How does one inspire a generation of notoriously disaffected voters? Fear. Political revolution. The endorsement of the president.
This year’s candidates have played these cards. And in some cases, they’ve worked. But I look around at my generation of millennials and see not passion, but dissatisfaction.
Come November, millennials who get out and vote will be the ones who are inspired. They might be inspired to vote for a candidate. They might be inspired to vote against a candidate. They might be inspired to vote on an issue – LGBTQ rights, Supreme Court vacancy or immigration.
The slow and steady politics of reason have lost out with us in favor of the shouts for immediate change. Maybe it’s because young people are impatient, inexperienced or used to instant gratification. Maybe we see a system that just doesn’t work for us.
That’s not to say we can’t be inspired. Last November, Sen. Bernie Sanders came to my school, Georgetown University, to speak about democratic socialism. Friends of mine set their alarms for 4:30 a.m. and camped out in the pouring rain in front of Gaston Hall, where Sanders was set to speak at 2 p.m.
The excitement was tangible. “Feel the Bern” chants echoed around campus, and those lucky enough to get a seat in Gaston Hall, filled to its 700-plus capacity, spoke raptly about the event for weeks.
And it wasn’t just at Georgetown. Sanders excited young people across the country. A poll by Harvard University’s Institute of Politics, released in April, ranked Sanders the most popular presidential candidate by far – 54 percent of voters between ages 18 and 29 ranked him favorably while just 31 percent viewed him unfavorably. Hillary Clinton was ranked favorably by just 37 percent of millennials and unfavorably by 53 percent. Only 17 percent held a favorable view of Donald Trump, and 74 percent viewed him unfavorably.
Sanders didn’t just inspire millennials, he mobilized them. With the youth vote helping propel Barack Obama to the presidency in 2008 and again in 2012, there is no questioning the political power millennials have – but only if we decide to use it.
The problem is, we are known for not exercising our political power – our right to vote. According to the Pew Research Center, the highest turnout for millennial voters was in 2008 when 50 percent of eligible youth voted. The only reason it was so high was because Obama’s candidacy inspired young people.
The inspiration Sanders ignited is angrier and more volatile than that of Obama. Just look at the protests disrupting the Democratic National Convention this past week.
Even at UC Davis, Sanders supporters proved impassioned and overwhelming to those supporting other candidates.
Sofia Molodanof, director of communications for UC Davis Students for Hillary, said the political atmosphere on campus is less than welcoming. When Sanders’ campaign was in full swing, she hesitated to tell people she supported Clinton. When she did express her support, she was met with eye rolls, disdain and argumentative Bernie supporters.
This election is rooted in emotion, whether it’s fear, love or hate. Sanders’ supporters seem to mirror him. At times, they can be angry, loud and in your face. They proudly proclaimed their admiration and devotion to Sanders, even when his campaign began to wane.
Clinton’s backers are quieter and steadier in their support. They may not have been screaming their voices hoarse at rallies, but they were there.
Trump’s supporters seem filled with anxiety and fear for the future. He might not have been their first choice, but lots of young people are adamant in their opposition to Clinton.
Many millennials plan to vote against a candidate. At least they’re passionate about something.
If we can learn anything from trends of years past, it’s that many young people probably won’t vote in November. They won’t be inspired, they won’t care enough. I won’t be one of those who doesn’t vote.
This will be my first time voting in a presidential election, so even though none of the candidates inspired me, I plan on exercising my right to vote.
But my dispassionate attitude changed as I watched the Democratic National Convention and thought more about what was at stake. I am passionate about equality, inclusion and access for people with disabilities, and those issues were in the spotlight in Philadelphia.
So, instead of trying to get inspired by two flawed politicians, millennials should focus on what they’re passionate about.
For all the apathy, most young people are passionate about something – climate change, social justice or their mounting college debt. Take that passion and match it up with the candidate who will deal with that issue.
Then, get excited.
Follow her on Twitter @aly_pachter