"Good morning, it’s a great day to participate in democracy . . . go vote!”
Every Election Day, I wake up my friends with that cheesy, patriotic text message.
Some years I guilt-trip: “This is a right our friends in the military are defending.”More coverageOpinion and analysis about the 2016 presidential campaign
Some years I add allure: "There are cool new voting machines you have to see!"
Other years I say: “Please just do it for me.”
This is the reality: Millennials vote in disappointing numbers. Yes, 51 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds voted in 2008 when Barack Obama made history. However, that fell to 45 percent in 2012, and then to 21 percent in 2014, according to the U.S. census.
The response to my text messages matches that. So I wincingly have to give some credence to Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s recent jab that she sees “a complacency among this generation of young women.”
What Schultz really means is, we aren’t coming out strongly for Hillary Clinton, whom we “should” support because, you know, we share a gender and are historically a Democratic-leaning demographic.
In our defense, this supposed sweeping apathy isn’t just limited to young women. Or millennials in general, for that matter. In the most recent midterm elections, overall voter turnout plummeted to a 72-year low, and New York ranked 49th in voter participation, according to a report by the Nonprofit Vote group.
The stats make it easy for leaders like Wasserman Schultz to paint our generation as complacent. But complacency is not the picture I see.
I see young teachers who care deeply about the future of education and have creative policy ideas. I see young doctors and nurses who can spend hours talking about how broken the health care system is and how to fix it. I see young lawyers and police officers committed to criminal justice reform and keeping us safe.
So why aren’t we voting if we’re so passionate about political issues? I blame our broken two-party system. It’s so static and such a turnoff — nothing changes, and when it does, it often becomes a hard-to-follow soap opera. Obamacare. Fiscal cliff. Sequester. Planned Parenthood defunding.
This disillusionment in party politics is why half of millennials describe themselves as political independents, which the Pew Research Center says is near the highest levels of political and religious disaffiliation recorded for any generation since it has been polling on these topics. Only 26 percent of millennials reported that politics and government are a “top three” interest, versus 45 percent of baby boomers.
This has big implications for a system that makes us squeeze ourselves into a “Democrat” or “Republican” box, when our views sometimes put us in both.
The Iowa caucuses are next week and, sure, the debate antics of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, Bernie Sanders’ $1 donation momentum, and Hillary Clinton’s historic primary endorsement from Planned Parenthood all caught the attention of millennials. But I’m not sure whether this means we are any more interested in 2016 politics. Will we actually go vote, or is all this just something to tweet in the moment?
I hope it’s the former, and that this will be the year my generation goes to the polls to vote for candidates who will champion the issues we care deeply about. Fingers crossed.
I’ll let you know how my text message goes this November.
Amanda Fiscina is a Web producer for Newsday Opinion.