The First Debate: What it Offered America's Millennials

When discussing the Presidential debate with my peers, a near unanimous sentiment has appeared: regardless of one’s political persuasion, nobody is happy with the options of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton as our next U.S. President. Over the last year and a half, the campaign has been in full swing. It has become painfully clear that the two major Party nominees have little to offer young people. Throughout the campaign, not much has been said by the nominees about student loan debt, the national debt as a whole, the broken criminal justice system, or just about any other issue that is on the radar for most young people.

Although the first debate largely seemed to be more of the same, a few bright moments did occur, hinting at the possibility that the tides may be changing. A USA Today poll recently found that 17 percent of millennials think criminal justice reform is the number one issue facing this nation. Knowing this key data point, Clinton actually did spend a fair amount of time discussing reform. Her rhetoric may not be what she has pushed for in the past, or at all reminiscent of the actions of the Clinton Administration of the 90’s, yet it nonetheless provided an important platform for a critical issue facing this nation. Further, albeit briefly, both candidates were willing to discuss the national debt during the debate. This change certainly is not a revolutionary one, but some change is better than none.

Another moment that stood out regarding these issues was Trump’s comments about interest rates and the Federal Reserve. Certainly, most millennials would not consider the Fed to be a top issue. However, a Federal Reserve which runs “correctly” would have a major impact on our monetary system and interest rates. A functional Federal Reserve has a substantial, yet often unrecognized impact on interest rates across the board. Specifically Trump asserted, “The Fed, by keeping interest rates at this level, the Fed is doing political things. ... The Fed is being more political than Secretary Clinton.” Although Trump’s comments may not get to the heart of the problems with the Federal Reserve, the statement certainly marks a stark contrast to what most politicians are willing to say. The legitimacy of the Federal Reserve has been a major controversy since the founding of this nation. For Trump to finally question its seemingly endless impact on the economy is only beneficial for the long run of the American economy.

In the end, young people are drawn to politicians who do not seem to be “politicians.” Typically, establishment candidates have challenges connecting with the youth vote. Most recently, millennials fueled the “Feel the Bern” phenomenon. Four years prior, it was the “Ron Paul Revolution.” With both 2016 candidates having historical negative ratings, it is clear that many young voters are still holding out in search of other options. While the mainstream choices will not change before the election, small debate moments ― more substantial than normal ― offered a glimmer of hope to America’s millennials on the issues they value.

Interested in working to improve your candidate, organization, or businesses outreach to millennials? Be sure to check out the Leahy Strategies website or Facebook.