post reported that out of Obama’s margin of nine million more popular votes than that of Johan McCain, approximately seven million of those were cast by millennials.

In 2012, millennial votes were responsible for swaying the swing states of Ohio, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Florida to re-elect Obama. These four states represent 80 electoral votes that would have gone to Romney had we not voted.

According to Politico, “About half of all eligible people ages 18-29 voted in (the 2012 presidential election), roughly the same level as 2008.”

The same article mentions that in the ‘90s, the then youthful voters of Generation X had regular turnouts of less than 40 percent.

Needless to say, our voices, our votes and our impact are not to be underestimated. We’ve made history within two presidential elections alone, not to mention we’re more politically engaged than the previous generation was at our age. Not bad for a so-called “apathetic” generation, right? But still, statistics love to point the other direction.

A fall 2013 survey conducted by Harvard on 2,089 18-to-29-year-olds found that of the 68 percent of participants registered to vote, only 22 percent consider themselves to be politically active or engaged.

Back in 2010, the Pew Research Center conducted a 13-question political news quiz on 1,000 adults aged 18 and older. Their results indicated that the age group of 18 to 29-year-olds scored the lowest on this quiz compared to the other age groups.

[quote]We may have strongly influenced the historical 2008 and 2012 elections, but apparently most of us don’t even consider ourselves to be politically active.[/quote] So how is it that we have a notable influence in the realm of politics, yet we don’t consider ourselves engaged? It’s because being politically engaged means more than just voting for a president every four years. Heaven knows I voted in the 2012 election and I don’t consider myself politically engaged. This whole notion of young-voter apathy is hardly a new idea. We don’t care too much for politics at this age, but apparently the baby boomers didn’t either.

According to the New York Times, “In 1976, when boomers were between 18 and 30 years old, their turnout rate was 50 percent. In 2008, 51 percent of millennials—ages 18 to 28 at the time—voted.”

The article continues, “And in 1972, when boomers had many incentives to go to the polls, including the Vietnam-era draft, the numbers still weren’t too different. A total of 54 percent of boomers voted in the Nixon-McGovern election, versus 49 percent of millennials in the 2004 Bush-Kerry race.”

[quote]The grand baby boomers, who unapologetically scold us for being politically apathetic, had relatively the same turnout rates that we have now.[/quote] So while I can’t definitely say that age and political apathy have a positive correlation, I can at least say that it’s a trend observable in several generations.

Being relatively young, at least compared to the rest of the voters, we’re still transitioning into adulthood. Up until now, most of us have had severely limited interactions with our government. At this age, we don’t always fully comprehend the influence that politics has on our lives. Once we start paying taxes, looking for jobs and becoming independent adults, we’ll hopefully understand the importance of political engagement.

This whole idea of millennials being politically apathetic is absurd and I apologize for ever believing that to be true. We may have the lowest turnout rates compared to other age groups, but a 50 percent turnout rate isn’t exactly apathy; apathy would be a zero percent turnout rate. I expect the defining issues of our generation to be student debt and privacy rights–right NSA?

It’s a well-known fact that older generations are more politically engaged. Like liver spots, wrinkles and nasolabial creases, more political engagement will come as we age. However, for the time being, we need to realize that we’re not as apathetic as others paint us to be. One day, we’re probably going to be calling Generation Z politically apathetic too.