According to a groundbreaking forthcoming study from Princeton, we are no longer living in a democracy. “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens” claims, “the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.” Unsurprisingly, the hyper-rich and “organized groups representing business interests” have the most impact on American policy.
Perhaps Millennials realize this intuitively, and this realization is what’s behind their notorious disengagement from politics.
Millennials only made up 20% of the voting bloc during 2010 and 19% in 2012. That number is likely to continue declining in 2014. When Pew surveyed Millennials earlier this year, they found that Millennials were the most likely out of any generation to say that there aren’t major differences between Republicans and Democrats and are likely to call themselves independents. But at the same time, Millennials were most likely to argue that a bigger government with more services is the best option for America.
Why play a rigged game? The hyper-rich and politically connected have the capital to influence political campaigns and hire silver-tongued lobbyists to frequent the Hill, whereas the average individual might pat herself on the back for donating $50 and participating in a protest once a year.
Millennials (born after 1982) have little political representation. Not only are they notoriously broke and unable to spend money on campaigns, but they are ill-represented—of the entire 113th Congress, only one representative, Patrick Murphy, is a Millennial. There’s just no way to compete. And for Millennials it’s heartbreaking—so much so that they’re disengaging from politics altogether.
Some Millennials have openly protested the government. I say “some” because most Occupy supporters were actually Boomers, and Millennials remained largely indifferent. But the Occupy movement was the one event where Millennials saw others like themselves trying to effectuate political change. Yet without the support of their peers and with the might of the government crashing down on them, Millennials soon learned that government protest does very little, even if they weren’t directly in the thick of it.
When Millennials move forward, taking to their favorite modes of communication–their cell phones and computers–they are quick to find that online petitions and tweets have little effect on actual policy.
Realizing they don’t have a voice, Millennials have disengaged. And now they are bombarded with articles written about them (and certainly not by them) calling them lazy, entitled, and stupid. They can’t trust the government to fix things or represent them, and they can’t even trust each other–or at least that’s what they’re being told.
As Millennials come of age to a political world where their vote and their voice definitively does not matter, they have little choice but to distrust the government. Some have entirely given up on the government itself and joined the swelling libertarian movement–a trend that has not gone unnoticed by growing organizations like Generation Opportunity and Students for Liberty, political candidates like Rand Paul, and media such as Fox’s The Independents.
Of course, there are the Millennials who think that “bettering” the government is their only option. While Millennials aren’t running for Congress (they’re probably too risk averse and young for that now), they are certainly volunteering and want to work in DC.
Between these two factions of politically-aware Millennials, we witness a trend of optimism: On the one hand, libertarian-leaning Millennials are optimistic that when government gets out of the picture, many of society’s ills will heal itself. On the other hand, pro-government-leaning Millennials are optimistic that the government is just fine–it just needs to be “fixed.”
What’s tragic is that the optimism on both sides is largely misguided if the Princeton study has any indication: the government probably won’t be fixed or changed or dismantled by any Millennial. It will carry on as it is.
And so Millennials remain disengaged. What’s the point of participating in politics when your entire generational cohort has been blocked from the political process? For so many of us average young people, we will have no effect on policy in our lives whatsoever. We’re checking out, for now.