April 30, 2014


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Recently on campus, there has been an uptick in the amount of student activism surrounding such issues as Resolution 72, the Student Assembly takeover and the potential end of free bus passes for freshmen. However, it is likely that the voices that have been speaking up about these important issues represent a very small portion of the total student body. As we saw from the poor voter turnout for the Student Assembly elections earlier this spring, the Cornell student body is less engaged with campus governance than in previous years. And there is little chance that it will improve.

As someone who lives and breathes politics, it’s hard for me to remember that most people, especially people of our generation, aren’t all that politically engaged. I’m sure that everyone has an opinion about who should be the next President of Cornell and who should be the next President of the United States. But so few people seem to want to talk about it and fewer still seem to want to act on it.

Earlier this week, the Harvard Institute of Politics released a survey about the politics of Millennials. One of the most unfortunate results that the survey found is that less than a quarter of Millennials are definitely going to vote in November. Despite there not being a Presidential election on the ballot, the entire House of Representatives is up for election and most states will have elections for the Senate or their governors too. These elections determine most of the people who set public policy in this country, yet most Millennials aren’t going to make their voices heard.

But the survey also shows that most Millennials have concerns about the future of politics and the country, and they have thoughts on every major issue facing the nation — from the economy, to health care, to foreign policy. The millennial generation has ideas and opinions but they refuse to express them. So it’s no wonder that a majority of Millennials believe that elected officials do not have the same priorities as they do. Politics is just going to be disappointing until we demand that our politicians listen to us.

Take, for example, the issue of marijuana legalization. A majority of Americans support legalization, and Millennials are the most likely age group to agree. However, this has translated into not a single governor or senator supporting legalization. Legal marijuana supporters have done very little to convince elected officials to support their position and have had no success finding candidates who agree with them. This is in no small part due to the apathy of voters in choosing candidates who agree with their positions.

In the wake of the government shutdown last year, the favorability rating of Congress hit an all-time low. However, most people still retain a positive view of their own representatives in Congress. They vote for the incumbents over nameless challengers in primaries and over weak challengers in general elections. There is very little turnover of members of Congress in large part due to limited other options presented to the electorate. It is very difficult to beat an incumbent Congressperson, so few people ever even try. This leads to corrupt and hypocritical politicians being re-elected time and time again. For example, Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) was reelected by a huge margin before resigning a month later under a cloud of investigation for misuse of campaign funds. In 2007, Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) admitted to having hired prostitutes before he became a Senator. He refused to resign and was ultimately re-elected by almost 20 points in his 2010 election. Politicians such as these will continue to serve in Congress until the voters stop voting for them.

Unless people get more involved in the political process, nothing will change. More people need to start seeking elective office. More people need to volunteer on campaigns, working to get the people they agree with elected to those offices. And more people need to vote — the most fundamental action that citizens of a democracy can take. And, as Millennials, voting is even more important because we’re the ones who are going to have to live with the consequences. Until our generation overcomes its own apathy, we’re going to be angry at a politics that never changes, but it won’t be anyone’s fault but our own.