A reflection on the democratic presidential primary, the upcoming general election, and what voter turnout says about Generation Z. Ava DeSantis writes why her generation’s cynicism about two-party electoral politics may be a good thing.

Ahead of the 2020 general election, I prepare to hear complaints from politicians and political organizers about my generation. I prepare to hear: young people do not participate in politics, but I disagree. 

I voted for Bernie Sanders, in New York, after my Governor attempted to cancel the election and my candidate already suspended his campaign. Iowa’s voters, the first Democratic presidential primary of the season, chose Sanders overwhelmingly. Despite Sanders’ popular victory, by the end Buttigieg supposedly had more delegates than Sanders, but the Associated Press refused to declare a victor. New Hampshire voted for Sanders after observing what can be most generously called the ‘mishandling’ of the Iowa primary. Nevada went to Sanders handily. 

Establishment bias

After Nevada, Sanders lost the South Carolina primary, where Biden won the delegate count and the popular vote. After South Carolina, media figures friendly to the Democratic Party effectively declared victory for Biden. These figures’ distortion of the events of South Carolina and lack of consideration of Biden’s miserable performance at the first three primaries demonstrated the media’s establishment bias. 

A poll taken the same month of the South Carolina primary found that Sanders beat Biden by 3 points nationally among Black voters. Regardless, after the South Carolina primary, the ex-head of the Democratic National Committee and Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, said on CNN “we cannot win unless we prove there’s excitement in the African American community,” before endorsing Biden. 

On MSNBC, Rachel Maddow said “if anybody knows anything about winning the Democratic nomination and about what it takes for a Democratic nominee to win a general election, it is Black voters. And if Sen. Sanders continues to underperform systematically with Black voters, and if we see him get shellacked — not just beaten by shellacked tonight in South Carolina — because of his performance with black voters, that’s an existential question about that nomination.”

The Intercept described the disconnect between reality, and the reality presented to viewers of cable news outlets. “Important context,” wrote the Intercept journalists, “was kept from MSNBC viewers, who would be left to conclude that the same minority-voter problem that hobbled Sanders’ campaign in 2016 remains a major obstacle. It simply isn’t true.”

Maybe cynicism is a good thing

Guardian columnist Bhaskar Sunkara wrote, in a February op-ed, “why bother supporting an insurgent candidate, if the outcome is already assured?” In the op-ed, Sunkara advocated against cynicism about Sanders’ chances of winning the 2020 Democratic Primary. This cynicism de-incentivizes traditionally inactive voters from participating, like young and working class people, wrote Sunkara.

Cynicism may have a negative impact on voter turnout, but it is not unwarranted. Young people feel alienated from the political process. 70% of Democratic voters aged 18-29 said Bernie Sanders would be a satisfactory nominee, whom they would support. This was by far the highest level of support my generation showed for any candidate during the primary.

There are many reasons for young support of Sanders’, but I will cite the most obvious one. As In These Times columnist Daniel Denver wrote, “Sanders is the only presidential candidate who has put forward a genuine Green New Deal, a plan to radically remake the economy to serve ordinary people rather than just ‘greening’ the economic system that threatens to end human society as we know it.”

Sanders was the only candidate who shows a reasonable amount of concern for the biggest issue of our time, and his party hobbled him. Instead, we have a choice between Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee, and President Donald Trump. 

Joe Biden, who told the Los Angeles Times “the younger generation now tells me how tough things are — give me a break,” is not a vehicle for the change we want. In his own words, he has “no empathy” for our concerns. Even if he never said that, his disdain for the generation which will experience the worst effects of Climate Change is clear. 

In September 2019, Biden attended a fundraiser co-hosted by fossil fuel executive, Andrew Goldman of Western LNG. Not to mention his promise to rich donors at a fundraiser in June 2019, that “nothing fundamentally will change,” a slap in the face for millennials left on the wrong side of the 2008 financial crash and for members of my generation preparing for a planet irreparably harmed by the climate crisis.

In the 2016 Michigan primary, voters aged 18 to 44 made up 45% of Democratic primary voters. In 2020, however, younger voters made up only 37% of the voting share. The Michigan democratic presidential primary occurs in early March, the week after Super Tuesday. This means, Michigan voters observe multiple primaries and the media response to these primaries, before voting.

“The driver of whether or not someone votes is the degree to which they think their vote can make a tangible difference,” explained John Della Volpe, the director of polling at the Harvard Kennedy Institute of Politics.

Observing a process heavily stacked against the only candidate who demonstrates any respect for your concerns leads young voters to conclude that voting is not a viable path to change, but we are not politically inactive. 52% of participants in the recent Black Lives Matter, antiracist protests, were 18-29 years old. These young protestors willingly accept the risk of contracting the coronavirus to stand against police brutality.

Our generation of nonvoters is not a politically inactive generation, rather we feel alienated. While our methods of influence may be disorganized or ineffective at times, they are no less effective in achieving our goals than getting out to vote for a candidate who would make no material difference in our lives. The recognition that it is futile to fight systems of oppression within them may not be effective without organized action, but it is necessary to incentivize  action. 

Calling our generation politically inactive based upon voter turnout data demonstrates just how invested in the two-party system and, therefore, just how out-of-touch older generations are. Our cynicism may hurt us in the primary, but, in a climate which demands we seek avenues of change outside electoral politics, maybe it is a good thing.

Ava DeSantis

Ava DeSantis is Gen Z Voice at The Pavlovic Today. She has a background in political science and history at George Washington University.    

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