Will Millennials be the Generation to End Partisanship?

A March 7 Pew Research article found that 50 percent of Millennials consider themselves independent. When compared to the 39 percent of Gen Xers, 37 percent of Boomers, and 32 percent of Silents who say the same, a trend becomes clear: as generations come and go, the number of independents continues to increase. Will Millennials be the generation to finally end partisanship?

For some, the answer is a definite yes.

“I think there’s a good empirical and theoretical basis for saying that this very large young generation is going to come through and basically impose its will on American politics,” said attorney Gary Allen in an interview for IVN. “It will have the votes and eventually it’ll have the interest to do that on a regular basis.”

Allen sees signs of a shift occurring already, attributing the election victories of Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 to Millennials. He also points to the fact that every year, 1 or 2 million Boomers are leaving the electorate, voters more tied with the existing partisan system, and are being replaced by 2 to 3 million Millennials. 

Yet, others are less confident, claiming more still needs to be done for Millennials to make a significant political difference.

“When Millennials see that politics is always the same and the message is always the same and there’s no actual productivity on the changes that we want to see, it’s really disengaging,” Millennial Magazine editor Britt Hysen remarked. “You don’t want to speed into a system that’s already broken. You want to do something that’s outside of it.”

Hysen is concerned that Millennials are disengaged due to the current political climate, citing the 2008 election as a primary reason for this disinterest.

“So many Millennials were so excited to vote for a man they thought was anti-establishment,” she said, “and then it turned out that he was no different from any other candidate.”

Yet, that isn’t to say that Hysen is pessimistic of the future. She actually believes that Millennials are in a very unique position due to their access to “extreme amounts of information.” Hysen claims that through the use of technology to bring attention to issues and local community solutions, Millennials will be able to more effectively end partisanship.

Hopefully more young people run for office because we have to change the status quo by understanding the flaws that already exist in it,” she elaborated. “If you get into your local government and start there, you’ll have a better understanding of how the process works on the small-scale.”

“If you’re moving up the ranks through the state government then the federal government, you’ll go into it with a wealth of knowledge from your local government, understanding the bureaucracy and the loopholes of the bureaucracy or the blockades of the bureaucracy. There’s so much red tape that it’s hard to break down everything because everything moves so slow in government.”

Yet even with all these signs, a major obstacle might halt Millennial efforts in the future: partisan primaries. As the two major parties try to keep primary elections closed, it gets harder for independent candidates to compete in elections across the country.

In states where one party or the other is dominant, the more extreme parts of that party are trying to hang on to power.
Gary Allen, Attorney
Allen, who was involved in a case where Idaho Republicans successfully sued to require voters wishing to participate in a primary to first register with a party, claims that the desire of the parties to seize power is more apparent than he could ever remember.

“In states where one party or the other is dominant, the more extreme parts of that party are trying to hang on to power and get greater representation through closed primaries,” he said. “In Idaho, that was Republicans. In Hawaii, that’s Democrats. In South Carolina, it’s Republicans. 30 states have closed primaries, so it’s still kind of a dominant way to do this.”

Yet despite this, Allen cites the experiments with nonpartisan, top-two open primaries in Washington and California as evidence that some progress has been made.

I think that’s going to be a pretty attractive option for Millennials and other people,” he commented. “And as the electorate becomes less partisan, the Baby Boomer generation fades, and the Millennial generation strengthens, I think you’ll see people going, ‘Yeah, that sounds like a good way to do it. I can vote for who I want in both the primary and the general election.'”

Photo Credit: CNN