Letters From Millennial Voters

Dec 7 2012 @ 10:37am

Update from a reader:

All I could think when watching this video that you posted was: Would you two just go ahead and make out already?

A reader writes:

I hope it's not too late to add to the Millennial Voters thread. I fully agree with what other writers have said so far about the differences in education, and especially life experience, between Millennials and the older generation and how it affects our voting trends. My wife and I (31 and 30 years old) are both heterosexuals who believe in full civil rights for gay people and the right for these fellow citizens to marry the person they love and not have the government tell them they are invalid. After this most recent election (wet both voted for Obama largely because he publicly endorsed gay marriage), we got to thinking about the waning role of religion in the lives of people our age and how that might affect how we vote.

My family (we have two daughters, 3 years old and 6 months) does not attend church and we don't adhere to any religious beliefs. I was raised Catholic and attended church from birth until I went to college.

I stopped going largely because I feel the church has involved itself too much in politics as a means to control the lives of people who may not necessarily adhere to their beliefs through the passage of laws by friendly legislators. What we've noticed these days is not a single one of our friends in our age group attends church, talks about religious beliefs, or appears to be the least bit religious. We pride ourselves on being free thinkers and on not taking, at face value, the pronouncements of those who hold perceived authority. Compare this to many of my older relatives who still receive their voting marching orders from the pulpit.

Finally, I think people my age have grown up in a society so diverse that we reject the notion that government should protect family values. Whose family values? Mine, my neighbor's, the deadbeat dad who abandons his family? The point is, we've come to realize, because we have access to and are not insulated from so many different cultures, points of view, histories and other information that there is not one set of values for the government to protect. That's why I always chuckle when people run for office on a "family values" platform. They didn't check with me to see what my values are, so how can they assure me those are the ones they will protect. I more get the sense they want me to live by THEIR family values, and I don't like that.

Another:

I wanted to expand on something your reader said here. I'm another one of Orwell's children (born in 1984). My parents also got divorced. Until that point (around 13), I had a modern "Leave it to Beaver" life. I was raised Catholic and thought everyone Banksy-praylived the same happy life I did in my stable, upper middle-class household. But my parent's divorce tore away that first layer of innocence or ignorance about the real world. I no longer felt entitled to be completely happy all the time. And I could begin to feel empathy for others in similar situations. 

I stayed pretty religious and conservative through 9/11 and into the Iraq war. But those two events got me interested in politics. And the aftermath of those events, particularly the failure in Iraq and the way it was sold to us, tore away at the next layer of how I perceived the world and replaced it with a cynicism and curiosity that put me on the path to where I am. From that point on I questioned everything, and the college experience was right there to help that along. I went from being an O'Reilly-watching Catholic to now being a very progressive atheist.

I'm sure earlier generations can point to similar events that shaped their lives (Vietnam, WWII). But as many readers have pointed out, we have a much easier time accessing information. So if you want to look beyond you're own worldview it's easy to do so. That's another thing I think is important, greater access to life beyond your immediate home. While many of us may not experience poverty or the effects of war directly, we can get a glimpse of it through TV, the Internet, and social media. Seeing those things removes fear of the unknown and helps people empathize, which are key elements in becoming a liberal.

Another:

I was born in 1990, so I'm on the tail end of the millennial generation, young enough that I only have vague memories of the time before we had dial-up in the house, but old enough to remember gleefully tearing the feeder tabs off reams of continuous form paper. (And yes, I had to google "1990s printer paper" to figure out what it was called.)

Like the Orwellian reader you quoted, I have plenty of friends who are every bit as socially conservative as their parents, some even more so, because the Internet has given them the resources to defend their positions against the educated liberal elite that much more effectively.

Some of those friends are, admittedly, the Focus on the Family and New Life Church attending evangelicals I knew growing up in Colorado Springs. But many others I met in college – and this was Sarah Lawrence, hardly a cradle of conservatism. 

The biggest difference I've noticed between the conservatives of my generation and those of my parents' is that most of the people my age lean strongly libertarian. They may oppose gay marriage on 'moral' grounds, but they're more likely to consider it a choice that, so long as it's not forced on them, they don't give a damn about. "Civil unions? If they want to go to hell, let them. Just don't make my church do it." I've even heard a few propose that government should butt out of the business of marriage entirely, which, even as a liberal, doesn't seem like such a bad idea of me. 

Access is everything for my generation. Even the most insulated of online worlds is still infinitely more full of diversity than many towns were fifty years ago, and for our adolescence and early adulthood, we've had no way of escaping the fact that the world is a lot bigger than the books our parents put on our shelves.

Another:

I attended my dad's alma mater, a small private evangelical Christian college in southern California, and had almost no opportunities to meet anyone different than myself. In college, I became more strident and more singular in focus against abortion. I demonstrated outside abortion clinics, protested a Rock for Choice event, and generally considered abortion the defining issue of our time. I attended church with Lou Engle, before he was thrust into national prominence. This proved enough to make me a single-issue voter in the 2000 and 2004 elections, voting for Bush twice because of the fetuses. Other than what I was told about abortion, I was very ignorant about politics.

After graduating college in 2003, I moved back to Seattle, and more-or-less was thrust into the "real world" with the opportunity to encounter a diversity of opinion for the first time. I began attending a church whose members ran a wider range of political opinions. I was exposed to more religious diversity – I became familiar with the emerging church movement, started following progressive Christian blogs such as slacktivist and Experimental Theology, and at some point I discovered the Dish. I discovered the books of Brian McLaren, Jim Wallis, N.T. Wright, Miroslav Volf, Peter Rollins, and others, who expanded my view of Christianity beyond private moralism and world-avoidance. I began to intentionally pursue understanding of perspectives different than my own – the pro-choice position, the case for marriage equality, tolerance and understanding (rather than demonization) of other religions, modern feminism. For the first time, I became exposed, both online and in real life, to nonwhite, non-straight, non-conservative people.

I was no longer able to conceive of the GOP as having a monopoly on morality. Jim Wallis' (Sojourners) campaign "God is not a Republican…or a Democrat" resonated with me, as did the Dish's relentless expose on the farcical McCain/Palin campaign and the moral bankruptcy of the modern Republican party.

I don't currently consider myself a "liberal" or a "conservative" – I still try to see the good in both "sides" of contentious issues. But increasingly, I'm brought to the realization that the Republican party currently has virtually nothing to offer – it is decidedly not the party of family values or morality, is hypocritical and in the pocket of large corporate interests.

I'd absolutely love to have at least two serious political parties to choose between. But at least on the national level, I just don't see that as a reality. I saw, and in some ways still see, in President Obama a way forward, a rejection of polarizing us-versus-them narratives, an embrace of a multicultural, diverse America – an embrace of America at its best. I still support that vision.

One more:

I was born in 1986 and raised in a city outside of Salt Lake City that would soon become a center of Glennbeckistan.  The events of 9/11 and the actions taken by the Bush administration had varying effects on me and my classmates.  When it was revealed the administration was planning to invade Iraq, many of my friends – myself included – were wary.  Then the leaders of the Mormon church issued a statement that as Latter-day Saints we had a duty to support the president, even if we disagreed with their actions.  (The LDS church made a similar statement upon Obama's reelection, but I believe it was mostly to save face, more than anything else.)  But I just couldn't get behind the church's urging me to support the Iraq war.  Even as a 16 year old I could tell it was a terrible idea, why didn't the adults get that, too?

After the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, I still labeled myself a Republican.  In retrospect I realized I only did this to keep up appearances with my friends; I wanted to keep my bonds strong with them as we left to serve missions for the LDS church, and if being a conservative was the way to do it, by god I was going to be a conservative.

I spent the all of 2006 and the majority of 2007 in the Philippines, blissfuly unaware of what was going on in American politics.  My mom, an agnostic Democrat, emailed me that Hilary Clinton was mounting a run for the presidency and I replied to her that "I just didn't want that woman as president."  I had no reason to say that, I was just going by what my Republican teachers in high school had said about Hilary.

I returned back to Utah in the fall of 2007 and jumped into learning about politics.  It was Obama vs. Clinton, McCain vs. Huckabee vs. Romney, it was exciting to learn about, but I was still naive about politics, and I think a lot of my naiveté came from my religious faith.  The LDS church was the biggest supporter of Proposition 8, and all my friends were Romney supporters, who then became McCain supporters.  I cast my ballot for McCain.  After Obama's inauguration, I realized it would be the last time I ever voted for a Republican.

The rise of the Tea Party appalled me.  Their rhetoric, their unhinged paranoia, their thinly-veiled racist attitudes toward Obama.  If they were what the Republican party was offering, I no longer wanted a part of it.  I drifted further and further to the left, while still clinging to my LDS faith.  Then the healthcare debates began.  Healthcare!  Something Jesus probably would be on board with!  I would read scriptures and sing hymns that made me think, "Oh yeah, that Jesus guy was really on to something when he said take care of the sick and afflicted," but then my Republican friends would support things that flew in the face of the very same scriptures and hymns.

By 2009 I was no longer active in the Mormon church, partly because I'd realized that I was gay and partly because I realized that it offered nothing but a pessimistic view of the world.  Religion was not for me.  My time in college had made me too calculating, pragmatic, and skeptical, all of which were qualities I began to see in Obama.  As I came to value critical thinking skills more than reliance on a deity, I realized that pragmatism was entirely lacking in the Republican party.  I came to see the Republican party as a backwards-looking and regressive machine that does nothing to bring the United States into the 21st century; no, it was not the party for me.

I was a liberal.  That dirty word.  I embraced it, however.  I lost friends over it.  But I am proud to be a young liberal.  I knew I was destined to be one from the moment the Mormon church insisted that I support Bush's decision to invade another country, without questioning any motives or asking for any evidence.  The Republican party and the conservative movement is responsible for producing the current group of young liberals like me.  Similar to why they themselves are the reason they lost the 2012 presidential election: it's just that no one wants to be a Republican anymore.

Many of my generation of similar stories to mine.  I think it is safe to say that my generation is not satisfied with the status quo that the generations before us were satisfied.  We are leaving our parents'' dogmatic faiths behind us in favor of tangible knowledge, which will lead to breakthroughs in science and other realms of academia.  We are abandoning their antiquated notions of gender, family, sexuality, and morality en masse.  We have lived through the results of their belief in trickle-down economics and deregulation.  We have watched in horror as the climate has changed, while they have sat content in their inaction. 

We know that the road is rough, but I believe that we understand that our generation has a bright future and that we have the responsibility to clean up the messes left by so many before us.