Millennials may sit out the 2016 election on Tuesday. Or they may turn out en masse. Nobody really knows which of these scenarios will play out. After half a decade spent speaking with more than 10,000 millennials about their political views, we certainly don’t.
A full 17% of young men and 13% of young women say they won’t vote for either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. With millennials now representing a third of the electorate, these holdouts could sway the outcome of the election, especially in key swing states like Ohio and Florida, where young independent voters tend to have outsized influence. Already, Ohio early voting data released on October 31st shows signs a 3% drop in millennial turnout.
Democrats are spending millions of dollars and thousands of hours trying to engage young people in the political process and get Bernie Sanders’ supporters to the polls. For example, this summer the Clinton campaign hired Sanders staffers to launch a “Millennial Engagement Program.” Recent polls indicate that this strategy is working—Hillary leads Trump 58 percent to 22 among young men and 53 percent to 17 percent among young women.
Democrats have also moved left on issues like college debt and black lives matter to align themselves with millennial voters. Surrogates like Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker and even President Obama have hit the campaign trail focusing on these issues. Democrats are hoping these “millennial champions” will spur voter turnout.
Pundits are prepared to blame millennials if this strategy goes awry. Media personalities are quick to label millennials as being “apathetic” and “incoherent.”
“If they hate the political system so much, millennials should vote,” we are constantly reminded.
This argument is falling on deaf ears. For millennials, this election is not just a referendum on Democratic and Republican policies, but an indictment of our political system itself. After decades of failed wars and economic policies that have exacerbated income inequality and left half of all millennials living paycheck to paycheck, millennials have lost faith in our political system to solve their problems.
For a generation that is accustomed to fast-paced change, millennials don’t want to be “be patient” and “wait their turn.” As artificial intelligence and globalization radically change our economy, we need our leaders to be more dynamic than ever. And yet instead, our leaders bicker over emails and taxes.
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Instead of offering big answers to big problems—like how to ignite innovation, harness globalization and reeducate our workforce—we must watch our politicians squabble over gun control and gay marriage (issues that should have been resolved a long time ago). We debate carpet-bombing vs. negotiation in Syria instead of carefully thinking about how to strategically respond to the threat posed by ISIS. Our political system is geared to partisan warfare at a time when nuance and compromise are more important than ever before.
Is it any wonder, then, that millennials are demanding a complete disruption of the political system, as we know it?
Come on America, our house is on fire.
David and Jack Cahn, both college students, are co-authors of When Millennials Rule: The Reshaping of America.