It's Up to You, Millennials

Forty-six million young people are eligible to vote, while only 39 million seniors are eligible to vote. Yet, campaigns always seem to care more about what the senior citizens say.


Because they vote.

Of those eligible to vote in 2012, only 45 percent of citizens aged 18-29 voted, the "millennial" generation, as opposed to 72 percent of those over the age of 65. Additionally, voter turnout among millennials has actually decreased by six percentage points from 2008 to 2012, while turnout among seniors increased by two percentage points over the same period. Until that trend changes, elected officials will not address the issues that most affect the millennial generation -- the cost of entitlements, the high cost of education, and the overall lack of investment in the future.

According to the Social Security Administration, there were 2.9 workers for each retiree in 2012 -- in 2035 that number will fall to 2.1 workers per retiree and the ratio will continue to decline from there. Additionally, the fund will be exhausted in 2033, requiring either greater taxes on young people to recapitalize the fund or a reduction in benefits. Either one will dramatically affect the financial stability of millennials as they try to make their own way in the world.

In order to get lawmakers to focus on the policies that most impact the generation born between 1980 and 2000, young people must become more engaged in the political process, not only by voting but also by volunteering with campaigns and speaking out on issues of importance. But that doesn't seem to be the case. A poll conducted by Bipartisan Policy Center and USA Today on attitudes toward public service found that while 62 percent of young people say that giving back to their communities is either very important or one of the most important activities, only 17 percent are interested in writing a letter or email on a political issue.

Young people should be commended for the rate at which they volunteer in their communities and use social media to bring awareness to causes, but we need them to engage in the political process as well. For the past year, the Bipartisan Policy Center's Commission on Political Reform has been exploring issues related to the dysfunction of our electoral and legislative systems.

We believe this dysfunction has contributed to apathy among young voters. Addressing the apathy requires us to fix our democracy. A recent Harvard Institute of Politics poll found that nearly 59 percent of young people under the age of 30 agreed that elected officials are motivated by selfish reasons. And only 35 percent believe that running for office is an honorable thing to do.

On March 26, the commission is holding the final session in a series of National Conversations on American Unity at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston, in partnership with the library, the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate, and USA Today. This meeting will focus on congressional reform. Previous events in the series held at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, and the Ohio State University examined the root causes of political dysfunction and obstacles to public service as well as reforms to our electoral system.

The Commission on Political Reform was formed to investigate the causes and consequences of America's partisan political divide, to address the dysfunction and gridlock resulting from the polarized atmosphere, and to develop and champion specific, concrete reforms. The commission will release its findings on June 24 in Washington, DC.

Throughout these town hall meetings, the commission has heard from every generation, especially young people disenchanted with their government. We are very concerned that the only model of democracy that today's high school and college students have seen is one of government shutdowns, partisan name calling, and political showdowns. This is not the government for which we once worked, but we know that with just a few changes, it can once again be the beacon of hope it once was for countries the world over. In the meantime, young people need to run for office, help those who are running, vote in large numbers, and make their voices heard. They need to give lawmakers the courage they require to tackle these incredibly difficult public policy problems.

In the short term, please join us on Wednesday at the Kennedy Presidential Library or tune in online on the Bipartisan Policy Center's website and become a Citizen for Political Reform at

Demand better of your government. Help restore order and sanity to our political system.

Former Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson '94 is the director of Harvard's Institute of Politics and a member of the Presidential Commission on Election Administration. Former US Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman is co-chair of the Bipartisan Policy Center's Commission on Political Reform and previously served as director of Harvard's Institute of Politics.