Op-Ed: Why Gen Y is so cynical

(LIN) — It’s the same story generation after generation: The older and wiser look down on the up-and-coming young Americans and hang their head, wondering how in the world the young bucks will carry the future of America.

Today’s millennials are no different. We have been called lazy, haplessly doomed and politically apathetic. But has anyone ever thought to ask why we might feel this way?

Short answer: We just don’t trust our government to take care of us.

According to an April 2013 study by Harvard University’s Institute of Politics, Americans ages 18-29 are becoming increasingly more skeptical that the nation’s major branches of government – The White House, Congress and the U.S. Supreme Court – will “do the right thing.”

Here are a few highlights from the study surveying Americans ages 18-29:

  • 48 percent do not think their vote will make a difference (up from 29 percent in 2012.)
  • Only 25 percent think the U.S. is headed in the right direction.
  • Nearly half of Americans under 30 think today’s politics cannot meet our country’s future challenges.
  • Although 52 percent approve of President Barack Obama’s job performance, less than half approve of the way he’s handling Iran, health care, gun violence, the economy or the federal deficit.

And these fundamental findings are only strengthening partisanship, it seems.

“Young voters, like older Americans, are becoming more partisan by the day,” said John Della Volpe, polling director of the Institute. “On issues ranging from their views of the president to immigration to gun control to the role government should play in improving our economy, both Democrats and Republicans are hardening their positions, while Independent-minded voters are tuning out.”

This, Della Volpe argues, depresses the collaborative spirit of American ingenuity and creativity.

This national partisanship can be seen in three major areas –the federal budget, immigration and gun control – where young Americans have the strongest opinions.

Federal Budget: Approximately 55 percent of young Americans cite issues relating to the economy as the biggest problem America faces. Not surprisingly, “creating jobs and lowering the unemployment rate” was the top issue. In 2010, the difference between Democrats and Republicans who agreed that “government spending is an effective way to increase growth” was 17 percentage points. In 2013, that divide increased to 24 points.

Immigration: In three years, an 11-point percent difference can be marked between Republicans and Democrats when asked if immigration reform has “done more good than harm.” In 2013, 31 percent of Democrats and 20 percent of Republicans can agree with that statement. According to this study, 44 percent of Generation Y believes that those in the country illegally now should be afforded a path to citizenship, as long as they pay taxes, learn English, have no criminal history and pay a fine.

Gun control: Nearly half of millennials want tougher gun laws, 35 percent say no change is needed and 15 percent say laws should be less strict. The partisan divide has deepened on a national scale in light of recent events including shootings in Aurora, Colo., and Newtown, Conn. Since 2011, the percentage of Democrats who want tougher gun laws has increased 8 points; while the percentage of Republicans wanting tougher laws has decreased 7 percent.

“We have been warned,” writes Della Volpe in the final pages of the report. “Unless the discourse in America changes, from the top-down, all of us will suffer and the nation will lose a generation of the best and brightest citizens, voters and public servants the world has to offer.”

It’s not that we don’t care about the issues. We just don’t trust those making decisions for us.

ONLINE: View the complete study

Gen Y is a weekly opinion piece covering issues that matter most to younger, influential Americans through their late 30s. Jessica O. Swink, a 20-something, is the digital political producer for LIN Media and contributing editor to onPolitix .

blog comments powered by Disqus