The Optimistic Generation: Why Millennials Are Poised To Redefine American Politics

by John Haltiwanger

Millennials are breaking the trend of bipartisanship in the US, and it seems they may be on track to dramatically change the landscape of American politics.

Recent reports from both Pew and Third Way have shown that more Millennials are open to ideas on both sides of the political spectrum than was the case with previous generations.

This is precisely why recent polls have also shown that Millennials are increasingly identifying as independent.

As Michelle Diggles states in the recent study for the Democratic think tank, Third Way:

Millennials are poised to remake politics.

American Millennials, born roughly between 1981 and 2000, are the largest generation in American history. To put this into context, there are roughly 78 million Baby Boomers, and there are 95 million Millennials.

Millennials are often accused of being disengaged when it comes to politics. This new report from Diggles reveals this is far from the case. Rather, it seems that Millennials are changing the way the population participates in politics and breaking away from tradition.

This is not surprising, given most Millennials grew up during the Bush era.

Thus, it is likely that many of them graduated from high school or college at the height of the War on Terror and in the midst of the worst economic calamity since the Great Depression.

This generation saw their country's name defamed across the world as the US failed miserably in dubious international conflicts, received widespread criticism for maintaining Guantanamo Bay as an Afghanistan detention center and even engaged in abhorrent practices such as Enhanced Interrogation Techniques (torture).

Furthermore, most Millennials have come into adulthood in one of the worst job markets in American history. They understand the value of a paying job and how difficult it can be to make ends meet, let alone get hired. Consequently, it is apparent that many members of this generation have become disillusioned with traditional views of the US as a result of growing up through these national traumas:

Millennials don’t seem to take comfort in the same things as their elders do. A new study from the Pew Research Center called Millennials in Adulthood finds that far fewer of them identify with a religion or a political party. They’re less likely to be married than previous generations were at the same age. Only half call themselves patriotic, and a scant 1 in 5 thinks that most people can be trusted. Just a handful expect that Social Security will pay in full when they need it.

Yet, given these circumstances, it is also remarkable that Millennials are, statistically, the most hopeful generation in American history.

Noam Chomsky once said,

Optimism is a strategy for making a better future. Because unless you believe that the future can be better, you are unlikely to step up and take responsibility for making it so.

And it appears Millennials agree.

Research has shown that Millennials are perhaps the most optimistic generation America has ever seen, which is reflected in their approach to politics and social issues. The indefatigable positivity of this generation, combined with its fiercely socially tolerant perspectives, makes it one of the most unique social groups in American history.

Despite a lack of faith in the effectiveness of government, Millennials believe fervently that the government does have the potential to improve people’s lives. It is evident that Millennials desire to change the structure and framework of the US government in order to accomplish these goals.

Millennials are fed up with the status quo and want to fundamentally change the way the US does business. They are tired of seeing the two-party system fail to meet the needs of the American people. They are fed up with petty politicians delaying the progress of the nation as a result of egoism and a desire to tow the party line.

Hence, American Millennials are turning away from both Democrats and Republicans. Although the GOP is probably in more trouble, as the socially liberal perspectives of Millennials do not coincide with their conservative platform.

As this recent Pew poll shows, despite the fact that many Millennials identify as independent, the majority vote Democrat.

As Diggles notes, Millennials embrace racial and ethnic diversity, including immigrants. This shouldn’t come as a huge surprise, given that they are statistically the most diverse generation in American history. They also “question American exceptionalism, instead emphasizing cooperative engagement.”

Moreover, Millennials diverge on culture war issues, and are open to both liberal and conservative ideas and perhaps even a mixture of both. For example, a majority of Millennials support marriage equality, even those who identify as Republican or conservative (61 percent).

So it is clear that Millennials are not as ideologically entrapped as previous generations, as they have learned the hard way that this does nothing but serve to the detriment of the nation.

As the most technologically connected, progressive and globally-minded generation in history, they also have the tools and networking abilities at their disposal to work toward the changes they desire.

The generation that saw America through the Great Depression and Word War II is often referred to as the Greatest Generation. Those two events were arguably the greatest challenges America has ever faced, and it is undeniable that America rose out of them for the better because of that remarkable generation.

Their hard work and intrepid willpower established the US as a global hegemony and it fostered one of the most prosperous economies in the history of the world.

It would be premature to say that Millennials will have to same impact on history or the US as the Greatest Generation, but their unbridled optimism makes one hopeful of their potential to put this country back on track and permanently change it for the better.

The Greatest Generation gained their name for their incredible deeds and perhaps similarly, Millennials will one day be labeled as The Optimistic Generation for their inexhaustible belief and desire to see the impossible occur.