In a recent poll, 77% of millennials were unable to name one of the elected Senators from their state. At the same time, the vast majority of them, about the same number actually, said they planned to vote for the next president:
More than three-quarters [of] millennials say they are at least “very likely” to vote in the 2016 presidential election, a level of enthusiasm that has the potential to dwarf previous turnouts from young people in past elections.
In all, 77 percent 18 to 34-year-olds are “absolutely certain” or “very likely” to vote in 2016, according to the survey. Another 14 percent said they will “possibly” vote, bringing the total up to 91 percent. Just 8 percent say they are not likely to vote, while 1 percent is undecided.
Is this a sign that millennials are politically involved without being politically informed? Perhaps. But I tend to think it is more of a sign that the role and nature of government is changing, and millennials are on the front end of that transition.
When people in my generation talk about “government,” it is likely that they are talking about the federal government, not local governments. And it is even more likely that they are talking about the actions of the president. Why does one really need to know about senators and congressmen? Or about checks and balances and federalism? Those things used to be the fabric of American government. But not so much anymore.
Nowadays, the president is vested with powers and responsibilities that would have been unheard of in the first decades of the Constitution. It used to be that political people were involved in the vastly important vagaries of local government. Local government hardly seems to make any difference anymore. Local laws are trumped by national laws. National laws are regularly trumped by the president.
So the millennial obsession with presidential elections seems less like a case of political ignorance and more of a case of efficient political realism. In order for that to change, much more will have to be changed than just the information available to millennials in the voting booth. Our system will need to be returned to a more federal system. And I don’t see that happening in my lifetime. Unfortunately.