At this year's Page Society Spring Seminar, Vox.com's editor-in-chief, Ezra Klein, spoke about how millennials are evaluating and shaping the current U.S. political landscape. Comprising the largest group in the country's population, millennials are an integral and progressively influential part of its future. However, Ezra feels it is important to not make sweeping generalizations about an entire generation, or propagate their stereotypes.
We had a chance to catch up with Ezra following his remarks to pick his brain about why millennials value integrity and honesty and how they will impact the upcoming election as it relates to communications and politics.
Honesty and integrity, especially on the presidential campaign trail, have long been virtues valued in candidates by voters. Jimmy Carter won the 1976 election because he said he would never lie to the American people, and people believed him, and needed to feel trust in their commander in chief after Nixon. Ezra notes that honesty and integrity become a more prevalent talking point when the political class is deemed to be corrupt and unworthy of trust.
The fact that millennials are demanding honesty and integrity from politicians is a sign that they have lost faith in our political institutions, or perhaps that they were never given a reason to have it in the first place. Millennials have known only the failings of the political parties and their decisions—wars abroad, corruption scandals, the financial crisis, the bail-out of the big banks, the resulting economic downturn that led to job losses and defaulted loan payments.
What has further aggravated the situation is the inability of the major parties to deliver information to voters and influence the public agenda. There's been a massive shift in the way voters consume news and information, and, political parties have consequently lost control of disseminating their agenda. One need look no further than the rise of Trump and Sanders, whose appeal is rooted in the belief that they are non-establishment straight-talkers, a sense that is propagated in their social media activities.
Additionally, crowdfunding platforms have given presidential candidates the ability to raise funding through super PACs and small online donations. Consequently, candidates do not need to commit themselves completely to either party. This aligns with the way millennial voters approach politics—they gravitate toward candidates whose ideologies and policies they agree with rather than the political leanings of a specific institution or a party.
Taking a deeper dive into the election front-runners' strategies, Ezra notes that the way in which they are communicating with voters is fairly standard - rallies, debates, campaign videos, etc. The difference lies in their messages and communications strategies. The most important thing for the candidates to do is to find a message that resonates with the voters. Those that are succeeding have found that message and are using the appropriate platforms and pathways to deliver it.
According to Ezra, whether we target millennials or another audience segment, there's ultimately no substitute for discussing issues that people care about. The fact that a message appears in a well-known publication or a big hub on the Internet no longer means that people will actually read it. The most important factor has become having relevant, engaging content.
The drastic shifts we're seeing in this year's elections are not an anomaly, Ezra says. They're the new norm. Rewarding honest candidates who act with integrity, respond to voter interests and needs, and engage authentically sounds just like the democracy that our forefathers envisioned. And it's the one that millennials expect, and will continue to demand.
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