Turns Out, Young People Don’t Care about Politics.
They care about change.
I had the opportunity to sit down with a local high school senior and talk politics today and the results were both expected and unexpected at the same time. Here’s what I gathered from a few hours of casual talk over coffee with a 17 year old girl, only a few days before she turns 18, and the election mail starts to show up with her name on it.
Do You Talk Politics in School?
“It’s hard to talk about, people have a lot of different perspectives.”
She told me it depended on who you talked to, but no matter what, it was different. Even in agreement. Many conversations are happening for the first time so ideas and frameworks of belief are being challenged and reinforced, often in the same conversation. Disagreements can be so polar that the conversation isn’t worth the aftermath. Imagine feeling your first tough break-up while your endocrine system is set to “Send It!” and Landon from AP Psych asks you “Do you think we should build a wall between us and Mexico?”
The young demographic is changing, the internet age is in full swing, the nature of information has undergone a dramatic transformation, and there is no turning back. In the 90s, information was “accessible”, but we hadn’t worked out the kinks with actually “accessing” it. Computers were clunky, and interacting with them – a nightmare. The 2000s brought Operating Systems that increased user friendliness to the point that Even a child could use the computer. Big point here, this is where things got radical.
The Information Age and it’s…Spawn.
As she steps into adulthood, “Z” will bring with her nearly a decade of experience interacting with information on a global scale. She has seen the North Pole on live feed, the twin towers fall every September when “new” footage is found, she’s been incessantly marketed to, and she’s heard the opinions of just about anyone who can type and get on Facebook or Twitter. She’s probably seen people she didn’t know having sex in a Hollywood mansion through the eyes of whatever camera-man Brazzers paid to film the ordeal.
These weren’t your grandparent’s kids and they are adults now. Young Millennials and the first wave of Gen Z adults entered the world in a grand state of flux, their ideologies are influenced by the world.
What Matters Now?
“People talk about the environment a lot, but we don’t really talk about social issues and economic reform.”
At her school, “Z” takes an AP Government class and she finds herself engaged in more political conversation than some of her classmates, however she does see politically active members of her school outside of class. She doesn’t seem to hear much talk about foreign policy, economic issues, or even the media-popularized social justice issues. Apparently these things are not at the forefront of their minds.
Many of the issues that plague America aren’t tangible to the average young adult. There is awareness, certainly, but deep discussion requires an even deeper understanding. The Environment, however, is inescapable. There is trash in roadways, smog in the air and signs that say “Reduce, Re-use, Recycle” placed above the waste receptacles in many public places. The youth of today understand that the world has not been made “better” by human habitation, at least not for anyone/anything that isn’t also human. Millennials and Gen Z’s want our government to be a positive force for change, they want policies that hold those that have enacted the most harm responsible for their negligence.
How Will Candidates Get the Youth to Vote?
Well, that’s a toughy.
Historically, the 18-25 demographic has had an abysmal turnout at the polls. Since the 80’s, the average election has netted between 30% and 35% of eligible voters aged 18-25. That means only 1 out of every 3 young people actually shows up and votes. Hence the title of this article. But how does that change?
Politics needs to get online, and the manner in which politicians present themselves online is going to be the biggest factor in numbers at the poll from this demographic. There is definitely a clear negative perception of Donald Trump, but what young people are drawn to about him is his obvious separation from the norm as far as politicians go. The youth aren’t looking for a fake, please-all polished persona that hides the truth behind a carefully practiced Duchenne smile. We are aware of the fact that even the people with the most power are still, just people, and people are not perfect.
An example of a winning strategy for engaging the youth with politics is Tulsi Gabbard’s appearance on Joe Rogan’s podcast The Joe Rogan Experience. Tulsi’s conversation with Joe spanned over 2 hours and covered topics ranging from environmentalism, military reform, and socioeconomic issues and at no point did she strap on the insincere T.V. personality that you saw from candidates like Hillary Clinton in 2016. She spoke as if she was having a conversation with her neighbor about their HOA. Everything seemed… genuine. Her opinions weren’t just soundbites to be collected and broadcasted by a campaign, her ideas were fluid and open to challenge. She did not back down from tough topics but at the same time she was aware of ignorance when discussions got to a point where her confidence in her own understanding wasn’t strong enough to make a clear position. This is not an endorsement of her campaign, I want to be clear there, but it would be a grave mistake not to see the immense potential in having more… human candidates. There are conspiracy theorists with large audiences that claim some candidates are reptiles and frankly, the candidates in question are not doing much to alter that perception, conspiracies aside.
A candidate who wins with the 18-25 demographic will have a large online presence, not dictated solely by politics. Trust isn’t as cheap as it used to be. Sure Bernie Sanders is popular among millennials and Gen Z, but he targets them specifically, he speaks about change that they will feel, he campaigns on platforms they actually inhabit, in media they actually consume.
Suede: The Millennial Perspective
I graduated high school in sunny Southern California in the year 2012. My adult life could be summed up with one word: Change. I have held more jobs in different industries than I can count on my hands, I’ve built a studio and recorded an album, I’ve sold mushrooms, taught myself graphic design and built custom beach buggies that show up in the first page of google images. Why am I telling You this? Because, as much as I’d like to think I’m special, I am not. People like me exist all over America. We can learn anything we’re willing to put our minds to and the possibilities are limited only by our power of will and dedication.
Politicians are starting to notice us and it won’t be long before the entire face of politics is dictated online. The candidate who grabs my attention will be the one who speaks to me as the voter with respect, both for my ignorance and for my intelligence. I don’t want to be lied to, I don’t want to be coddled. I do however want to focus on solutions, I want to see the ugly truths that have been piling up under the rugs from years of haphazard sweeping.
The earth will shake us off like ants in the grand scheme, we can’t “hurt” it in any real capacity. We can hurt ourselves, we can hurt our kids, and their kids. Humans need to make some changes. If we are going to continue inhabiting this planet and, if we care (even a little) about the other life-forms, that change needs to start happening very soon. It already has, but we are certainly in the infant stages.
The economy is global and a good politician is going to need to be able to relay that effectively, America is in fairly dire straits economically even though it may seem to be on the up and up. Believe me, I’ve noticed the value of The Dollar decreasing and the cost of living increasing. Remember the Dollar Menu? I remember the Dollar Menu. We Import a substantial quantity of goods from other countries and we export very little in comparison. We are a consumer economy and will soon be at the whim of production economies because of that.
We care about Women’s Rights, the kinds that aren’t written in law but are instead practiced in the every day. Women are due some special attention from law makers and from the male population. Men are really good at power games and women have been on the receiving end for a long time. There are issues with real scary implications like Rape Culture that, extremists aside, really speak to the difference in experience between men and women walking the street. There is a societal evolution taking place that needs to be carefully cultivated while allowing nature to take its course.
Religion in America needs to be kept at a safe distance from governing affairs. We may still be a largely Christian nation, but our nation’s religious spirit is undergoing a tough transition from the ways of old to the ways of new and sometimes the opposite. There are a surprising number of Witches in America. Some of our laws and political ideas are based on a moral framework inherited from the colonizers of this land and America simply isn’t the same place it used to be. The people aren’t the same as they used to be.
I have hope for the future, the youth of today are stepping into a bubbling kettle of possibility where so many things are ready to emerge that one needs only pay attention and act with a purpose to change the entire world.
Young people don’t care about politics, they just want to see change enacted by humans with good intentions. The party system, the bureaucracy, the “politics” game, don’t matter to us. If you want the millennial vote and the growing Gen Z vote, we are online, talk to us there. If you don’t play games with us and speak the truth, you’ll go far, fast.