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I still haven’t decided who I’m going to vote for in the Senate and governor races. Many of my peers are also undecided and, overall, rather unenthused. I rarely see much excitement or interest in political races from my generation. Why?
Younger voters have difficulty resonating with candidates and even resent the need to be involved in the political process because we feel politicians make no effort to understand us, and we don’t think there’s any point in voting for a candidate who doesn’t represent who we are.
Millennials and Gen Z feel ignored. We think, “No one cares about us or truly gets us, so why should we care about you?”
I’ve been to multiple political events in North Alabama, and only a handful of people my age are ever in attendance. These events feel like an exclusive club of older folks, where I’m an outsider. Why do politicians mostly visit events like this, that clearly don’t cater to younger voters, ignoring colleges and even high schools, which are a goldmine of young thinkers trying to discover how they can impact the world? Do politicians just assume kids don’t care? Well, why would they care if you write them off before ever speaking to them?
So much pressure is put on us to just suck it up and go to events that already exist, otherwise, we’re labeled as lazy and negligent. But do politicians expect other constituents to do this? They travel around the state, visiting rural areas and voters of all professions. Why would a farmer want to vote for you if you never bothered to come to their part of town but instead said, “Well, they should just come to the city if they want to hear us speak?” That’s how young people feel. You expect us to just fit into your mold and rarely bother to meet us on our turf.
I once asked a former state senator why candidates don’t seek out young voters at local festivals, tastes of the town, live music events or art shows like those held regularly at Lowe Mill. He said no one wants to be caught on camera with a scantily clad girl. That’s prudent, and I don’t know all the struggles that come with running a campaign. But I should think there are ways to protect yourself from a scandal or misunderstanding, like bringing a partner or younger campaign staff to events to watch out for you.
His reason sounded like an excuse to me. Protecting your campaign from lawyers is more important than getting to know young voters? To us, that screams, “You’re not worth the risk. You’re unimportant enough that I don’t have to factor you into my race. I don’t need the headache you’ll bring. I can still win without you, perhaps more easily if I don’t have to deal with you.” Millennials make up the largest percentage of the workforce, the bulk of the military, and we are the parents of the latest flood of schoolchildren. Can you really still say we don’t matter? Have you ever thought about why we don’t attend those events?
We want you to care about us. But at those stiff lectures, where your eyes glaze past the handful of attending millennials to the folks our grandparents' age who you’ve schmoozed with for the last several elections, we leave thinking, “We don’t matter to you.”
But it’s not just the lack of targeted attention that makes younger generations struggle through elections. We make things hard on ourselves, shopping through candidates like dating profiles, never content until we find the perfect match. We focus too much on finding a candidate who will represent not just our needs but who we are. In other words, we think people who are like us will do a better job of representing us since we assume their similar experiences will make them implicitly understand and champion our perspectives.
For instance, between two socialist candidates, the female democrat voter would choose a female socialist, and the gay male voter would likely pick a gay candidate. You may protest this as illogical. Why don’t you pick the most qualified individual? Their demographics shouldn’t matter as long as they’re the best fit for the job. But younger generations actually view demographics as part of your qualifications. How can you represent women’s health needs on a Health Committee unless you’re a woman? How can you speak accurately for minorities’ needs unless you are one? Union members might not feel particularly confident when represented by a CEO’s heir.
There is something to this argument. America decided a long time ago that we needed varied representation to build a strong country. Britain’s Parliament of only aristocrats did not truly and fairly represent the needs of their country. They needed the House of Commons. America expanded this idea, encouraging people not just of varied classes but of varied races, genders and religions to run for office, thereby representing all Americans.
But my generation takes this idea too far. In many circumstances, demographics have little or nothing to do with quality representation. A male doctor with 30 years of experience as an OBGYN would indeed represent women’s health better than a businesswoman with no medical expertise.
Perhaps younger generations raise our standards too high, wanting everything at once. If we can’t find a candidate who is like us and agrees with us on policy and has a high level of expertise, we won’t want to vote for them. At the very least, we won’t be happy about it, allowing pessimism and toxic perfectionism to freeze our political engagement.
Now, you don’t need to be triggered by the phrase “toxic perfectionism.” It refers to self-destructive inaction caused by the need to be perceived as perfectly adept. Here’s an example thought: “If you can’t do it perfectly, don’t do it at all, or what’s the point?” So if you can’t find your perfect candidate, why should you vote for anyone? They’re not going to make a real impact or enact any good change in this doomed world. But that’s simply false, and young voters need to give candidates the benefit of the doubt and be willing to get to know people who aren’t exactly like us.
Both of these problems exacerbate each other cyclically. If we don’t meet our political candidates, we can’t discover that they are thoughtful, experienced and perfectly capable of representing our needs, even if we differ in many ways. And if our candidates don’t make much effort to meet us, we assume they don’t understand or care about us and conclude they must not be suited to represent us.
Fortunately, this means there’s also a single solution to the problem. If our potential representatives take initiative to have meaningful one-on-one interactions with younger generations, and if we open our minds and make ourselves available to listen to your stories, we’ll be able to see how your passion and expertise do in fact make you worth our votes.
Caylah Coffeen is the host of Prayers For Life Radio in Huntsville, and a millennial who speaks up for truth and a future as bright as the stars. Her column appears every Friday in 1819 News. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to Commentary@1819News.com.