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Mar 04

“Something bold needs to happen”: An in-depth look at millennial America – Salon.com

What explains the runaway success Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign has had so far among young Americans?

Earlier this month, Salon spoke with leading Democratic Party pollster Stan Greenberg about what he learned from conducting focus groups with millennials. “They think the system’s rigged,” he told us.

Greenberg’s findings were intriguing, and they suggested that the next generation of Americans are itching to shake up an economic and political system they associate with corruption, inequality and stagnation.

But as useful as focus groups can be, they also have their limits — which is where “The Next Generation Blueprint for 2016,” a new, in-depth survey from the Roosevelt Institute (which also helped produce Greenberg’s focus groups) comes in.

Recently, Salon spoke over the phone with Joelle Gamble, national director for the Roosevelt Institute Campus Network, about the survey and what makes young people in America tick. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

You report a feeling among millennials that the social contract that has been in place since the New Deal is in some ways broken. What do you mean by that?

The “Blueprint for 2016,” our survey of 1,000 young people from 160 schools, did give us a sense that there was a desire to reimagine, for a changing America, the basic building blocks of our economic, civic and social well-being, because we felt like the rules as they are right now are just broken. A lot of folks have grown up in an environment where the job market wasn’t what it was promised to be. We’ve graduated or are going to graduate, if we went to college, with a lot of student loan debt. We see a lot of our family members, even ourselves, not feeling safe on their own streets.

So we feel like this contract, this promise between government and its citizens to provide the basic building blocks of our economic, civic and social well-being just wasn’t fair, which is why we thought issues like education and the economy and human rights come to the top of the agenda, and why our Blueprint calls for candidates and elected officials to prioritize action in these three areas, not just during their terms, but aggressively in their approach to their first 100 days after the election. Because we believe that these are necessary in order to secure and achieve a vision that embraces the human dignity of everyone.

What is the most important issue to millennials?

It’s hard to say there’s one issue, because I believe that there was an overall sense of not just one single issue, but a [desire for] larger reform of who gets to rewrite the rules, the sense that the folks who are currently in charge of making decisions that affect us are not being as effective as they can be.

Sixty-four percent of our survey respondents identified decreasing the influence of money in politics as a top priority for the next administration. They didn’t always see it as the most likely thing to get done in the first 100 days, but they saw it as one of the most important. Eighty percent of them cared more about a fair and inclusive political process than seeing their own candidate win. So ultimately it’s about how rules get made and who gets to make them.

The survey found that K-12 education was an even more important issue to millennials than student loan debt, which cuts against a common criticism of millennials — that they only really care about themselves.

We were a little bit surprised, but pleasantly surprised by this, because student debt is thought of as the biggest college student issue. But because respondents also were thinking about overall how the education system prepares people for a changing economy, their own experiences, as well as those their children will ultimately face, we ended up with a broader set of policies and issues that came to the top.

Ultimately, as we surveyed respondents and as we convened smaller focus groups of young folks to help cull through the results and interpret the data, we realized there were a couple of core values that were driving why young people were supporting education. So, yes, there’s this economic component, which of course links directly to debt, but it’s also about how people get access to society overall and how they’re prepared to engage as citizens. All of these other things are encompassed in how folks viewed education. Being able to give someone a good system at the beginning is really important, not just what they’re facing in college.

It seemed to me that, overall, millennials were much more interested in placing the community at the center of their politics than are, say, Baby Boomers, who tend to place more of an emphasis on individualism instead.

I believe that there is a strong streak of valuing collective action within our generation, millennials and Generation Z, the generation that is emerging after them, who we also included in this survey. We looked at economics, and with some of the issues that came to the top, we realized that view of collective action and the importance of everyone being able to work together to achieve goals instead of individualism really came through. Because folks cared about reforming the tax code, but they also cared about how to build strong local economies and the ways in which the economy actually affected them where they were.

Source: “Something bold needs to happen”: An in-depth look at millennial America – Salon.com

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