This November, nearly an entire generation of first-time voters will go to the polls and cast their vote in what is becoming one of the most controversial and talked about presidential elections in recent history. Primary season is already well underway having begun with the Iowa caucuses won on the Republican side by Texas Senator Ted Cruz and on the Democratic side by Hillary Clinton by a margin of less than 0.5%, and with the New Hampshire primaries having been won by Donald Trump and Senator Bernie Sanders, candidates and their supporters alike are scrambling to secure the votes that matter and a demographic that will and has already played a key role in the outcome of this election, the young voter.
Although Sanders has been, in many ways, garnered the most attention from young people and, as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton admitted in a quote in hindsight of the New Hampshire primary from CNN Politics, “I know I have some work to do, particularly with young people,” Clinton said. “But I will repeat again what I have said this week: Even if they are not supporting me now, I support them.” It is Clinton’s continued lackluster foundation of young voters that many have attributed to her loss in New Hampshire. As the calendar draws nearer to the South Carolina primaries and Nevada caucuses towards the end of February, it is important to examine some of the salient issues to young people.
As a high school student with a passion for all thing government and politics, I have the unique ability to tap into the collective consciousness of my peers, and find out the nitty-gritty of what these first-time voters are talking about. Millennials have been incredibly outspoken on many of the social issues, particularly the Black Lives Matter movement, LGBTQ+ rights, and women’s rights, which candidates on the Democratic side have placed front-and-center in their campaigns, an angle which their Republican counterparts remain largely silent on. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont has notably caught the attention of many young voters, either being seen as playing catch up with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, or spearheading the effort to end undue violence against minorities in the United States, citing his support of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s.
Additionally, the conversation about LGBTQ+ issues has opened up drastically over the past few years and, although the right to same-sex marriage was reaffirmed by the United States Supreme Court in June of 2015, the book is still very much open in the hearts and minds of young people throughout the nation. The Republican anti-same-sex marriage platform has turned many young voters off from the party, a platform that will only appease Christian conservatives and continue to alienate fiscally-conservative and socially liberal (libertarian) members of the LGBTQ+ community. Candidates like Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders,
and Martin O’Malley (Fmr. Gov. O’Malley has suspended his campaign as of February 2, 2016) have remained in ardent support of marriage equality and anti-discrimination, as well as encouraging a more open dialogue about subject matter such as transgender youth.
In keeping with an air of social progress, women’s rights have remained at the forefront of this campaign season in response to the allegations and controversy surrounding Planned Parenthood and the continued battle between the pro-life and pro-choice movements. Young Millennial women, on both sides of the economic-political spectrum agree that government doesn’t belong in their doctor’s offices, and that the expansion of access to contraceptives and reproductive healthcare is a vital component of ending an obviously patriarchal societal way of thinking that hinders progress more than it aids it. Again, coming out on the wrong end of the issue are Republican frontrunner candidates like businessman Donald Trump, Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, and former pediatric neurosurgeon Ben Carson.
Healthcare, believe it or not, is yet another issue which sits at the forefront of Millennial minds. All three candidates on the Democratic side support the expansion and improvement of programs such as Medicaid, Medicare, and initiatives such as the Affordable Care Act, informally known as Obamacare. One candidate in particular has taken the most public position on a nationalized and socialized healthcare system, Senator Bernie Sanders. A self-professed democratic socialist, Sanders takes the firm stance that access to quality healthcare is a right and not a privilege only to those who can afford it. This issue parallels with the reproductive rights issues important to young voters.
The last, but by no means whatsoever the least important issue to Millennial voters is education, more specifically, higher education. The cost of college has, for generations, been a hindrance to young, bright students seeking to improve their minds and, more importantly recently with the increased specialization of the global job market, their ability to attain higher-paying jobs. Senator Sanders once again, although some have argued unrealistically so, has railed vehemently for public universities throughout the United States to become tuition-free, or nearly tuition-free, arguing again that education is a right, and not just a privilege afforded to those who can pay for it. As a college-bound middle class student, as many of my peers are, the exorbitant cost of university, public or private, plagues both our parents’ dreams and our dreams alike. Unrelenting student debt is an issue that lays at the center of the youth vote in this election, and yet all but Sanders have swept it under the rug.
The 2016 presidential election will include an enormous number of first-time young voters who are increasingly vocal on the issues that matter dearly to them with as far-ranging yet interconnected subject matter such as healthcare and social progress. Only time will tell whether these same young people will show up in droves to vote for the candidates that reflect their views and desires and whether they will play a deciding role in the outcome of the election, but one thing is for certain, this election is only the beginning of a growing, more politically aware and civically responsible generation of potential voters and now they key simply is to tap into them. While Senator Sanders has continued to lead the way in terms of young voters, there is plenty of time for Clinton, as well as her Republican counterparts, to work to secure additional support from young Americans.