“Young people should not disengage in politics after they cast the vote… Continue to meet with elected officials. Host town halls. Talk to your peers. Don’t be disenfranchised.”
The United States presidential election 2016 is unarguably creating two abominable things: history, and chaos. As statistical trends about the infeasibility of politically experienced businessmen becoming presidential candidates are thrown into the dumpster fire caused by this election, and as populism grows despite the strength of the U.S. economy and growth in the last 4 years, this election has already upended predictions and faith in the American democratic system.
As Donald Trump’s growth continues and disenfranchised, unemployed, and forgotten white male Americans from middle-America come to the forefront in droves to support a “speaks his mind” outsider who lies more than any other politician, another truth-telling, rancorous, eccentric man’s words come to mind.
Winston Churchill once said:
“The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.”
That statement is no more applicable than in an election whose outcome could be a serious danger to the world’s economy, but whose drivers are seriously misinformed voters on the left and the right.
Given the rise of Donald Trump on the right and Senator Bernie Sanders on the left, the importance young and new voters have had on this election, is becoming increasingly evident. In light of this, IPF contacted the Roosevelt Institute, a liberal think-tank and partner to the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum. We spoke to Joelle Gamble, the National Director of the Roosevelt Network, about how young voters can get involved in one of the most consequential elections of the last century.
Why have young people prioritised the vote over the dollar?
Young people understand the significance of the role of money in politics – both in elections and in the legislative process. However, we’re still in a place where people are scaling up solutions for curbing the influence of politics. At the national level, the vote is important because we don’t have a comprehensive solution. On the local level, there are many more solutions – but solutions are not comprehensive, and younger voters don’t feel confident in the legislative process.
Beyond hoping for a Supreme Court decision on Citizens United or Congress repealing that decision, what do you think younger voters can do to undo the effects of the ruling?
To not disengage in politics after they cast the vote, and continue to meet with elected officials. Host town halls. Talk to your peers. Don’t be disenfranchised.
How should the Republican Party reform?
According to the Pew Research Center, this generation is the least likely to affiliate with either party. So it’s not a big concern of everyone becoming a Democrat, as much as it is a generation that is focused on issues, and doesn’t trust institutions. Instead, they want to reform the institutions.
For Republicans, the challenge is how to get this generation, which doesn’t see this Republican Party as representative, to become more fair and inclusive for traditionally marginalised voters like single women and women in general.
Younger voters have traditionally been involved in the presidential election, but show apathy towards congressional elections held every 2 years. What can be done to incentivise turnout?
It’s about civic infrastructure. In presidential politics, presidential candidates invest in civic infrastructure, but in a non-presidential election year, you don’t see that. That’s a problem, because that noticeable absence means that it’s difficult to get information, but also because it gives this perception that national politics and political parties only care about your vote every four years. And there are voting restrictions – registration, remembering primary dates, election dates, etc. Online registration isn’t always possible; it’s just very difficult to get involved in voting. There are groups that are trying to remedy this, but they still have to scale, which still requires investment from larger political infrastructure.
What should we do? Join some sort of crowd-based campaign, like the Roosevelt Network. Having this is one of the ways to stay involved in politics. There are organisations that get involved in economic justice, and being involved means it’s easier to care when something happens during a local or state issue. Part of the Roosevelt campaign is to change who gets to write the rules – and get younger voters more noticed.
One of the major findings in the Roosevelt Network’s Blueprint for Millennial America was investing in the social safety net and infrastructure, while keeping costs down. These two things are contradictory. Do you think that younger voters expect a bigger government? Is there a bias in the blueprint given that college-going voters are more likely to be democratic?
This generation overall is more progressive than prior generations (both the Roosevelt Network and Frank Luntz came out with such results). Even though we focus on college students and undergrads, we don’t focus on progressivism.
Younger voters don’t want a big/small government. They want an efficient government that prioritizes the needs of the people, e.g. the outsized role of the financial system or fixing the criminal justice system.
A lot of the “millennial visions” in the Blueprint talk about plans similar to those proposed by Bernie Sanders, which is no surprise given how the youth vote is in his hands. How realistic do you think his plans are?
Young people flock to Sanders because they appreciate the framework and vision that is being proposed by Sanders; rather than overlooking the infeasibility of his plans. We have to set a benchmark that is aggressive; you must set a vision that speaks to the long term, and then figure out what gets to that vision.
In the blueprint, you talk about defense and developing and executing a plan for global leadership. However, historically the lowest percentage of the American population is now serving in the military, giving service an aura of invincibility. What can younger voters do to critique the military and change how it runs things? How can younger voters be more involved in the government?
I am the daughter of two Marine Corps sergeants. But [serving in the military] is not the only way to serve your country. Our generation has pretty high rates of community service and civic participation. Continuing with community service as a multifaceted thing is important.
Young people running for office is a very important prerogative for those currently in office, and making that a clear path for younger people.
For example, New York funds campaigns at a local level. Young folks can also get involved in government service, which is part of a longer term goal: making sure that the government works. However, the next government we elect needs to do more to be involved with this generation, since they have the power to swing elections and make a difference.