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Millennials, shaped by ‘a nation in distress,’ pose a unique challenge to presidential candidates

Boston Globe journalist Evan Horowitz speaks at an Open Classroom event in West Village F on Wednesday. Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

As this year’s presidential candidates vie for votes in a tight race for the White House, one group of voters—millennials—could hold the key to victory, argues Boston Globe journalist Evan Horowitz. To capture that voting block though, Democrat Hillary Clinton, Republican Donald J. Trump, and third-party candidates like Libertarian Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein, will need to offer solutions to the specific issues facing this younger generation.

Millennials—a generation generally defined as having been born between 1981 and 2001—comprise a group of people “who did everything that was asked of them and haven’t seen a good economic outcome yet,” Horowitz told the audience at the fourth installment of the Myra Kraft Open Classroom series Wednesday. The semesterlong series, held in West Village F, focuses this semester on examining the U.S. presidential election from many different angles.

Horowitz, a data journalist for the Globe, provided insight on the unique socioeconomic circumstances shaping a generation that’s often painted with a broad brush as “lazy” or “entitled.” Following Horowitz’s talk, Thomas Vicino , professor in the School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs, moderated a panel of students—representing a cross-section of the Northeastern political climate—who weighed in with their own experiences.

“This is a generation that has never known a robust economy,” Horowitz said. “They were too young for the dot-com boom years, and since the dot-com boom years, there have been no boom years.” Millennials, he said, are also largely a generation growing up in a post-9/11 America, one that’s been at war for their entire adult lives—a situation unprecedented in the country’s history.

“As a consequence, this is a generation that has more debt and is failing to live up to one of the basic principles of the American Dream, and that is that you should be able to do better than your parents. And they’re not,” Horowitz said.

 

In some ways, the future is positive and we’re fortunate because of everything we’ve put up with. We’ve not been dealt a great hand, and we’ve been faced with a lot of challenges. It’s very difficult to grow up in a society that’s dealing with such big questions, but I think we’re better off for it. It’s in our hands to shape the next chapter.
—Maureen McInerney, AMD’17

He cited a grim study from April in which only 15 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds polled said they believed America was heading in the right direction—compared to 30 percent of the overall adult population reporting that same sentiment. Even that, Horowitz said, “is considered a sign of a nation in deep distress, and we’re looking at half that in millennials.”

So as a result, millennials are a generation frustrated by political and economic systems that have failed them, a generation that has “a real loss of faith in government, in capitalism,” Horowitz said. “Why have faith in these things? You got the short stick and everybody wants you to keep playing the game by their rules,” he added.

This frustration is reflected in millennial voting patterns, Horowitz said.

Forced to choose between Clinton and Trump, millennials choose Clinton by roughly a 60-40 vote, he said. However, when a third-party candidate, such as Johnson, is introduced to the mix, “support for Clinton leaks out the bottom,” and the split is closer to 30 percent each.

“That’s pretty staggering, and it could easily swing the election and do so in a pretty interesting way,” Horowitz said. “At the end of the day, the American people could prefer Clinton over Trump, and yet vote Trump over Clinton because there are enough lukewarm Clinton supporters who don’t vote for her.”

Understanding that paradox, Horowitz said he could still empathize with the choice from millennial voters: “There is no choice but a radical alternative because the system is radically broken,” he said.

Student panelists Nathan Worob, SSH’19, a member of the Northeastern College Democrats; Maureen McInerney, AMD’17, a member of the Northeastern College Republicans; and Chelsea Canedy, SSH’18, a member of Students Against Institutional Discrimination—all millennials themselves—offered context to the issues Horowitz raised. They fielded questions from Vicino as well as the audience.

While the panel occasionally found common ground, a topic on which they offered differing opinions was the nation’s future outlook.

“What are your prospects for the future?” Vicino asked. “Is it positive?”

Worob noted that the growing partisanship between the left and right is a hint of what’s to come. He added however, “There’s no real way to determining where we’ll end up.”

Canedy took a different approach.

“When you ask if there’s hope, it’s important to clarify for which populations: Who in America is the current system benefiting and who is it not?” Canedy said. She pointed to lingering issues created by historically racially-motivated policies such as the Jim Crow laws and said, “I feel like a lot of policies have been dug underground, and for some populations there are still a lot of spaces where we need to think inward about how we can address those concerns.”

McInerney was somewhat more optimistic.

“In some ways, the future is positive and we’re fortunate because of everything we’ve put up with. We’ve not been dealt a great hand, and we’ve been faced with a lot of challenges,” she said, noting the lasting effects of 9/11 and of policies that disenfranchised minorities. “It’s very difficult to grow up in a society that’s dealing with such big questions, but I think we’re better off for it. It’s in our hands to shape the next chapter.

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