Millennials, empowered by technologies like the Internet, drove social media to the forefront of virtually everyone’s marketing strategy. This oft-persecuted generation of “hipsters” now drive entire markets. Is it time for them to drive politics?
In 2012, the world population surpassed 7 billion with people under the age of 30 accounting for more than 50.5%. The USA has the third youngest population with 127 million people below the age of 30. Young people account for a huge chunk of society.
Everyone knows that young people are an important demographic who drive markets. They make up a group of consumers, that are vital targets when it comes to selling.
In Germany, The Mobile Bank launched a marketing campaign that used the hashtag #nobullshit. This swerved away from the traditional ideas of banking. Obviously, they were directly targeting young people.
When it comes to everything from marketing targets to protecting the environment, young people are seen as key candidates to get involved. Young people are a demographic that matter.
Why should they only count for some things and not others?
Even without the right to vote, young people have a huge influence in shaping society. Take social media for example. At first, platforms like Instagram and Youtube housed teens playing pranks and doing makeup tutorials. Now they are essential tools in most marketing campaigns.
Trends like influencer marketing and sponsored posts are trends that are being leveraged by established industry giants. No one paid much attention to millennial vloggers and Tumblr ‘it girls’ until marketers realized they could use these platforms to connect with a huge portion of the market.
Now, it’s normal for Amazon to have a Snapchat account and Pepto Bismol to have a successful Youtube channel. Before, you might question what UPS is doing on Instagram, but it’s the standard now–as dictated by, in part, millennial behavior.
Imagine if the same millennial power was injected into another cause–economic, political or social. Mobilizing the younger generations would be very powerful. What if 16 and 17-year-olds were given the chance to participate in shaping the society they actively participate in?
What if they could vote?
Not Mature Enough or Interested Enough to Vote?
Voting at sixteen isn’t just some crazy idea but in some places a reality. Nicaragua lowered the voting age all the way back in 1984. Brazil, Argentina, Scotland, Austria, and Ecuador have since followed suit.
However, many would argue that 16 and 17-year-olds are not mature enough to vote. This may be true in some cases, just as many 24-year old may not be mature enough to vote. Personally, I know many 16-year-olds that are wise beyond their years and better informed than most adults. Yet, they are written off as not being intellectually developed enough to have a say.
Another key argument is that teenagers would just vote for the same candidates as their parents. This underestimates their ability to think independently. It also has been disproven. The 2014 Scottish referendum showed that 40% of 16 and 17-year-olds voted differently to their parents.
Others would assume that if 16 and 17-year-olds could vote, they still wouldn’t exercise this right. It’s true that in general, younger people don’t vote as much as other age groups. That said, in the USA only half the eligible population vote routinely anyway. And, interestingly 18-year-olds do outperform voters aged 20-15.
Then there’s the argument that teenagers brains aren’t developed enough to vote. This is true, the rational part of the human brain is only fully developed at around age 25. Some teens are impulsive, self-centered and find it hard to see the consequences of their actions.
Yet, according to the law, they are mature enough to drive, work, get married and buy military grade weapons. In many states, including Maine, Alaska, Minnesota and New York, a 16-year old can buy a rifle. In certain parts of Minnesota a 14-year old can buy a rifle. They don’t even need parental consent. So, as it stands 16 and 17-year-olds are mature enough to make all of these choices but not mature enough to help decide who sits in Congress.
Should Voting Habits be Made Earlier on?
Turning 18 usually brings a lot of changes and the years that follow are often very disruptive and uncertain.
Between the age of 18 and 23, I had six different addresses. This isn’t out of the ordinary for people in this age group. 18 is usually the time when people leave home often going out of state for college, or job opportunities. When we turn 18, we have to learn to navigate adulthood and stand on our own two feet for the first time.
At this age, figuring out how and where to register to vote months in advance will usually take a back seat.
If this process was completed at a calmer more stable period in life then maybe voting would become a habit earlier on. If the first time you voted was in your own locality it would be more straightforward. Parents would be there to help with the registration process and voters would be more familiar with local candidates. All the paperwork could be done and voting habits formed before life gets in the way.
A Lacklustre Civic Education
Millenials are one of the first generations to have such a vast amount of knowledge and information at their fingertips. Yet, many would argue that they spend too much time absorbed in social media with little interest in the world around them.
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This may be the reality of the situation or more likely a generalization. Either way, it’s not set in stone.
Why are teenagers so uninterested when it comes to politics? Firstly because civic education and participation are not made relevant to them at school. Secondly, for obvious reasons they have become apathetic and defeatist.
Civic education is lackluster and this needs to change. The way young people are taught or not taught about society, politics, economics, and finance has a direct impact on the quality of life for individuals and society as a whole. Young people need to learn how democracy works, and that their vote counts. They need to be motivated from their school days to get involved.
Social media and access to the internet can be both a blessing and curse but above all else presents an opportunity.
In other cases, technology and the internet are helping young people stay informed and think independently. Millenials are a generation that strives to be well-formed and keep-up-to-date with new information. A study from American Press Institute revealed that almost 70% millennials read the news daily and 85% agree that keeping up with the news is important to them.
Social media offers a place for young people to express their opinions about issues they care about and start conversations. Social media has also spurred on a political movement that encourages engagement and participation in ongoing debates in the social realm. Platforms like Twitter provide users with a direct line to local and national politicians. Social media presents an opportunity to engage with leaders in real-time like never before.
Millennials want to have their voices heard and are not afraid to demand that their local and national representatives listen. In many ways, social media was popularized by millennials. Just think about how much it has become a part of everyone’s everyday life. What else could this underestimated generation use this power to do?