The revelations from DNCLeaks have the potential to turn away a generation of voters from party politics.
The explicit bias against Senator Bernie Sanders among Democratic leaders exposed by WikiLeaks—dubbed DNCLeaks—has confirmed the suspicions of millions of his millennial supporters. The revelations have potential to turn away a generation of voters from party politics—and they may not come back.
While much maligned for inaction, millennials show as much political activity and interest as previous generations. To compare to Baby Boomers, in “1976, when boomers were between 18 and 30 years old, their turnout rate was 50 percent. In 2008, 51 percent of millennials—ages 18 to 28 at the time—voted.” Throughout the nominating contests leading to the 2016 presidential election, millennials also turned out—this time overwhelmingly voting for Bernie Sanders.
Millennials helped transform Sanders from a long-shot candidate, surrounded by more reporters than supporters in May 2015, to an important force in American politics in July 2016. During the primaries a staggering 71% of millennial voters supported Sanders, giving him more youth votes than major party nominees Secretary Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump combined.
What the Sanders campaign represented to young adults was a beacon of hope that concerns for social and economic justice could be addressed at the highest levels. While Secretary Clinton holds many similar policy views, Sanders is by far the most respected political figure among millennials, more so than President Barack Obama.
Among a demographic that values integrity over attributes such as political or business experience, that respect stems from the conviction that Sanders can be trusted to stand by his convictions and his supporters. The candidate’s authenticity attracted millions in the generational cohort to vote in Democratic primaries who may have otherwise waited until the general election to weigh in.
However, throughout the campaign supporters of Senator Sanders complained of biased treatment by party officials, voting irregularities and other fairness concerns—potential violations of DNC bylaws requiring neutrality during primaries and caucuses. Previously dismissed as conspiracy theories, many of these suspicions have been proven true by the revelations of DNCLeaks.
The immediate impact of these leaks seems minor: Hillary Clinton was officially selected as the Democratic nominee for the presidency, which is reasonably estimated to have been the same result had the favoritism revealed in DNCLeaks never occurred. The long-term impact of these actions by Democratic Party officials, however, will be much more important.
The revelations in DNCLeaks may be the straw that broke the camel’s back for an entire generation with respect to party politics. Millennials have come of age in the post-9/11 world, punctuated by the 2008 economic crisis and bridled by the shackles of student debt, lingering social injustice, and stagnating wages under administrations led by both Republicans and Democrats.
The result is that half of millennials identify as politically independent, 44% of whom lean toward Democrats. And while politically active, the demographic is naturally skeptical of political institutions: In 2015, a majority expressed distrust in government at any level, from the local to the United Nations (UN). Indeed, DNCLeaks is the most recent episode in a list of instances wherein millennials feel long-established institutions belie their goals.
Status Quo Will Prevail
In contrast, millennials see in Sanders a trustworthy steward who shares a mutual hesitance toward institutions—such as the Democratic Party itself—and a mutual understanding of the systemic problems which plague our country. The marginalization of this almost universally respected figure among millennials by a guilty-until-proven-innocent political institution confirms the disillusionment with the status quo and those who propagate it.
The lesson that former DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz and others have taught millennials is that, despite your best efforts, the political system really is unfair and the status quo will ultimately prevail.
Like the Watergate scandal from decades ago, the 2016 presidential election could prove to be a pivotal moment for an entire generational cohort. The nearly three in four millennials who were made to “feel the Bern” are left with no reason to view political institutions as avenues of change. Had Sanders lost without party behavior that bred suspicion, Democrats could have made critical inroads within the largest and most diverse American generation yet. But with Clinton and Trump unfavorability ratings of 60% and 64%, respectively, among 18 to 29 year-olds, the remaining choice yields no attractive option for millennials looking for politicians they trust.
Much is written about the proclivities of millennials, but this much is true: The majority of those who are politically active are motivated to resist structural unfairness—evidenced by the creation of non-establishment organizations such as #OccupyWallStreet and #BlackLivesMatter. In this election, the DNC has given millennials one more instance to resist.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.
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