Millennials are just starting to be elected to Congress, but they could one day make up the largest generational group there, bringing a distinctly Millennial approach to policy and governing. And that might include Democratic socialism.
Case in point: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the 28-year-old Democratic socialist who won her primary in New York Tuesday in an upset over a 10-term incumbent.
More than any other generation before them, Millennials are OK with socialism. A 2016 Gallup poll found 55% of those then aged 18-29 said they had a positive view of it (it’s worth noting 57% supported capitalism and 78% supported free enterprise). Compare that with those 65 and older, only 24% of whom had a positive view of socialism. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign was instrumental in mainstreaming Democratic socialism, but Millennials’ economic situation also plays a role.
At a time of growing economic inequality, Millennials are especially falling behind. A recent study by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis found Millennials born in the ’80s have a net worth 34% below what was expected. And student debt since 2009 has doubled to $1.4 trillion, contributing to a decline in home ownership among young people, per a Federal Reserve Bank of New York study.
For many cash-strapped Millennials in debt, Democratic socialism isn’t radical, it’s a way to fix a system they believe failed them. And Democratic Socialists of America, an organization Ocasio-Cortez is a member of, lists among its goals things like decreasing the influence of money in politics, and empowering people in the workplace and economy, issues with broad support.
Ocasio-Cortez said her race was about “people vs. money” in a campaign ad, positioning herself as an outsider determined to fix a broken system that favors the monied and privileged. Her message resonated with the voters of New York’s 14th congressional district, and it’s one we could hear more frequently as more Millennial candidates run for office.
And in her victory speech Tuesday, she said her win was “not the end,” but a beginning. “The message that we send the world tonight is that it’s not OK to put donors before your community,” she said.