Article originally published in The Georgetowner
By Robert Weiner and Christina McDowell
On November 6 th 2018, all 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and 34 of the 100 seats in the U.S. Senate will be up for re-election. Democrats might have a shot at flipping Congress--if they get youth to the polls.
Millennials have surpassed the Baby Boomers as America's largest generation with 75.4 million compared to 74.9 million, according to Pew Research Center. By 2018, every Millennial will be above the legal voting age, and as the number of deaths among Boomers grows, Millennials have the potential to rock congress in the midterm elections.
However, Millennials 18-34 have the lowest voter turnout of any age group. The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement reported that only 50% cast ballots in the 2016 general election. During midterms, turnout is even worse: only 21.3% voted in 2014.
Though low turnout has always been expected in midterm elections, not since the Vietnam War has America's youth turned out to vote in numbers higher than 51%. In 1972, during the war, the youth vote reached a peak of 55%, but that's because they were being drafted, and most opposed the war.
Most Millennials were raised in a post 9-11 world. They didn't have a childhood without the fear and threat of terrorism. Despite often being hammered in the media for being "soft" and needing "safe spaces," they are the generation that is the least sexist, racist, xenophobic, or homophobic; they are also the first generation not guaranteed to live a life more abundant than their parent's. What they do know are financial crashes, Wall Street bailouts, student debt, and big money in politics, culminating in a deep mistrust of government.
So have Millennials given up hope?
Often attracted to more "independent" positions, during the primary, many caught the "Bernie or Bust" wave. A 2016 national exit poll by the Center for Information and Civic Learning says that more youth in 2016 either supported a third-party candidate or simply did not vote for a president, throwing the election to Trump in the close states that made the Electoral College difference.
If Millennials don't step up to the plate for the midterm elections come 2018, their attitudes will be disrupted by the reality of a right-wing congress passing legislation.
Candidates need to connect with young people whether that means reaching out on college campuses or engaging in trends and social media. Proven successful for President Obama, he hired street artist, and activist, Shepard Fairey, also known among the skateboarding scene, to create the famous "Hope" poster for the 2008 election.
Almost a decade later, Hillary Clinton was late to college campuses, social media, and never gave a charismatic speech empowering young people. Donald Trump, however, uses Twitter as a powerful tool to engage with his voters.
In a youth culture obsessed with celebrity and image, they need both a charismatic speech about issues they care about, and 140 characters and a filtered photograph.
The future of democracy depends on it.
Robert Weiner was director of youth voter registration for National Young Democrats at the Watergate Democratic National Headquarters during the 1972 presidential campaign, and a public-affairs director in the Clinton White House. Christina McDowell is policy analyst for Robert Weiner Associates and Solutions for Change. A Georgetown University student, she was Associate Deputy Director of the Pasadena, CA regional office of Californians for Voter Turnout during the 2016 election.