Sitting in a crowded high school cafeteria waiting for the most religiously conservative of the Republican candidates in the 2016 primaries to arrive, I was surprised to hear ABBA’s Dancing Queen being played on the loudspeakers. Mixed in with classic rock and country ballads, it appears that ABBA has somehow incorporated itself into the Ted Cruz playlist. I can't think of a song that describes Ted Cruz and his campaign’s goals less than Dancing Queen. Cruz is the opposite of young and sweet, and he's definitely older than seventeen. Likewise, Hillary Clinton events in New Hampshire feature Katy Perry songs in proliferation, perhaps in some desperate attempt to appeal to young female voters. Candidates on both sides of the primary are in a race to attract young voters to their cause, but the use of faux girl power songs falls flat against a backdrop of what young female voters really want, and ends up feeling a lot like pandering.
Not just Cruz and Clinton, but all of the 2016 primary candidates have exhibited half-hearted attempts at appealing to “the youth”. Even Bernie Sanders, who is touted as the favorite candidate of liberal college students everywhere, has made a few failed attempts at relating to young voters, though not so many as other candidates on the slate. These failed attempts at engaging young voters are not the result of apathy from twenty-somethings across the country, but stem from a lack of empathy and respect from candidates. Millennials are highly politically engaged, and have endless amounts of information constantly at their fingertips, which makes attempts to woo them with popular songs seem pretty weak. Young people care about more than tweeting and pop stars, despite how older generations view us. And we’re not apathetic towards politics, we’re just cynical. Millennials have access to vast amounts of political information, and this expanded knowledge makes us understandably cynical about a political process that looks at us simply as a demographic of potential voters, and cares little for our views on policy.
Despite what political analysts are telling candidates, they are not going to win over millennial voters with a tweet or an appearance on Saturday Night Live. Candidate’s are being given bad advice by their aides, and often alienate young people in the process of attempting to appeal to them. As it turns out, young voters want a candidate who acknowledges their cynicism and counters it with innovative new policy ideas. Today’s youth are intelligent and have access to more information than older generations could collect in a lifetime, and we won’t respond favorably to pandering.
--Sydney Spreck is a St. Olaf sophomore from Stillwater, MN, majoring in Political Science and Women's and Gender Studies. She is in New Hampshire as part of a St. Olaf political science class studying the presidential primary elections.