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Opinion | John Della Volpe

What do millennials want from the next president?

Hillary Clinton campaigned in Manchester, N.H., on Feb. 3.Richard Perry/NYT

As they prepare to hold national conventions that begin a new chapter in US politics, Democrats and Republicans will have what is probably a last chance to engage millennials in the political process before their idealism fully fades and their faith in the system craters.

Research from the Harvard University Institute of Politics shows that although millions of young Americans were committed to helping renew and rebuild democracy after 2008’s historic election, half of millennials now believe that the American Dream is dead, our justice system is biased, and today’s politics can’t solve the nation’s challenges.

Millennials also express a growing lack of support for American capitalism, and more than two-thirds do not trust the federal government, Congress, the media, or Wall Street to do the right thing. Still, millions have not given up entirely, and say they would welcome honest dialogue with their parents and older generations about how to make government, politics, and the economy work for more people.

Should the leadership of both political parties — in Washington and throughout state and local governments — choose to ignore millennials’ values and principles, and engage them only at election time as subgroups in swing states, there is the possibility that we will lose their participation in politics and their support of government, paralyzing American progress.


What are millennials’ underlying values and principles? Our recent IOP poll asked 1,000 Americans ages 18 to 29 what the new president’s top priorities should be. Their responses were surprisingly consistent, citing five issues that candidates must address to earn their vote.

First, they seek clarity as to how the new president will grow our economy; second, they want to know the new president’s plan to reduce terrorism at home and overseas, and they increasingly support sending American servicemen and women on the ground to fight ISIS; third, they want to know how the new chief executive will unite Americans to address inequality on every front — of race, gender, economics, and education; fourth, they want our next president to inspire the kind of post-9/11 unity that they fondly recall, when Democrats and Republicans flew their flags and seemed united in common purpose to create opportunity and advancement for all; and fifth, millennials want to see these aims realized through a significant reduction in the role of big money in politics — a conviction that drove millions of young people to support Senator Bernie Sanders and one that other leaders ignore at their peril


As our 45th president sets priorities for leading America forward, he or she should not only consider the millennials’ five-point agenda, but also make a concerted effort to politically engage this generation throughout their term. The future of our political system, and the fate of American democracy, rests firmly in their hands.

John Della Volpe is director of polling at Harvard University’s Institute of Politics and founder and CEO of SocialSphere Inc.