Voting Needs to Focus on Interests of the Youngest Generation

Dec 4, 2018

It is no surprise that my generation is generally very pessimistic about the state of the world, and disappointed by the people who made decisions before us. 

This is not a new idea, and not something unique to my generation. However, I would argue that my generation has more reason than most to feel disappointed in the generations above us, and that these feelings are valid. This has affected the way we vote (if we even vote at all), and that has to change. This change won’t come from young people, but instead from the inclusion of older voters, and from a societal change surrounding how much young people matter. 

The idea of kids and teenagers being powerless is a well-documented one. Many generations have rolled their eyes at their parents’ shortcomings, waiting patiently for the day when they get to create the change they wish to see. I firmly believe that my generation has much more to complain about because the decisions made by our parents and grandparents will eventually ruin the world we know today. Many issues that were once fixable now seem irremediable because of the negligence of our parents’ generation. 

Scientists predicted climate change long before it became a mainstream, political topic. School shootings didn’t begin with Sandy Hook or Parkland. Plastic waste has existed since plastic became popular in the 1960s. My generation was born into a world in which society was already aware of many issues, but hadn’t yet decided to do anything about them. 

With all that being said, it seems like this would make young people more inclined to vote, but actually, the opposite is true. 

Millennials, defined here as people aged 18-35, historically have the lowest voter turnout of any age group, despite rivaling Baby Boomers in terms of number. Both generations make up roughly 31 percent of the voting population, yet only 46 percent of millenials voted in the 2012 presidential election, according to the Pew Research Center. Comparatively, 69 percent of Baby Boomers voted in 2012, along with 72 percent of the “Silent Generation,” those aged 71 and up, according to the Pew center's research

Some sources claim that millennial voter turnout increased from 46.4 to 49.4 percent between 2012 and 2016, which, although heartening, simply isn’t enough to make a difference, particularly when Baby Boomers stay consistent in their voting patterns, with 20 percent more boomers than millenials voting every presidential election. It is hard for young people to remember how important it is to vote when voting booths don’t feel like places welcome and open to us. 

The stigma surrounding young people has to change. The generalization of “old white men” making decisions extends past politicians who represent us. It is true among voters, too, and so many young people are disgruntled because of it. This is why voter turnout for young people was so low in 2016. 

Yes, the decisions being made now affect us most. But for many of us, neither of the candidates in 2016 truly represented us. We felt ignored and thrown to the wayside. We didn’t think anyone heard our cries. In a polarized political climate, the people getting left out are the ones who matter the most in the long run. 

The world of politics has been closed off to younger generations for too long. Not only that, but so many people feel threatened by the power that young people possess that it often feels like we're being shoved out of decisions that influence us far more than the majority of the voting populus. After all, the decisions being made now will have their full extent realized 20 or so years from now, when many of the current politicians and their voters won’t be around to see the consequences of their decisions. 

This isn’t to say that young people aren’t vocal, or don’t want to vote based on their beliefs. Young people have found other ways to share their opinions and make themselves heard, but these often fail to create lasting change. 

Yes, young people have a voice through avenues such as rallies and social media. For example, in March, over 1.2 million people participated in what has been hailed “one of the biggest youth protests since the Vietnam War.” This revolutionary event was labeled the March For Our Lives. 

This event was organized by teens who had seen unspeakable things, and who recognized that something needed to change. They were able to motivate a country to both literally and figuratively stand up for what they believed in. This is powerful, but the aftermath of the March For Our Lives has been, honestly, underwhelming. People who once claimed gun control to be the most important issue in their lives quickly gave up and moved on when politicians didn’t seem to be listening. 

This is one of the issues with social media and it being the only way young people have a voice. It’s extremely fast paced. Everything is about being in the moment, 24-hour time spans, and 10-second videos. Sure, in March it was guns that had millennials fired up; but, in June it was the infamous plastic straws. It is impossible to predict what fad will come next. 

Young people are great at creating movements and then moving on as soon as another bright, shiny topic hits the news. Voting, on the other hand, lasts. The vote you cast today will lead to someone being confirmed three months, who will make decisions for the next two, four, or six years, whose decisions will continue to matter long after that timeline. In a time of short attention spans and moving screens, these long-term effects are hard to rationalize. 

The other problem with young people and social movements is this: Having a voice isn’t the same as making a difference. 

No matter how many marches are organized, or posts are passed around, they still rarely lead to policy change and a tangible impact in the world. It is so daunting to think of what our world will look like 50 years from now, that it often feels easier to do nothing but these loud, yet insignificant, actions. Shouting often feels easier than voting, especially when our votes feel so small. Being together and physically standing up for a cause feels like it does more than casting a vote, alone, but this is one thing that young people have got wrong. 

This is not something that can continue. Action must be taken, and it’s not young people’s place to make this change. This change comes from older voters bringing younger people to the table, giving them a seat, shutting up, and truly listening 

There is a widespread suspicion at my school that one of our teachers lets his children make decisions about voting issues, and then he votes accordingly. More parents should adopt this approach of listening and acting based on the opinions of their children, seeing as these are the people who will have to deal with the full force of the consequences of their actions. 

Rallies are important. Walkouts and sit-ins form movements, as do social media campaigns, but they aren’t everything. At the end of the day, young people are still wildly frustrated by the state of not only the country but also the world, and voting booths are overrun with people who won’t be here to see the consequences of their votes. If parents and grandparents truly want to see a better world for their children like they so often claim, they need to start acting like it, and vote like it. 

Riley Stevenson is a student at Lincoln Academy in Newcastle.