Generation Y Stereotypes in the Sunshine State
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Lazy, unmotivated and unconcerned are words used by older writers to describe the generation of young adults born between 1977 and 1995, however there is evidence to dispute some of these Generation Y stereotypes.
Time Magazine has referred to this group of people as the “Me Me Me Generation,” while others title it “Generation Apathy,” for Generation Y’s perceived indifference towards politics. Although they had an abysmal turnout to this year’s midterm elections of 13 percent of the electorate, according to a 2014 Nielsen study, millennials make up the most educated generation. Twenty-three percent have a bachelor’s degree or higher. So perhaps Generation Y isn’t the most uninformed after all.
“The reason most of that generation is apathetic is because the political system disappointed them,” said Dr. Matthew Childers, assistant professor of political science at the University of North Florida. “They want to make the world better. It’s just compared to previous generations they are less interested in getting involved in the political process to pursue those goals.”
Childers, like many of his colleagues, blame young adults’ ambivalence towards politics on the letdown of the Obama administration after the initial excitement that his campaign inspired in young adults. While 51 percent of Generation Y turned out for the presidential election in 2008, only about 24 percent turned out for the 2014 midterm elections. This may be a large gap, however midterm elections always tend to have much smaller attendance than presidential elections.
“The Obama administration had more young people voting in 2008 and 2012 than ever before. Then the gridlock in Congress and the political theater and the nastiness really turned millennial voters off, so as a result they are less interested in getting involved in politics,” said Childers.
Labeling an entire generation creates the perception that this group of people is completely different than others. Although some characteristics differ, many are consistent throughout all age groups.
“[Millennials] are quite cynical, and I don’t blame them, but the question really is not whether or not they’re an exception to older generations’ complacency, it’s, ‘what are they going to do about it?’”, said Dr. Ronald Libby, professor of political science at the University of North Florida.
Balancing the older generations’ pressure for millennials to take action with the expectation that they will not has resulted in different views on voting among young adults.
“I voted because I’ve always been told that it’s my right and I should but I don’t feel like I knew what I was doing and I don’t think most of my peers do either,” said Ryan Carroll, a 20-year-old resident of Duval County in Florida. “I don’t know if my own vote helped or hurt my views and that’s not very good, I guess.”
Voting does not equate with political involvement, therefore it is hard to interpret election poll surveys in an absolute manner. Numbers can only tell so much.
As of November 2014 in St. Johns County, Fla., the second highest age demographic registered to vote is the millennial generation, behind only the Silent Generation, which includes those born between the years of 1928 and 1945. This large percentage of young voters is not the norm for America, and defies many expectations for voter turnouts. Young campaign workers in Florida state that Generation Y is more politically involved than many assume.
“I was asked to get more millennial volunteers and spread the word throughout the Flagler College Campus,” said Doug Radcliff, intern for the David Cox’s congressional campaign in the sixth district of Florida. “Many of the attempts to attract the young voters were placed on the younger people volunteering and interning on the campaign.”
Hiring young adults to get their peers more involved was a common tactic used in the Florida mid-term elections this year. In districts with large colleges and universities located nearby, it proved effective. Although Flagler College has a small student body of about 2,600 students, the city of St. Augustine where it is located has a small voting population that could be greatly influenced by a large turnout of student voters. From a campaign perspective, there is no better way to stereotype a generation than by using people in it at the time.
Brooke Lynn Alexander, the 23-year-old campaign manager for David Cox, was able to identify with young voters and present his platforms that addressed issues important to them, such as education reform and student loans, in a way that excited them. She states that she doubts there is a way to categorize such a large number of individuals in one way.
“While campaigning we saw the students that were just grateful to be able to go to college and get an education and on the other side there were those that were more interested in economic issues and job growth,” said Alexander. “As for the stereotype of apathy, I think a lot of times it has a lot to do with your parents. If you grow up in a household that votes, regardless of being Republican or Democrat, you are more likely to vote.”
Many millennial voters agree that a lot of young people are uninterested in politics, but that the sole responsibility for that fact is not theirs. If they are not educated on elections and are not campaigned to, the turnout will continue to be low.
“In midterm elections, the 65 and up crowd tends to be the most important, and this election was no different,” said Thomas Hern, an intern on Rick Scott’s gubernatorial campaign. “Rick Scott was able to just barely win because of the older generations, not the millennial generation.”
Hern exemplifies the cynical characteristic that Dr. Libby mentioned is common in Generation Y. He states that the campaigns do not tend to target young adults, especially in the midterm elections, because exit polls and surveys continue to show that they are not going to vote in as large numbers. Older generations are not the only ones to place stereotypes on today’s young adults. Hern explains that Rick Scott’s competitor was more likely to target millennials because he represented the Democratic Party.
“Certainly the Crist Campaign targeted the younger generations more because it makes more sense for Democratic campaigns to focus on young people,” said Hern. “But in a midterm election, young people do not vote so targeting them an excessive amount is pointless, and probably hurt the Crist Campaign in the long run.”
It is a common misconception that the majority of young voters identify with the Democratic Party, which is why it surprised many when most of those who turned out for the midterms voted for the Republican Party. According to a 2014 Pew Research study, 50 percent of millennials identify themselves as independent. This year’s midterm election had a higher amount of mixed ballots than in the past 10 years.
“I think younger people more than any group are looking into candidates,” said Alexander. “Most of the policy questions we got were from people under 30, whereas others voted purely based on the fact that they identified with the same party our candidate was representing.”
Some older voters use this to substantiate another common stereotype of Generation Y being disloyal. To a campaign, this means that there are a large number of votes that could be swayed to their direction, as long as the young people can be convinced to actually go to the polls and cast their vote.
“Campaigns realize that they have to spend their money most efficiently and effectively, so considering that they are less interested in targeting younger folks who are less likely to vote than older people who are more likely to vote if you can reach them,” said Childers.
The fact that many politicians disregard millennials in their campaigns by making no effort to directly target them leaves them partly responsible for low turnouts. If no connection is made between the candidates and voters, it is not likely they will feel motivated to vote.
“It’s not that the campaigns are dismissing young voters, it’s just that they count on them less because they know young voters aren’t going to carry their vote,” said Childers.
According to Pew Research, libertarianism is on the rise among millennials in America. This group is more likely to vote on individual candidates rather than by party. This disputes the reputation that young people have of identifying themselves as democrats more often than not. If more young people vote in elections, there is a great chance that they have the power to swing entire elections.
“When it comes to economic policies, Generation Y tends to lean conservative. When it comes to social issues they tend to lean liberal,” said Dr. Libby. “They don’t want government dictating or controlling their lives. This is nearly the definition libertarianism. ”
According to a 2014 Forbes survey, millennials make up the largest generation in the world, with over 80 million in the United States of America. If a higher percent of this generation responded to being targeted to vote, an election could easily be overturned.
Millennials make up about 25 percent of Florida residents, making their potential vote important for campaigns to consider as well.
“I feel that the millennial generation could have been the most important to the campaign. Since we lost the race, attracting millennial votes, who traditionally vote democratic anyway, would quite possibly have been a game changer,” Radcliff said about Cox’s congressional campaign.
Millennials are often seen not only as apathetic towards politics, but uneducated on the general principles as well.
““They are not very well educated when it comes to the Constitution. They don’t really understand what it calls for and what roll the president has in our laws, and our congress has in our laws,” said Libby. “They don’t understand checks and balances, or Federalist papers or natural rights. I’m not saying they aren’t perceptive, they just don’t know it.”
According to a 2001 study by The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning & Engagement, commonly referred to as CIRCLE, colleges and universities are providing unequal levels of opportunity for civic participation and learning. While students that learned about the basic political process in a non-partisan discussion-based manner tended to understand the basic concepts, those that learned only through reading and tests did not. Those that did not feel confident in political knowledge stated that they felt that voting appealed very little to them.
Campaigning to Generation Y through crowd sourcing and social media may be an effective way for campaigns to reach young voters, however if they are not educated on the issues that they are expected to voice their opinion on, they are not likely to show up to the polls if they don’t feel educated.
Although St. Johns County proved the nation-wide stereotype that the millennial generation does not vote wrong, it is true in other places across America. It is also important not to look at the stereotype of young people not caring apathetically, and consider the reasons why this may be.
“Every older generation has something bad to say about the younger ones. Sometimes you’ll hear older candidates make remarks like, ‘younger people don’t get it,’ or, ‘millennials don’t know how to work hard,’” Childers said. “I think the particular language is just updated for the current time but it’s always been the same basic stereotype.”
Young campaign workers in Florida agree that our nation has the ability to change what has been true since the United States political system was first drawn out; young citizens don’t have an urgency to vote.
Voting is a right. So is voter education. These two must be combined for millennials to really make a difference in future elections.