Investigating Millennial Apathy

We are are disengaged, we are untrusting, we refuse labels, and we are apathetic. We are also the mostly highly educated, racially diverse, debt ridden, and optimistic generation in American history (PEW Social Trends 2014). We are the millennial generation.

In preparation for the upcoming LPD titled: The 2016 Presidential Election: What Happened? Why? And What’s Next?, I took it upon myself to investigate the political apathy of millennial generation, whose future hinges on the result of the upcoming election. Millennials, also called Generation Y, get our fair share of criticism. Specifically, we are deemed apathetic and unresponsive to our political system. I wanted to investigate the validity of these claims.

Political apathy can be defined in a lot of ways, but in the studies from which I have pulled information, the baseline definition of political apathy is those who do not vote. Simply put, if you do not vote, you are politically apathetic. I can’t say I completely agree with this stringent guideline of what qualifies as being “politically active”, but I’ll run with it for clarities sake.

Peak millennial participation from the last two decades was in the 2008 Presidential election, with a voter turnout of 52% from voters ages 18-33 (NPR, 2010). By 2013, “75 percent (of millennials did) not self-identify as politically active.” (Harvard Political Review 2013). Only almost half of these self-described apathetics planned to vote in the 2014 midterm election (Harvard Political Review 2013). It’s a vicious cycle of dissatisfaction, which leads to self-imposed disenfranchisement, which in turn leads to dissatisfaction.

Why are millennials so politically apathetic? The top answer seems to be a lack of transparency and trust between us and politicians. According to Pew Social Trends, only 19% of Millennials say people can be trusted, and according to Harvard Institute of Politics, only 31% of millennials trust the government.  We have the same aspirations of our foreparents, but our experiences are much different (Gen Progress 2015). We aspire to have a stable income and an ability to create a home, but find a stagnant job market and financial immobility. We crave integrity and authenticity in our politicians, gravitating towards political campaigns about “policy, about feelings, and … personality” (Atlantic “Liberal Millennial Revolution”).  Cue the Bernie Sanders political campaign phenomenon.

So the cycle continues, millennials feel apathetic, refuse to vote, and continue to feel apathetic. We value integrity, honesty, transparency and trustworthiness. Millennials are disinterested, and therefore don’t contribute to politics, because we feel our interests and desires are ignored (Millennial Dialogue). In fact,  68% of millennials think politicians ignore our needs (Millennial Dialogue).

It seems the accusations are correct. Our generation is indifferent to politics because we feel politics are indifferent to us.  

My question is, then, why does our political system and its insiders continue to operate in ways we now know alienate the next generation of potential lawyers, policy makers, doctors, artists, intellectuals, and politicians? Join La Pietra Dialogues in investigating these questions and much more on November 14th and 15th.

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