Millennials Need To Be Front And Center At The Presidential Debates
The candidates should talk about issues that are important to the next generation of voters.
By Kish Rajan
Presidential debates don’t tend to have a tremendous effect on the outcome of elections. They might move the needle a little one way or the other, but people tend to have mentally cast their votes before debate season even begins.
What debates really do is put our nation’s agenda on display. Moderators, chosen from the mainstream media, pose questions about topics they believe are important to the audience (which can be huge). What are we as a nation talking about? What do we care about?
Traditionally, those questions come from the establishment (typically white, middle-aged, male) point of view. Expect to hear lots of questions about foreign policy, immigration, guns and whether the candidates are fit for office.
I’m not saying that those topics aren’t important. They absolutely are. But they aren’t the issues that matter most to one of the biggest voting blocks out there: Millennials.
According to the Pew Research Center there are now about as many Millennial voters (69.2 million) as there are Baby Boomer voters (69.7 million). But the closest a presidential candidate has come to addressing Millennials is Bernie Sanders, who was willing to talk about things like the increasing unaffordability of college education.
For the most part, the press and the candidates seem to see Millennials as their worst stereotype — privileged, spoiled and uninterested. They don’t ask for their take on the issues and they don’t seem to care what they think.
This is a huge mistake. According to polling done by my tech advocacy coalition, CALinnovates, 70% of Millennials plan to vote in the upcoming election and 72% of them say that the next president will have a large impact on their lives.
They believe they have almost as much influence over policy as Generation X, but they don’t see the candidates speaking to their concerns.
So what does this group care about? While one poll doesn’t speak for an entire generation, according to our research, their most important issue is improving the economy and creating jobs. Their second most important issue: equality for all Americans. The next generation is the most racially diverse in American history. According to Pew 43% of Millennials are non-white and the U.S. population is expected to be majority non-white by 2043. But you wouldn’t know it by listening to the candidates. The authentic perspectives of African Americans, Latinos and other groups rarely come up.
The millennial generation also strongly believes in the power of technology to change lives. They are optimistic about the future and believe that new technologies are contributing to their economic prosperity. They embrace things like the sharing economy and want to see the candidates support this exciting new world.
But these issues are unlikely to be discussed in the upcoming debates. A majority (60%) of Millennials say the national media does not cover issues that they care about. Millennial-skewing publications like Fusion and.Mic might talk about these issues but those journalists are not the ones who are being picked to moderate the debates.
On September 26th, we’ll see if the candidates finally decide to take Millennials seriously. Along with New Leaders Council, we are hosting a debate watch party at Organizer. We have put together a panel of thought leaders from myriad industries to discuss and debate how well the candidates addressed issues important to Millennials. We will be live streaming the panel on our Facebook page immediately following the conclusion of the debate.
This generation is fired up and ready to go. They just need a leader and a voice. By ignoring them, the candidates miss out on the energy and organizational abilities of the next generation of voters. By ignoring their issues, the debate moderators miss an opportunity to bring young people into the conversation. As a nation, we can do better. It’s time to put Millennials in the picture.
Originally published at www.huffingtonpost.com on September 21, 2016.