It should come as no surprise that the millennial generation is deeply distraught with the current path our country is taking in both a societal and fiscal sense. The chaotic and unpredictable events of the last sixteen years have shaped their beliefs and provided an understanding that their standard of living and upward mobility mechanisms may be less certain than their parent’s generation. For the first time in modern American history, the millennial generation, which comprises individuals born between the early 1980’s and the early 2000’s, will no longer be guaranteed stable jobs that allow for the type of comfortable middle-class lifestyle that their parents could expect upon entering the workforce.
The unhappiness in the political process extends both ways for millennials who have supported unconventional candidates in both the Republican and Democratic Parties. The major candidate divide occurs when the factors of college education and regional attitudes are taken into account. While it is clear that more millennial voters lean toward the Democratic side rather than Republican, it is due in part to the younger median age of metropolitan areas combined with the saturation of higher educational institutions located in major population centers.
Even more concerning is that the majority of millennials have supported candidates like Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, who represent the extremes of both the left and the right. This attitude is due in part to the Great Recession and its effects on both their parent’s finances coupled with their massive student loan debt and the inability to find jobs that allow for both the paying down of student loans and the purchasing of a first home.
The rise of a candidate like Bernie Sanders, who garnered support from more than 50% of millennials, should be taken very seriously moving forward. Not only because of his suggested massive federal entitlement program expansions, but also because of his self-proclaimed social agenda which increases regulations in certain, already deprived industries, while also calling for a revolution of sorts during a time when the American electorate is divided on almost all issues.
It is of merit to discuss why Bernie Sander’s democratic socialism has appealed so strongly to this generation. More millennials are moving back in with their parents after college because of the social safety net that they can provide. Social “safety nets” are the keystone of Sanders Socialism, however, unsustainable those social “safety nets” may be. It is also highly likely that millennials will not see any return on their investments from federal withholdings for social security from paychecks they are currently earning. These federal withholdings are placed in the federal social security program, which, according to the annual report from the Social Security Board of Trustees, is fiscally unsustainable and will become insolvent by the late 2030’s unless it is addressed in the next decade.
For these Bernie Sanders supporters, they see a rigged system working against them fiscally, socially, and institutionally. What makes zero sense is their strategy to vote for a self-proclaimed socialist who would expand the government exponentially, and therefore strengthen the system they claim to be rigged.
In contrast, a surprising number of millennials are supporting Republican nominee Donald Trump, who, like Sanders, is a Washington outsider who has a unique funding mechanism of his own. According to a poll released by the Harvard Institute of Politics in mid-2016, 25% of people between ages 18-30 support Donald Trump, while another 14% are unsure who will win their support in November.
The nomination of Donald Trump has tapped into the subset of those millennial voters in the same way that Sanders has. Although both candidates have radically different political propositions, their end goals are similar. They are both advocating radical change: change that counters the supposed establishment. Many millennials are genuinely distraught with the fallout from the 2008 Financial Crisis because of the toll it took on their parent’s retirement plans and their own prospects for employment. Many of these younger Trump supporters also grew up in areas of the country hit hard by the decline in American manufacturing in the late 1980’s and 1990’s, which directly affected their parent’s employment options. The Keystone Research Center recently released their 2016 State of Working Pennsylvania report, which outlines many of the issues that have given way to Trump’s strong appeal to these more rural millennial voters who were raised in former manufacturing hubs. While it is clear that a majority of millennials lean toward the Democratic Party, Trump will continue to garner support from part of the millennial generation who also believe the institutional bureaucracy is rigged against their ability to enter the workforce with the expectation of upward mobility like previous generations.
There are also regional factors to take into account for many millennial Trump supporters; they are overwhelmingly from rural and in some cases, suburban areas. Also, unlike many Sanders supporters who live in metropolitan areas with large academic infrastructures, a majority of millennial Trump supporters have not attended any higher educational institution. Individuals who enter the workforce without a bachelor’s degree have still not seen their earnings fully recover some twenty years after the initial decline of the American manufacturing sector.
The real question will become, can this generation pivot toward the center, combining ideas and strategies from both political platforms to create fiscal and societal compromises that will create success in this new American century? If these compromises are not achieved, will the divide grow deeper and ignite more unrest as we continue moving deeper into the 21st century?
It is clear that the future belongs to the millennials, but as time drags on and we move closer to the millennial majority in all American institutions, can we collaborate and lead, or will we splinter and surrender to our own stubbornness. We can no longer rely solely on decisions that older generations make for our future. Millennials from all walks of life need to embrace the mindset that we are all in a similar situation that will require constant vigilance in order to change and reform our societal and fiscal future.