The world that millennials grow old in will likely be a far cry from that experienced by their parents. Some external issues like the rise of the gig economy, the threat of climate change, and the difficult situation of occupational automation mean that they’ll be forced to come to grips with some seismic changes. But what worries the next generation of politicians is how little millennials seem engaged with politics. This is in large part due to a growing sense of cynicism within this generational group. There’s a growing understanding that politicians of all stripes don’t represent their interests, but that doesn’t mean that millennials will necessarily be disengaged with the political process. It could instead signify some rather seismic shifts in attitudes towards long-standing political traditions.
Massachusetts state senator Eric P. Lesser graduated college in 2007 and was first elected into office at the young age of 29. He believes that makes him uniquely qualified to speak about millennial attitudes towards politics, and he thinks the jaded philosophies and myriad stresses of millennials could cause them to turn away from aging but experienced political figures and put their support behind younger politicians who have yet to become compromised by the system.
“As a young person right now, you are perfectly poised to make that argument that you are not part of that entrenched structure that got us in the mess we’re in,” said Lesser.
But that increasing sense of isolation that millennials feel towards older politicians could fundamentally come to alter the very notion of political parties as well. Campaign chair Eloise T. Kaehny has worked closely with students to improve voter participation among younger citizens, and she foresees a wave of philosophy that puts issues above party. Where “Republican” and “Democrat” could once be used as steady identifiers for an individual’s political orientation, she believes that voters today will be focusing instead on a more issues-driven approach to party participation. This could, in turn, result in more engagement on a local and grassroots level as they focus more energy on engaging issues that directly impact their communities.
Both Kaehny and Lesser were speakers at “Millennials and the Future of American Politics,” a panel held by the Harvard Institute of Politics focused on millennial issues. And while the panelists may have come from different backgrounds, the mood was largely optimistic. The understanding was largely one that millennials aren’t disengaged from politics but are instead just engaging in new ways.