Buttigieg, Sanders and Beto
Buttigieg leads 2020 candidates hoping to get youth vote
02:32 - Source: CNN

Editor’s Note: Richard Sweeney, K. Cathy Sun, Naomi Davy and Will Matheson are undergraduates at Harvard College and members of the Institute of Politics. The views expressed in this commentary are their own. View more opinion on CNN.

CNN  — 

There are a lot of misconceptions about young American voters. Many assume we are left-wing Twitter warriors, bleeding-heart socialists or an ignorant monolith that cares more about the latest celebrity showdown than about substantive issues. As it turns out, all these generalizations are either misconstrued or misguided. To all the candidates running for president in 2020, we’re here to set the record straight.

In direct contrast with the trite stereotypes used to portray us, our opinions are nuanced and divided; Our political attitudes are multifaceted and critical, and our allegiance is to values, not labels. We want candidates who will engage us on the substance of the issues. We aren’t here to listen to empty catchphrases. We’re waiting for concrete solutions and well-grounded ideas on issues that weigh heavily on our minds.

For nearly 20 years – since the first wave of millennials voted in the 2000 presidential elections – Harvard students at the Institute of Politics have spearheaded and designed the Harvard IOP Youth Poll to examine the views and values of young Americans ages 18 to 29. What have we learned from these polls? Young Americans are increasingly influential and more politically active than they’ve ever been.

As we predicted last year, youth turnout in the 2018 midterms hit a 25-year high, and that surge is here to stay. And, in 2020, millennial and Gen Z generations will represent more than a third of eligible voters. In short, ignore us at your own peril.

Young people are more motivated to vote when candidates meet them where they are and offer new solutions to the very real problems that keep us up at night. Half our generation experiences anxiety – and our poll has found that views related to the state of our politics are a root cause.

Another pressing issue our generation recognizes is climate change – and this holds true across party affiliations. Seventy percent of young Americans consider it to be a problem, and 45% think it is an urgent crisis. Many view this not merely as a domestic issue, but also a foreign policy priority that takes precedence over traditional goals like nuclear nonproliferation and trade relations.

However, this doesn’t mean we’re looking for candidates who will jump on the Green New Deal bandwagon. According to our poll, less than one-third of young Americans believe that prescriptions of the Green New Deal are the kind of action needed to address climate change. And even respondents who claimed climate change demands “bold action” are divided on elements of the Green New Deal – with some believing they are too radical or not fiscally responsible enough.

Politicians today miss this distinction by being too quick to generalize. Yes, young voters overwhelmingly want solutions to climate change, but they want comprehensive solutions that can practically account for economic consequences.

This holds true for other issues impacting our long-term futures, including economic inequality, health care and higher education. Despite memes about overpriced avocado toast, young Americans are actually more fiscally cautious than credited. In fact, less than a quarter of us believe that taxing income over $10 million at 70% and guaranteeing jobs at a $15 minimum wage for all unemployed Americans represents the bold action required to combat economic inequality; the majority of us believe such policies are either not fiscally responsible enough or too radical.

Our opinions on health care and higher education are also divided, when provided with cost estimates: About half of us support single-payer health care (47%) and eliminating college tuition (51%).

Here’s something you should also be mindful of: There is a growing generational divide among young Americans and older generations – and older politicians. Only 18% of us believe the baby boomer generation writ large cares about us, and only 16% of us believe the same about baby boomer politicians.

Where does this idea come from? As young Americans increasingly engage in politics and emphasize issues such as gun control, climate change and human rights, they see a failure of older generations to resolve these issues, which will disproportionately affect millennials and Generation Z.

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    This distrust explains why an overwhelming 82% of young Americans preferred a candidate who represented their views to a candidate who stood a better chance of winning the election in 2020. We don’t care about viability, electability or whatever you want to call it. We want candidates who are authentic in their convictions, clear about their beliefs and substantive in the solutions they offer to issues that concern us.

    Ultimately, candidates should view us like the electorate at large – ideologically diverse, with the desire to elect someone who will fix the problems that previous leaders have failed to address. Savvy candidates will emphasize their focus on issues that we particularly care about and capitalize on that support by registering more young voters. We are more civically engaged than ever, and at a time when we feel left out of the policy discussions of Washington, the door is wide open for a candidate to recognize our real concerns and earn our support.