Watters: As millennials move right, will candidates leave us behind?
October 28, 2012
Our generation is often given a lot of vague, ambiguous descriptors. We’re called the millennials, and the trademarks of our generation include incredible tech knowledge, an uncanny knack to get distracted and a penchant for things that move at an extremely fast pace. Being a part of the millennial generation used to make us young and seemingly without responsibility.
Unfortunately, although I do love the Internet and social media as much as any other self-respecting 19-year-old, the specific joie de vivre seems harder and harder to find given the ominous economic cloud that looms closer and closer.
I don’t need to tell anyone that the economy is in quite a state of despair. Regardless of whether you’re planning to vote for President Barack Obama, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney or former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson or taking a stand against government oppression by voting for yourself as a write-in candidate, the facts are undeniable: Our country is being run on a gargantuan deficit and, as college students, I and most of the Northwestern student body are part of the age bracket that currently has the highest recorded unemployment. For workers between the ages of 20 and 24, the unemployment rate hovers stubbornly above 12 percent.
I know I’m not the only one who is worrying about what kind of state the economy will be in once I graduate. June 2015 does seem far away, and it’s tempting to live within NU's relatively utopian bubble, ignorant of the outside world and its problems. It's an idealistic dream, but the problem is that the real world and the decrepit state of the economy will always find a way to creep in.
The biggest indicator and cold dose of reality that awaits the average college student upon graduation is the mountain of debt concerning student loans: The New York Federal Reserve Bank reported that since household debt peaked in 2008, student loan debt has grown to $914 billion, while other kinds of household debt have fallen by $1.6 trillion.
Our generation in particular is facing a steep uphill battle. This cloud of disturbing economic realities is one reason I categorize myself as a fiscal conservative. I’m an anomaly for my generation — or at least I used to be. While Obama is still a favorite in polls among 18- to 29-year-olds, recent polls reported by John Della Volpe, the polling director at Harvard University’s Institute of Politics, show that 42 percent of 18- and 19-year-olds identified as conservative, while only one-third of those polled identified themselves as liberal. Interestingly, for 22- to 24-year-olds, the data was almost reversed, with 39 percent of those polled identifying as liberal, while a third called themselves conservative.
It's an intriguing statistic to contemplate the reverberations of, considering that Obama runs on a campaign prioritizing nebulous “hope” and “change” for the future; this evidence clearly shows more and more young people from our generation are becoming more conservative in their views. It's not surprising that our political views are tinged with just a little bit more cynicism and conservatism, considering we grew up watching the adults around us struggle to keep afloat.
It's an interesting voter that I feel is emerging from this election because I believe another trademark of our generation, other than our apparent addiction to Facebook, is our inherent sense of social justice and rights. It’s a fine line to walk to balance social liberalism and conservative fiscal views, but clearly more and more young people are choosing to make the sacrifice in order to prioritize their future monetary well-being. I don’t think trying to plan ahead for my future in this economy makes me insensitive. It doesn’t mean that I don’t care about social issues, either.
Instead, it makes me wonder about the future of partisanship in our country. The two prominent parties are so polarized and the opinions that distinguish a liberal from a conservative so clearly on opposite ends of the political spectrum that making a choice categorizes not the kind of policy you’re looking for, but the content of your character. The idea of a moderate, in both ideals and fiscal policy, seems to have vanished into the ether; Romney surely isn’t providing that ticket any longer.
I wonder if this stark chasm between liberal and conservative voters will continue to exist as we tenuously attempt to move forward in this crippled economy. After sweeping Obama into the White House in 2008, young people are going to carry this election as well, and I, for one, am anxiously awaiting the economic direction the victor will take us in.
Arabella Watters is a Medill sophomore. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, email a Letter to the Editor to email@example.com.