Will the Millennials End Partisan Gridlock? Don't Get Your Hopes Up

Political gridlock, lack of momentum on crucial economic and foreign-policy issues, and extreme partisanship have disillusioned the millennials in the U.S, according to this recent survey conducted by the Institute of Politics at Harvard University. While political disagreement is not new, the extreme forms that it has taken recently are quite unprecedented and perhaps indicate a shift in the political climate of the country. Given the fact that millennials played a key role in President Obama’s election (and re-election), their importance cannot be downplayed. One needs to ask, whether, given this shift, the millennials will ultimately make both parties obsolete.

They might — but it's not likely. Millennials' party loyalties are becoming solidly entrenched. As this TIME article points out, the millennials are largely liberal on many social issues, and even though they dislike large top-down institutions, they prefer making their own decisions. The country seems to be moving in a more socially liberal direction, with same sex marriage, and the legalization of marijuana being two issues that have won wide support. The article points out, "Millennials are comfortable with big goals and even big spending. But they’re also happy to circumvent the state altogether and enlist anyone who can help achieve those goals.” As issues such as immigration, the economy, and national security are discussed and debated in Washington, the young seem to be growing more disillusioned with the way things are going, as more than half said that the country is headed in the wrong direction.

The Harvard survey brought out some other striking findings, some of which were unexpected. For example, millennials are equally split over the NRA and support for gun control laws hasn’t shifted in the recent past. While there are arguments that the Democratic Party is in decline, with given President Obama’s drop in popularity and youth feeling frustrated that the change he promised hasn’t been delivered, the reality is that the on many issues, Americans are becoming more socially liberal. This doesn’t bode well for the conservatives. The issue of gun control seems to have divided millennials, as it has the other age-groups. As the Harvard survey points out: "Nearly a majority, 49%, support making gun laws more strict, while 35% believe gun laws should be kept as they are; 15% of 18- to 29-year-olds tell us that they prefer less strict gun laws. But those recent tragedies and resulting public discussion do not appear to have strongly increased youth support for stricter gun laws.”

 “One issue that didn’t seem to matter to the millennials is that of border control,” points out Eva Guidiarni, student chair of the study group at Harvard University. She pointed out that 40% of youth are undecided on the immigration-reform issue, and any group that reaches out will gain their support, she added.

Young people largely believe that politicians of today are incapable of solving the problems of today. What does this disillusionment mean? Does it mean that they will stay out of the democratic process, or become so partisan that they are not able to look at both sides of an argument? Will they vote based on ideological, rather than pragmatic grounds? One can point out that this tech-savvy generation is taking control of its own destiny and throwing its support to groups (and individuals) who can offer them solutions. While party loyalties may get entrenched in the short term, this may in the long run lead to disillusionment if neither party delivers the results it promises.

Perhaps the ones who may gain from this gridlock will be the independents, who may offer solutions and ideas that appeal to a young and restless millennial generation. While it remains to be seen how the cynical millennials will react to ongoing political stalemate, one can see how they might either stay with their current political party, at the risk of becoming ideological, or be pragmatic and go with the independents or the opposition, if either group offers a better solution to the issues that are of concern to them.   

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Sabith Khan

Sabith Khan is a social entrepreneur, researcher and founder of MENASA, a think-tank and policy shop engaged in issues related to MENA and South Asia. Sabith has worked for several years in the field of strategic communications, public affairs and nonprofit management, trying to understand and communicate issues pertaining to civil society, development and youth in the US and MENA region. Sabith has worked with several large global public affairs firms, on award-winning campaigns in healthcare, entertainment and government relations. During his stint at Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide, he ideated and executed a global award-winning campaign for Apollo Hospitals (Abby and Clio Awards). He has also worked in the Middle East managing accounts as diverse as Dubai Film Festival, Mohammed bin Rashid Foundation, Dubai International Film Festival, Dubai School of Government. Most recently, he served as the Executive Director of Muslim Public Service Network in Washington D.C, an NGO that engages and inspires young American Muslims to do public service. He is currently pursuing a PhD in Planning Governance and Globalization at Virginia Tech. He has been involved as a team member and leader in several international development projects including consulting for the Near East Foundation, in helping set up their Monitoring and Evaluation system for their offices across the MENA region. Sabith has a Master of Public administration and a Master of Arts in International Relations from the Maxwell School of Syracuse University. In Summer 2013, he conducted research on American Muslim philanthropy at the Lilly School of Philanthropy, Indianapolis, in an attempt to map giving behavior among Muslims over the last ten years i.e., 2002- 2012. Sabith’s research interests include Religion and Philanthropy, Youth issues in USA, Middle East North Africa and South Asia, Governance and Civil Society. Sabith is also the co-editor of Millennials Speak: Essays on the 21st century, a snapshot of the ideas and opinions of the global Millennial Generation. Twenty writers from five continents, a diverse mix of young academics, policy professionals, and future thought and creative leaders, cover topics from the legacy of the Arab Spring, the global food system, the U.S. student loan crisis, youth unemployment, to popular culture. Currently working: Founder and Executive Director, MENASA Publications: 1. Humanitarian Aid and Faith-Based Giving: The Potential of Muslim Charity - Unrest Magazine, George Mason University. May 2013. Accessible at http://www.unrestmag.com/about-unrest/past-issues/#sthash.GEqNfv0U.dpuf 2. Arab American Diaspora and American Muslim Philanthropy: impact of crisis situations on mobilization and formation of a “community.” American University in Cairo Press. Cairo. (NP). Expected Fall 2013. 3. Middle-East Peace Talks 2010: Investigating the Role of Lobbying and Advocacy Groups in Washington, D.C. as Spoilers. Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. Spring 2011. Accessible at : http://www.maxwell.syr.edu/parcc/Research/intrastate/Spoilers_of_Peace_Project/ Blog: www.sabithkhan.wordpress.com

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