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With the primary in full swing, and swing states ripe for the picking, the quadrennial ritual dance of election season has begun. But rather than a body politic, there is a particular body of people who stand to exert a considerable influence on the vote in 2012. These are the Millennials, those of us born during the 1980s and 90s, who now comprise 38 percent of the voter base.
This means that as one could expect, candidates will be pandering to this demographic alongside the more traditional voter groups and interests, and strategists and talking heads will be speculating as to which candidate or party will receive their endorsement.
The election of Obama in 2008 saw Millennials turn out in record numbers to support and cast a vote for the current commander-in-chief, but since then this group's support for the president has waned and it remains to be seen how they will apply their political currency this time around.
While this group represents a significant portion of the electorate, Millennials have been often criticized for what is perceived as their lack of political engagement. They have been depicted as an apathetic generation suffering from a severe disconnect. But the matter is one of perspective, albeit at times a disenfranchised and disillusioned one. While they have proven to be a fickle political base at times, many of them are still formulating their own political ideologies. In attempting to explain or understand this, just consider the circumstances they have inherited:
Millennials have come of age during the era of 9-11, multiple foreign wars and involvements, the worst economy since the Great Depression. An alarming portion of Millennials are finding themselves recent college graduates with, in some cases, hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loans and little to no job prospects. With it being common knowledge that political seats are as much bought as they are won, some in this generation see, with a sense of futility, what they believe is a political machine driven by special-interest mechanics. To them it is a machine they see none of themselves in and a machine that is seemingly incapable of representing any interests but its own.
Sure, there is a level of skepticism and jadedness at play here, but can you blame them?
Millennials are accused of bearing a sense of entitlement, which may be a valid characterization, but perhaps this is simply a byproduct of over-parenting trends of the 80s and 90s engaged in by their baby boomer parents, rather than unabashed narcisism. To be fair, there are many reasons why they deserve the credit. Millennials are also on course to become the most educated generation this country has ever seen and an exceptionally media-savvy one at that. They are a group that warrants consideration, not condemnation.
Who knows how or when this generation will find its political voice or how it will come to involve itself in the political arena? While the Occupy Wall Street movement has shown itself to be a fragmented one and one easily dismissed by critics, it along with ancillary campus demonstrations are perhaps encouraging signs. After all, they demonstrate a degree of political involvement and activism on the part of this generation that will be necessary if they, the heirs to our nation, are to claim all they stand to inherit.
The 2012 election provides an opportunity for this group to establish itself as a formative political interest as well as further define the issues important to it. With respect to the upcoming election, as the race unfolds, Millennials still hold their chips and fan their cards, with it remaining to be seen where they will place their bet.
- by Colin Deppen, Staff Writer