Political participation among millennials in the United States, and in other Western Democracies, has been lackluster compared to previous generations. Notably, however, their political leanings show a stark break from the priorities of different age groups, as well as a growing frustration with rigid systems and intransigent orthodoxy. The Brexit vote in the United Kingdom, for instance, showed that voters aged 18 to 24 overwhelmingly voted “Remain”, differing significantly from their older peers.

Similarly, the recent presidential election in France saw historically low participation rates of participation (65%). Among younger voters, there were high numbers of “ballots blancs” — the symbolic casting of a vote for none of the present candidates.

Closer to home, a Brookings Institution study, conducted in partnership with Tufts University, concluded that only 50% of eligible millennial voters turned out for the 2016 presidential election.Why is a new generation of eligible voters choosing not to participate? What needs to change to civically engage millennials, and get them to weigh in on political decision making?

Why is a new generation of eligible voters opting out of participation? What needs to change to civically engage millennials and galvanize them to weigh in on political decision making?

IVY Magazine sat down with Jonathan McGee, the Senior Marketing Director at GWU’s Graduate School of Political Management, to hear his take on the issue — and the ways he, as a millennial, thinks that politics in the US need to change.

Pioneered by the 2008 Obama campaign, social media has become one of the most useful tools for voter outreach and boosting participation. Yet, is social media by itself enough to ensure success? What have more recent campaigns achieved in their approach to “Big Data” that’s been equally innovative?

Social media has definitely revolutionized politics, specifically in regards to how campaigns are run, voter engagement/outreach, Get Out To Vote (GOTV), messaging, grassroots, etc. By itself, social media is not enough to ensure success in campaigns because if you are only using one tactic, 9/10 times you’ve already lost. Social media should be used to amplify your message, encourage getting voters out the voting stations efforts, and spread the message of your campaign.

Barack Obama was considered the “Social Media” President, but Donald Trump truly deserves that title with how he has essentially transformed Twitter into the new “Bully Pulpit.” His social media use was so effective because he was able to generate 2 billion dollars in earned media for his campaign, since news outlets constantly covered his Twitter and social media platforms. Furthermore, Donald Trump was on Facebook live every week for the last 3-4 weeks of the campaign, and averaging over a million viewers, while Hilary continued to leverage paid media advertising.

Politics is a business, and political consultants receive a cut of ad buying and media advertising which is why it’s not surprising that Clinton staffers advised her to not focus as much on social media.

In conclusion, politics will be defined by “Big Data” for the foreseeable future — and a campaign’s ability to leverage the newest and innovative social media tools to connect to voters will dictate how well they do.

What are some of the key insights a prospective political campaigner should know before trying to launch a political campaign for a political figure or a client?

The key insights that a campaign manager or staffer should know before launching a political campaign are as follows:

  1. Extensive research of the district/ward/state/country or client background/initiative/successes.
  2. Political climate/environment.
  3. Name recognition/money/fundraising ability/reputation/political style  
  4. Money follows the candidate, not vice versa: Hillary Clinton outspent Donald Trump and still lost. Message, experience, and charisma still remain the most important elements of a campaign.
  5. Innovative approaches to social media/a campaign’s ability to expand the electorate.

What approach should a political campaign strategy include in order to confront increasing numbers of people who feel disfranchised from the local or national politics? How do you bring back voter participation?

The answer is simple: bring back the spirit on which our democracy was founded: “Government by the people, for the people.”

Politics and government has become a breeding ground for corruption, special interest, and the political elite. There are too many IVY league lawyers and corporate leaders who don’t represent or look like the majority of Americans, therefore Americans feel as if their government doesn’t represent them. Most people may not agree morally or ethically with how Trump ran his campaign, but what he did extremely well was find a connection with everyday people and “shoot straight,” according to voters.  

For the last 10 years, politicians have made promises to the American people that they could never keep. Bill Clinton promised to build a bridge to the 21st century, which began but was disrupted by scandal. George W. Bush was the Compassionate Conservative — who dragged us into two wars and drove the economy into the ground. Barack Obama was “Change We Can Believe In,” yet the American people still lost homes, jobs, and couldn’t make ends meet.

The public needs to hold politicians accountable, and politicians need to understand that they must educate constituents as opposed to misleading them.

Success in politics means being efficient in resolving problems that people care about by doing it effectively. However, our current system of hyper-partisanship seems to have thrown pragmatism out of the window? What can be done to fix that problem?

This is a tough question. Political gridlock and partisanship have been present throughout our nation’s history, but it is definitely worse than it has ever been. George Washington warned about factions in his outgoing speech as President, but what he never realized was that, hundreds of years later, political donations would be included under the First Amendment. The Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act essentially revolutionized how political fundraising worked — giving birth to Super PACs, Special Interest groups stronger than the parties, and billionaires pouring in money to strategically define parties advertising agendas.

In the past, there were about 280 members of Congress who fell in between the left and the right, and that is where most governing happened. Given how ideological lines are drawn, and how divided the country has become, the new middle is the left and the right. Now, members of Congress have to worry about primaries from within their own party as opposed to a general election candidate. Lastly, the elimination of earmarks in the House took away the ability for members to trade favors or essentially bargain for concessions around policy.

To be candid, the start to ending gridlock begins with fair and competitive districts on both sides so that members have an incentive to govern. Moreover, we have to elect leaders who are willing to work across the aisle and not ideologues, because the US Constitution was crafted in a way that made compromise a necessary tool for governing.

What skills should someone develop if he/she wants to become a political leader, and how can we define the term “political leadership”?

The following are key: relationship building, networking, hard work, attention-to-detail, strong communication and writing skills, and the ability to think enterprise-wide.

The last skill encapsulates a person’s ability to look holistically at the political environment, analyze touchpoints/connections, and apply political pressure through various grassroots strategies, earned media, and social media/digital engagement.

Political Leadership is exactly what it sounds like, a person in a government/elected capacity or advocacy role who employs political strategies to enact change at the local, state, national, or global level.

If you could paint the portrait of an ideal politician for millennial voters, what would that look like? What characteristics do you need?

There is no ideal politician in my opinion for millennial voters because we all want different things. The most effective way to engage this demographic, hands down and without question, is via digital means. In short, the most attractive leader for a millennial is, simply, a millennial.

Similarly, a leader who has new ideas yet an objective nature, which is necessary to govern, would also appeal to voters who are tired of ideology, but seek more pragmatism.

There are a lot of great millennials out here now driving change politically. These include Avery Bourne, who at 25 years of age is the youngest State Legislator in Illinois; Svante Myrick, the 30-year-old Mayor of Ithaca; and Jeramey Anderson, the 26-year-old Democratic member of the Mississippi House of Representatives, to name just a few.

What should a successful political campaign focus on — being pragmatic, or inspiring votes? Can both be done effectively?

I would focus on being both, and yes — why couldn’t you inspire someone through pragmatism? Politicians promise the world and the stars, but I would rather undersell and then over-perform, which is what I was always taught.

For example, I would run on education and jobs in Chicago and talk about how I aim to leverage technology to create jobs as opposed to trying to keep jobs from leaving. Politicians have shown that they are not in tune with the American people because they live in a bubble. However, elections do have serious consequences, and we are seeing that today with the Trump Administration.

How do you, as someone aspiring to politics, make yourself authentic?

I make myself authentic by being myself, and so should anybody aspiring to become involved in politics. I am a young man from the Southside of Chicago, and that is who I am, full stop.  More politicians need to be themselves, and not try to portray themselves as something they are not.

For example, Hillary Clinton tried to brand herself as this perfect leader who fought for the middle class, yet this image was undermined by scandal and perception. Maybe, if she was more direct with the American people and had admitted her mistakes early on, and conceded that she got caught up in politics, she could have turned that opinion on its head. There was no doubt she was ready to serve, and do it as best she could. However, this is just my opinion.

What resources would you recommend for any of our readers interested in these subjects, and becoming involved in politics?

The best resources are a wide variety news outlets, and using them then to formulate your own opinion, but also being aware of the inherent biases in media. I would also recommend analyzing who the newest disrupters in the private sector are. This includes companies such as Uber, Airbnb, TaskRabbit, Handy, etc. — and looking critically at how these platforms can be leveraged politically.

Finally, I would argue that a lot of this is history repeating itself, and you have to understand the past before you can change the future, but also be aware that the future can generate permutations of this same process.

IVY is the world’s first Social University. Our mission is to educate and inspire future leaders. To learn more and attend live events near you, please visit IVY.com.

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