I was born in June of 1994, right in the middle of the “Millennial” generation. Several sources disagree on when the true millennial generation begins and ends, but the term generally encompasses people who were born between the early 1980’s and the early 2000’s. We are the generation that saw the rise of technology, the fall of the Twin Towers and we will witness one of the most important and polarizing elections in the history of the United States - the 2016 Presidential Election. Yet, we are constantly deemed one of the most apathetic generations in politics.
Millennials have overtaken the Baby Boomer generation by about half a million people as of 2015. The Baby Boomer generation, defined by the huge increase in population after WWII, has long been seen as the most populous generation. It peaked in 1999 at a total of 78.8 million people. As Baby Boomers are dying and Millennials are coming of age, the shift in policy, economics and education becomes more apparent every year and every election.
Millennials are more likely to have college degrees than other generations. They are also more likely to study social sciences and applied fields than other generations. Conversely, there has been a huge decrease in millennials studying education. As a student at SUNY Potsdam, the oldest education school in the SUNY system, I found this fact very interesting. I actually began my education at Potsdam as a Music Education student, but after my sophomore year, I decided to focus more on performing and business than education. Because more millennials are pursuing college degrees, many millennials are also reliant on student loans and scholarships to attend college. This has already proven to be a huge factor in how millennials are deciding to vote. Candidate Bernie Sanders had a huge millennial following because of his proposals for cutting tuition costs at public universities.
So why is the millennial vote so important in 2016? Like I mentioned early, our generation saw the rise of technology - Technology shaped us and in return, we have shaped it. Social media has become a huge asset on the campaign trail. Twitter and Facebook are the largest ways for candidates to reach their voters, particularly their millennial voters. I’ll be the first to admit that I am overly attached to my cell phone and I follow several politicians on Twitter. Unfortunately, like all social media, using Twitter can sometimes backfire on candidates, like the Twitter fight between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in early June of 2016. Political pundits also use social media to comment on the campaign, like John Oliver’s twenty-two minute rant on Donald Trump, resulting in the hashtag #MakeDonaldDrumpfAgain. The use of technology and social media in modern presidential campaigns is unavoidable and millennials are taking notice.
When I took AP Government and Politics in my senior year of high school, we were required to register to vote and we spent a lot of time discussing the 2012 political election. Social media had begun playing a role in presidential campaigns, taking the place of more traditional television campaigns, but was still in its infancy as a political tool. Many of our discussions resulted in our teacher pleading with us to go out and vote as often as we could once we turned eighteen. Millennial voter turnout in 2012 charted at about fifty percent, meaning that only half of millennials that are eligible to vote showed up to the polls and cast their votes. This number was only twenty percent during the midterm election of 2014. About fifty percent of millennials say that they will definitely vote in the 2016 election. About eighteen percent respond that they follow the election very closely, with another forty-two percent responding that they follow the election somewhat closely.
The millennial generation is now the largest living generation in the United States and our numbers are only expected to grow, peaking at around 81 million in 2036. In some other countries, voting is compulsory, meaning that if you do not show up to vote, you can be fined. When we have the largest numbers, why are we allowing other generations to sway elections? We have the population to make a difference in the upcoming Presidential election, so let’s use it.