Millennials And Gen-Zers Have The Power To Not Only Shape This Presidential Election But The Democratic Party
It's time to pass the baton.
This is the weekly column written by Blavity:Politics Senior Editor Kandist Mallett.
In the 2008 primary, Millennials were the young voters who shook the polls and rattled the Democratic party. We came out for the 2008 Democratic primary in 5% higher numbers than we did in 2004, and we were able to help elect the first Black president of the United States.
Millennials voted at a higher percentage for Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton on Super Tuesday in 2008, according to Pew Research data, mainly because he ran a more progressive campaign than Clinton. Throughout the election cycle, Obama was an unlikely frontrunner that the power establishment ruled out because they did not bank on younger voters showing up to the polls.
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For many Millennials, the 2008 Democratic primary or national election was the first time they voted. And though Obama’s campaign and win did a lot to bring younger voters into the electoral process, his presidency resulted in that same demographic eventually growing apathetic toward electoral politics. Into his second term, a Harvard poll found that Obama's approval rating with Millennials dropped to just 41%. His move toward a more moderate center after winning the presidency made us feel like we shouldn’t expect change from D.C.
As a result, movements like Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter took wind during his presidency. Activism and direct action took center stage, and the Democratic party, yet again, felt out of touch.
Twelve years after Obama was voted into office, a new generation of first-time voters is primed to yet again rock the party. While we won’t know the impact that Gen Z will have on the 2020 election until after the primaries and November national election, there are signs that they will vote for the more progressive, left-leaning candidate.
Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders received two major endorsements from youth-led organizations, Dream Defenders and the Sunrise Movement. Dream Defenders, who describe themselves as “an organization of young, powerful people organizing towards a new vision for safety away from prisons,” endorsed the Democratic socialist candidate. Dream Defenders also had a hand in Amendment 4 passing and heavily pushed for Andrew Gillum's gubernatorial run in the 2018 midterm election.
The Sunrise Movement is an environmental organization that has been a big supporter of the Green New Deal, which Sanders and his opponent Sen. Elizabeth Warren are both co-sponsors of. The Sunrise Movement made a point to mention in a Medium post that their endorsement for Sanders was not a statement against any of the other campaigns.
“We’d like to acknowledge and praise the campaign of Senator Elizabeth Warren who, at 17.4% of the vote, was the only other candidate to receive greater than a few handfuls of votes from our members,” the organization said in the post.
According to a recurring poll conducted by Business Insider, both Sanders (70%) and Warren (65.6%) are polling the highest with those in the 18-29 age range. There’s only a 1.2% difference between the 18-29 group and 60+ voters for Warren, according to the BI poll, while Sanders dropped 39% with voters age 60 and older. This means that for Sanders to win the nomination, he needs to see the sort of young voter turnout that Obama saw in 2008.
Gen Zers have proven to be more interested in progressive politics, according to polling conducted by Pew Research. And unlike Millennials, who may be more jaded by the electoral process, Gen Zers are eager to push for change, especially around issues like the climate crisis. If the Democratic party wants to ensure a high voter turnout with the youth, they need to be supportive of a progressive platform, no matter who the nominee turns out to be.
As Millennials age, so are our interests. We are dealing with the fact that we’re no longer on our parent's insurance and our parents are aging. This means health care is an issue we are paying close attention to, as well as, taxes, the economy and stagnant wages. As the largest voting bloc, our politics lean closer to Gen Zers than Gen Xers. This is probably because of our experience with the financial crisis and the wave of social movements that took place during the last decade. The 18-38 demographic, which are the eligible voters for both Zoomers and Millennials, have the power to shape not only the Democratic nomination for president but the House, as well.
The Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) was able to run successful primaries against incumbent, moderate or conservative Democrats. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's election was an example of that. This year, we will see more Millennial candidates run for office, like Congressional candidate Anthony Clark, who is 37 and running in Illinois' 7th District. Clark is running against Rep. Danny Davis, a Democratic candidate who is in both the Black and Progressive caucuses.
When is it time for older, incumbent elected officials to step aside and let the next generation of Democratic leaders take charge? If the party truly wants to increase the young voter turnout, then giving younger candidates the opportunity to run should also be a part of its agenda. It’s important that the younger generations are seen as viable policymakers and not just a voting constituency for the base.
Last year, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) made it more difficult for incumbents to be unseated. In a policy for the Standards for DCCC Political Vendors, the DCCC stated, “the DCCC will not conduct business with, nor recommend to any of its targeted campaigns, any consultant that works with an opponent of a sitting Member of the House Democratic Caucus."
This an obvious response to people like Rep. Ayanna Pressley, Ocasio-Cortez, and Rep. Ro Khanna, who all unseated Democratic incumbents, and clearly shows that the DCCC is not interested in ensuring a space for the next generation of politicians. Instead, it seems to want to decrease the opportunity for that by discouraging challengers of incumbent candidates.
Millennials and Gen Zers will play an important role in both the Democratic primary and national elections in November. If Democrats want them to actually show up to the polls, then they are going to have to give them a reason to do so other than just getting Trump out of office.