To many practitioners, Millennials are the problem and the solution this cycle.
After the surge of youth activism around everything from gun violence to immigrant rights, some Democratic leaders are pinning their hopes on the notoriously fickle young voters — those between 20-35 years old — to be the deciding factor in November.
“We’re seeing young people marching these days. We’re not seeing as many vote yet, and I think that’s going to be critical if we’re going to take back the House in the midterms,” Rep. Nanette Barragán (D-Calif.) recently told The Hill.
But as lawmakers are hoping this cycle will see an improvement from young voters’ historically low participation in 2014, practitioners are worried that youthful enthusiasm is more trouble than it’s worth on campaigns and advocacy efforts.
“They have a 280-character understanding of issues,” said Garrett Ventry, a Republican consultant who recently tweeted his frustration with millennial staffers.
He wrote: “Social media has caused young people that have never worked on a campaign, knocked on doors, made calls, or donated cash to think they’re stars in the party.”
But it’s getting worse, Ventry argued, as some junior staffers in the age of President Trump now feel that saying controversial things on Twitter or Facebook and generating a reaction is at the core of campaigns.
“I don’t want to minimize the importance of social media, it’s essential to winning campaigns, and I’m not trying to discourage young people from getting involved in politics or voicing their opinion, but I think you are seeing people just firing off those thoughts and I think it’s going to get a lot of people in trouble,” he said. “I’ve seen that before when folks have either gotten in trouble because of it or lost jobs because of it.”
Chris Jones of PoliTemps, a political staffing agency, warned against seeing an entire generation in the same light.
“There's a temptation from older managers — like myself — to make generalizations about junior staffers and millennials,” he said. “But it goes both ways, and just when you arrive at a conclusion, someone blows up the stereotype and amazes you.”
In fact, some millennial practitioners have launched innovative products in the campaign space this cycle. Take Jake Mikva, who founded GoodWerk after interning on the 2016 Clinton campaign’s budget team. Launched as a hybrid federal PAC, the group raises hard dollars, but also makes in-kind contributions to campaigns in the form of digital video production.
The group’s organization, Mikva said, “gives us a lot of flexibility around campaign finance.”
They plan to be involved in 20 federal races this cycle in addition to doing work at the state level in Michigan, Illinois and Ohio. In a nutshell, GoodWerk offers its services as a “millennial engagement partner” to candidates in need of young voters’ support.
Mikva said the group was launched “not having a profit motive.” It’s goal, he explained, is to debunk the idea that consultants have that millennial voter outreach is unworthy of campaigns’ resources in a midterm.
“If this outreach isn’t happening, it perpetuates” young voters’ under participation, he said. “We’ve found the most traction saying we’re a group that only does [millennial outreach].”
That outreach may be more complicated than it appears this summer, in part, because millennial audiences aren't strictly online. In fact, according to a MediaPost report, "[on] average, in any given minute, the ad-supported multi-screen TV 18-34 audience is six times larger than Facebook and over two times larger than YouTube."