With the country getting revved up for the 2016 Presidential campaigning season in the coming months, shifting cultural atmospheres are likely to play a game-changing role in the reception of old bipartisan traditions. The millennials are rising as a major voting demographic, and in order to win the group’s favor, candidates need to reassess their platforms and create new political discussions oriented towards topics from which have consistently been shied away at the national level. This generation represents the most diverse population to vote in an American presidential election to date; given this fact, the GOP, popularly regarded as a party that does not promote minority strength or tolerate change, must successfully project a more favorable image in this race to stay afloat against competitors like Hillary Clinton.
Democrats, on the other hand, can rely on their party’s achievements in forging a well-received message of acceptance and diversity. In Clinton’s video announcing her candidacy, most shots were composed entirely of families from all ethnicities and classes. This video alone shows Democratic confidence in that sphere, but in order to defend successfully against Republican criticism, they need to prove that the party can continue to make progress in a third term. In this race, will the pressure to accommodate demographic changes prevail over the current lack of faith in government, procuring a victory for Democrats? Or will recent trends in the voting population, as indicated by the crushing wave of conservativism in the midterm elections, overturn the rise in liberalism amongst millennials, securing the presidency for Republicans?
Since the 1980s, the scope of issues that Americans want to see addressed has transformed drastically, and the remnants of Reagan-era voters are struggling to hold their grip over national conversations. In an opinion piece published by CNN, Julian Zelizer states, “This generation has grown up in an era of great ethnic and social diversity… and one in which older sexual and gender norms have been shattered. 68 percent of them favor same-sex marriage, and 69 percent support legalizing marijuana. Conventional party lines of division over questions such as abortion or immigration don’t resonate with them, and they want to be talking about other questions such as economics and climate change that seem to get short shrift in Washington” (CNN, “Who will grab the millennial vote?” 02.23.15). Younger voters are rallying to call attention to problems such as income inequality, unemployment and the poor job market, affordable or widely accessible healthcare, marriage equality, student debt and poverty.
Although the recent midterm elections resulted in domination by the Republican party and victories for those harping on different issues, such as tax breaks for high income households, millennials are expected to make up a sizable percentage of the vote in the presidential election. Because of this, candidates who continue to cater to the predominantly white, elderly, conservative population are guaranteeing a definite hit to their own party’s prosperity. A Harvard poll conducted in 2014 indicates that this generation shows, “a disenchantment with politics in general…Millennials continue to look more liberal than other age groups, but they give low marks to both parties in Congress. They’re also no longer significantly more likely than older generations to approve of president Obama.”
The bipartisan schism that has so fiercely severed voters over the past decades has not necessarily slackened in the 21st century, but it has been redefined on social terms—we now have the ideological concepts of social liberalism vs. social conservativism, and though the exact politics of the younger demographic cannot be pinned down, cultural trends point to social liberalism as a major uniting factor between these new voters.
The GOP’s only hope for the next few months is that the public’s current lack of faith in the government will allow senators Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and possibly Jeb Bush to capture voters’ attention. Paul in particular boasts a strong anti-government message, his official statement announcing his candidacy being, “I am running for president to return our country to the principles of liberty and limited government.” But do voters truly feel that their lives have suffered at the hands of the “socialist” Obama Administration, or a hands-on approach to government? Despite widespread complaints against Obamacare, the act has insured over 20 million individuals, contributing to the largest leap in healthcare coverage in half a century, without causing a hike in costs, as anticipated by skeptics and opponents.
While nearly half of Americans express their distaste for a president playing the “caretaker” role, the truth is that this reform is an example of the Democratic party taking action in the White House; denying that the Democratic party has been active during Obama’s terms, Republicans in 2016 will attempt to manipulate sentiments of government distrust to win over the politically “up for grabs” millennial demographic, planting the desire for a strong, decisive leader. But in doing so, the party is actually bolstering support for Clinton, whose professional experience as well as her clearcut aim of prioritizing minorities and the working class, display the combination of leadership aptitude and understanding of social concerns that qualify her as the candidate with “a vision for the future” that the GOP has been promoting. Granted, her newly released video does not delve into all aspects of her platform, but it does leave voters with an obvious impression of the change that she is envisioning for America—and this change, one that could improve standards of equality, is at the forefront of this generation’s concerns. Right now, the new wave of voters needs a president who will inspire hope for social progression, and with the GOP falling far behind in its ability to either promise or execute this, the prospects for Democrats in 2016 are looking good.
—Emily Sayer ’18 is a student at Vassar College.