Millennials are the Solution to “Make America Great Again”
This is the final post of a 3 post series on the 2018 Midterms and the Aftermath in New Jersey and the U.S.
Here are part 1: Recapping the 2018 Midterms and the Sick Tricks that Defined Them and part 2: What New Jersey Can Tell Us About the 2020 Elections.
Let’s start with a word problem: What do you do when voters clearly signal they want to “shake up the system” and society pushes for an increase in younger voter turnout?
Solution: Younger Elected Officials
In the lead up to the midterms, media in New Jersey and across the nation asked whether Millennials and Generation Z would show up to the polls. Millennials have become the second-largest voting age group next to Baby-Boomers but their turn-out hasn’t been anywhere near the same. At the same time, the media has done nothing short of demonizing Millennials with regards to their spending habits, social media use, and basically anything that differentiates them from past generations. It’s the pathetic and old stereotype that “young people don’t know what they are doing and ruin everything.”
Millennials have gotten older since the last election and are challenging the stereotypes you see in media and by the older establishment. This year, New Jersey elected it’s first and only Millennial congressperson, Andy Kim. The 36-year-old Democrat took on the Republican in the field that was the most tied to Trump- a super-rich businessman who was unapologetic in voting for tax cuts, getting rid of the Affordable Care Act, and reducing federal property tax deductions. Kim is a former Rhodes Scholar who worked for the Obama White House- now he is the youngest member of New Jersey’s 14-member Congressional delegation.
How much younger? The next youngest congressperson for New Jersey is 43 years old. Ten out of the 14 are 50 or older.
The representation of young elected officials on the state government side isn’t much better. Latino, Black, and Asian communities have always told Democrats that they can get better turnouts if they can get members of their communities to serve as elected officials. New Jersey is going to have to do a better job of getting more of their Millennials and Generation Z involved in elected capacities and other government roles if they want to increase young voter turnout.
This isn’t an unproven strategy either. This year, more Millennials were elected to Congress across the country. Congress also got more diverse and a lot younger. Exit polls showed that turnout for voters between 18 and 29 increased by 31%.
Here’s the other reason why we need more Millennials- President Obama’s campaigns showed us that the future of presidential campaigns depends on a successful social media strategy. Trump’s campaign followed up on that lesson and showed the country how to weaponize a Twitter account. No one understands social media and where it’s going the way Millennials understand it.
Look at what the youngest Congresswoman-elect is doing. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez isn’t where she is because of social media, but it’s become a part of her package. Her Twitter clap-backs are already legendary. She’s even leveraged media exposure into traditional print publications. She had a photo shoot with Vogue magazine- something that’s usually a space for celebrities and the fashion industry. Did I mention that she’s still under 30?
Not everything has been perfect- she’s also faced some of the same media treatment given to Millennials. For example, instead of highlighting the issue that Congressional elected office is not an endeavor friendly to middle-class people, most news-outlets covered Ocasio-Cortez’s statements on this struggle under one basic headline:
“Ocasio-Cortez says she can’t afford Washington, DC rent.”
I’m not sure why it is so hard for the media to point out that being an elected official requires a person to have a lot of money. Some say this comment by her was a planned publicity stunt. So what? That’s politics and she ain’t lyin’. Now that she is in a position within politics, she’s using her media presence to spotlight issues that affect younger people and working-class folks.
Fellow millennial and NJ based political strategist Cristina Pinzon-Coll recently wrote an op-ed on reaching younger voters and had this to say:
“To reach this generation, politicians need to have a message that resonates with them, spoken directly to them, and on platforms: texting, posting, tweeting, liking and sharing — where they spend the majority of their time. Digital campaigns can build lasting relationships far beyond Election Day. Young voters can encourage their friends to register to vote, and then accompany them to the polls, but you have to give them a reason to go”.
She’s right- you must go to where Millennials and Generation Z spend their time to reach them. The message also has a better chance of resonating with them if it comes from a millennial or someone who built an authentic online brand based on millennial habits (like Cory Booker or Bernie Sanders). However, to succeed in 2020, politicians can’t just use young people to speak to other young people. Andy Kim and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez offered a message and leadership that are authentic to any age group. They knew that people, regardless of age, want a shake-up in politics.
The last two presidents were not establishment front-runners in either of their primary elections: President Obama got elected on a message of “Hope” and Trump got elected on a message of “Making America Great Again.” Trump’s message is essentially one of taking America backward, so why don’t we offer voters the future?