Millennials Need to Vote -- For Themselves and Their Country

I'm tired of my peers telling me they're not going to vote, that it doesn't matter, that both parties are the same and that they're all corrupt. I'm tired because my peers aren't ignorant, stupid or selfish -- they're just tired. And they have every right to be. Their employment prospects are dim; they're drowning in over a trillion dollars of student loan debt; Congress has relentlessly avoided the nation's biggest problems. To millennials (and most Americans), politics looks ugly, privileged and -- worst of all -- useless. The problem is that politics affects us whether or not we're engaged, and by not voting, millennials perpetuate a vicious cycle of apathy and cynicism that too many are happy to exploit.

I shouldn't need to say this, but there are profound differences between the Democratic and Republican candidates in most races. It infuriates me whenever anyone tells me they're all the same -- they're not. Using DW-Nominate scores, which use individual politicians' voting records to determine their level of partisanship, scholars found that Democratic and Republican members of Congress have never been more polarized. This partisan shift has continued unabated since the early 1980s, and it is almost entirely due to the Republican party moving to the right. Blame President Obama all you want, but this is the biggest reason you haven't seen much legislation passed since the Republicans took the House of Representatives in the 2010 midterms.

It upsets me that many millennials think their vote doesn't matter, because it's precisely why most politicians don't consider their problems important. While millennials' views on climate change, immigration, wealth and income inequality, and student loan debt generally align with Democrats, these problems will only get the attention they deserve from both parties if millennials vote.

Millennials comprise over 80 million potential voters. We may not realize it, but we have immense power -- to shape markets, businesses, family life, human rights and politics. We have the power to transform both political parties and terrify politicians who ignore us. If you need any proof that a dedicated bloc of voters can impact the political system, look no further than senior citizens, who consistently vote in higher percentages than millennials. Republicans and Democrats alike fear them and prioritize their biggest concern: Medicare. That old folks wield so much political power will actually hurt millennials: as Baby Boomers age, more of them will become eligible for Medicare, which will balloon budget deficits and crowd out federal spending for infrastructure, education and job training -- things that young people will desperately need. Millennials already facing high unemployment will be forced to cover the costs of government, but will receive few of its benefits.

Unfortunately, midterm elections aren't sexy. Their lack of a presidential campaign makes them less interesting and seemingly less urgent. This is deceptive, considering what happened in the last midterm election, in which 24 percent of millennials voted, and Republicans gained control of the House of Representatives. Midterms may not excite, but they matter. When millennials don't vote, we surrender our power and ideas. We show politicians we don't care and condemn ourselves and our country.

Our democracy is broken. Repairing it will require our attention -- and our votes.