If Millennials Want A Political Revolution, We Must Turn To Local Elections
Bernie Sanders has taken us on a wild ride over the last year. From an awkward announcement that he would run outside of the US capitol — a place typically used for legislative press conferences — to a walloping frontrunner Hillary Clinton in the New Hampshire primary, Sanders' campaign has always bordered on being a revolution. It's also a word he uses a lot.
"Political revolution," in Sanders' mind, meant overthrowing the established power in our nation's government from a massive increase in voter participation. It is assumed he meant mostly young people, who typically stay home more often on voting day. Young people love Bernie Sanders. They're on average more liberal than older people, and they tend to be pretty upset with the status quo. Sanders is thus seen as the perfect solution, and it's why he's dominated Hillary Clinton in the youth vote throughout the primaries.
It appears at this point, however, that young people still don't turn out enough to carry Sanders to the nomination. He has a chance, to be sure, but Clinton is a heavy favorite. This is a discouraging sign for any so-called "revolution" that hopes to put in power someone concerned about young, liberal voters' concerns. Indeed, young voters' lack of participation is far more concerning in other areas.
That's because when Millennials care about politics at all, they care much more about presidential races than congressional, state or local ones. It's understandable to a large degree. The media blares on for years about presidential runs, but much less about your local congressmen, yet alone state legislatures.
In the 2014 midterm elections, in which no presidential race occurred, less than 20 percent of people between 18 and 29 voted, the lowest ever recorded. This makes sense, as young people are much less interested in politics in general than older folks. If that's the case, turning out for your local congressional vote is much less sexy than voting for a "revolution."
For those of us who do want change, this poses a problem. A president can only do so much. If we want more liberal policies, simply putting a liberal candidate into the Oval Office isn't going to lead to that in today's hyper-partisan world. We have to change the Supreme Court, the state governments and Congress.
The Republican Party has large structural advantages in the House of Representatives, making it likely it will control the body for years to come and be in a position to block any major liberal legislation. In fact, changing Congress relies on changing state legislatures because those legislatures are largely responsible for drawing the districts in which House of Representative members run.
They can essentially draw lines around which voters they want, and if the wave of liberal Millennials want liberal congressmen, having conservative legislatures drawing the districts makes it that much harder. Currently, Republicans dominate state governments — 70 percent of state legislatures and 60 percent of governors are Republican — and that poses a significant challenge for young people hoping for liberal change.
As a liberal young person myself, I find the enthusiasm that Sanders brings encouraging. I think it is time for universal health care, paid maternity leave and a higher minimum wage. On these issues, a majority of Millennials are in favor, so it's no surprise Sanders is drawing the youth vote. The problem is, these will not be accomplished just by putting our favorite man or woman in the White House, but by changing the dynamic of the US Congress and state governments.
It's very understandable why Millennials are disillusioned with politics. We have big challenges to face like student debt and a slower growing economy, and our political system has become increasingly sluggish and inefficient. It would be great to be able to vote those problems away in one swoop, but it isn't realistic.
Sanders is right; a revolution will have to take place. But, it will come to us from obscure state assembly races, high turnout in voting for Senate seats and, of course, continued pressure on the biggest stage to address our concerns. Millennials are hungry for change. Now, we just have to acquire a taste for the less glamorous side of politics.