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Young Women Rising: The Atlantic at the RNC

Who are millennial voters, what do they want from government and what does this increasingly powerful demographic mean for public policy? These are questions that The Atlantic’s panelists discussed during their Republican National Convention (RNC) event, “Young Women Rising.”

As a research associate for ALA’s Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP) based in Cleveland, I am attending several of the policy events being held in conjunction with the Republican National Convention. Yesterday, I participated in this “Young Women Rising” event.

panelists at Young Women Rising event
Panelists discuss electoral values of millennials at Republican National Convention

Kicking off the event, Harvard University Polling Institute of Politics Director John Della Volpe highlighted the importance of authenticity to young voters. In this cycle, young voters see Bernie Sanders as an authentic leader, but have clear reservations about Mr. Trump and Secretary Clinton.

The statistics on millennials’ relationship to government are dour: 75% do not trust government; a strong majority doesn’t trust capitalism in its current practice; and over 50% don’t believe the American dream is accessible to them personally. Della Volpe provided context for this when he said, “Millennials are seeking a compassionate capitalism, a little Teddy Roosevelt ‘break up the banks’ and a little Franklin Roosevelt ‘provide a social infrastructure.’”

The panel of female Republican journalists, activists, and leaders expanded on the issues of including young people, especially young women between 18 and 35, in the platform. In a party dominated by male voices and often criticized for its policy views regarding women’s issues, it was interesting to hear from a group of female leaders who support the party and Donald Trump. They emphasized that in engaging millennials, the party message needs to connect with the young voters through original, authentic channels and not the forceful, dated methods typically used in political advertising and rhetoric.

Columnist Kristen Anderson emphasized that studies show that kindness towards people from all walks of life and policies that promote equality are the most important values young voters look for in leadership. In addition, young people are more likely to volunteer and become involved in their communities than previous generations, and due to low trust in traditional government institutions, are seeking to become involved in their communities through non-profit, non-governmental organizations.

Anderson also suggested that young Americans today are delaying traditional transitions to adulthood – marriage, home ownership, having children– until their 30s, allowing many of their early adulthood policy positions and values to solidify. Many 18 year olds will vote in 3 or 4 election cycles before they reach typical milestones of adulthood, suggesting that many of their political inclinations will become a strong part of their generational voting identity.

What can policymakers do now to empower young voters to again trust in the power of government as a force for social good and leadership in America? A question from the audience concluded the discussion on a thought-provoking note: who are we really talking about when we discuss millennial, particularly young female, voters? Where do lower income women, people of color, and young immigrant voters aged 18-35 fall? For a group that is concerned largely with equality and inclusive politics, looking at the issues that affect young Americans across more than partisan lines may be a good place for policymakers and influencers to start in building relationships with millennial voters.

How does this discussion affect technology policy and libraries? Young voters are a key demographic to study and educate about the issues that affect technology policy and libraries because libraries appeal to millennials’ desire for services that promote equal opportunity. Focusing on how the library provides a service for the whole community, is a safe space for people of all walks of life, and provides programs to create equal opportunities would be the key to influencing millennial voters through authentic and compassionate policy proposals.

More to come!

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Margaret Kavaras

Margaret Kavaras served as the 2014 Google Policy Fellow in the Washington Office.

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