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Politics Through the Generational Lens


It was a historical moment that shook the nation after Donald J. Trump beat democratic opponent Hillary Clinton in a sweeping win to become the 45th President of the United States.

Following the results of the election back in November of 2016, we spoke to a Hamline University political science class lead by Professor David Schultz. "Part of what really did happen was that turn out was significantly lower than they anticipated. And generally the argument is when turn out is lower, it hurts the democratic candidate. Millennials, some women, people of color just didn't come out in the percentages that they did before."

Low voter turn out? The urge for the anti-establishment? Voter fraud? One things for sure, with an ever-so evolving population, politics are clearly changing. Today, the generational political spectrum is as follows: Silent Generation, Baby Boomers, Generation X and Millennials. Does age shape our political outlook? Professor Schultz says one of the great myths is people assume when you're young, you tend to be more liberal and as you get older, more conservative. "The reality is instead, we fix our political views roughly in our adolescence, somewhere between 14 and 25. In our adolescence and our teenage era, it's sort of how we form our views on lots of different things and they more or less stay with us the rest of our lives. "

Most of us don't become more conservative once we get older, some go from being very liberal to becoming conservative or conservative to liberal, but most of us where we are let's say 16, 18, 22-years-old is going to be the lens for which we view the world politically for the rest of our lives.

According to Professor Schultz, generations develop their distinctive political identity through the influence of historical or economical events.

For Fue Lee, economical hardship was what peaked his interest in politics. As a teen, Fue worked at the Cookie Cart in Minneapolis, a nonprofit that employs more than 200 teenagers a year, providing career counseling and classroom job readiness training. Today, he is the first Hmong-American to represent Minneapolis at the Capitol. "We have been here in the United States for over 40 years now and we have really contributed to what's been going on in the state of Minnesota. This isn't the first time and it won't be the last time where we have a candidate of Hmong background, Hmong-American background running for office," says Fue.

As Thai refugees, Fue and his family immigrated to America in the early 90's. Growing up in the housing projects of Minneapolis, Fue took care of his non-English speaking parents, which led him to take notice of the economic and racial disparities many people face in Minnesota. "The system that we have in place is tough. Folks who don't understand English or don't have the educational background to attain the services that are suppose to be there to really tap into to help us in our lives. That really got me interested in public services. How do we make it easier for our neighbors to really connect to the services that we have available?" explains Fue.

As Fue begins his political career, Elizabeth Kautz continues to break strides in her community. This year will be her 8th consecutive year as Burnsville Mayor, one of Minnesota’s most ethnically diverse cities. She believes the younger generations are going to have a huge role in the future of our country's economy as the upcoming leaders. "People are going to have a different lens that they view what government does and that's how it's going to shift."


Millennials and Their Political Role Today

According to Pew Research, Millennials are the largest living population, surpassing baby boomers. With a population of 75 million, Millennials are defined as those ages 18-34. As millennials are getting older and their interest in politics and social issues are on the rise, how much of an effect do millennials have on politics? Professor Schultz explains that today, millennials are the largest voting block in the electorate. "They're the most liberal generation we've ever surveyed. They are farther to the left than the silent generation, which is basically exiting out. Millennials are now starting to vote in larger and larger percentages."

So I sat with a few undergrad millennials from Hamline University, Evelyn, Michael and Reed to discuss the impact their generation has on politics today.

Rana: There's this belief that millennials are politically indifferent and are the disconnected generation. Do millennials care about politics?

Evelyn: I think there are a lot of millennials that think their voice doesn't matter and there isn't a lot that they can do. So I think a lot of millennials want to reform the political system.

Michael: I definitely think that the idea that millennials are somehow apathetic towards politics isn't quite accurate. I definitely think that we are some of the most opinionated people. I think where the issue lies is getting millennials mobilized and really participating in the political process.

Reed: There needs to come some massive issue that really galvanizes the generation. I think if we take take generations a bit smaller, the gay marriage debate was when the generation just before us had their big moment. I don't think we have had ours yet. We could argue it was the Sanders campaign, but I don't think we are there yet.

Rana: Research has show that millennials have little or no trust that the government will do what is right. Why do you think that is?

Reed: If we're basically middle to lower class Americans, which most of us are, the government has failed us.

Michael: We have a political system that has shown time and time again that the will of the people is not necessarily going to happen. Case and point with the 2016 election. You have Hillary Clinton who wins more human beings voting for her by a huge margin, nearly 3 million votes and yet the system, the electoral college, chooses a loosing candidate. Instances like that are disenfranchising our generation, millennials.

Evelyn: I really believe there is starting to be a revolution with our generation. I think it's really about us acknowledging that the government is suppose to be serving the people.

Rana: How much of an effect to you believe millennials have on politics today?

Michael: To be honest with you, I don't think that millennials have a huge voice right now and that's a shame. I think that's something that is going to need to change going forward if we want any hope of reforming a system that so many people are unhappy about.

Evelyn: I actually think we have a pretty big voice because I believe that there were a lot more people our age that voted than any other [generation] in the century of any election.


Future Generations Driving Change

American politics has largely been reshaped by social media. The rapid rise of social media over the last ten years has been a pivotal and monumental change in how we receive and distribute our news.

Thanks in big part to social media, vital issues such as LGBT rights, reproductive rights and the legalization of marijuana have been raised and addressed. Professor Schultz says social issues are likely to be irrelevant or a non-issue in the coming decade. "I think, to a large extent, the millennials are defined by saying 'It's okay to be whoever you are.' I think even basic fights over religion, which I think have dominated our political system for awhile are going to fade."

And what about generation z, the post millennials? How are they going to fit in politically in the future? "That's a group that doesn't seem like it's going to be as big as the millennials, but it's still going to be even more racially diverse. It's going to be even more religiously diverse and I suspect that we are going to see on the social issues that they will be very much aligned with their older brothers and sisters," says Professor Schultz.

One thing's for sure, the upcoming generations will begin to drive the change and challenges in America's next decade. "This country is always evolving towards greater things. We've been a great country and will continue to be great. The young people are going to have a huge role because they're the ones that will be leading the economy. They're the ones that will be making those kind of decisions," says Burnsville Mayor Elizabeth Kautz.

It's young people like Fue who was once a refugee in Thailand and now leads his community of North Minneapolis. "My biggest goal is to really see how we can bring back government to the people. When I am out there door knocking and talking to our neighbors here, especially on the Northside, we feel like a lot of the resources that we have available are not coming to them. So how do we connect the people we have here with the resources we have at the capitol and really push for everyone here in the state of Minnesota."

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