Millennials — those who were born between the early 80s to late 90s—are a much maligned demographic, often labeled as self-entitled, prone to egocentricism and exhibiting a “couldn't care less attitude about the elections.”
Shoring up support from the millennial group may seem like a challenge for candidates. In fact, millennials barely hit 9 percent of the total voting turnout rate on island, according to the 2014 Election Comparative Analysis Report.
The Guam Election Commission took notice of the lagging numbers. In their 2014 report, the commission said that out of the total 51,975 registered votes during that year, only 72 percent or 37,373 voted. Out of this number, 3,197 voters belong to the 18-24 age range, while 3,156 voters belong to the 25-31 age range.
Debunking the political apathy attached to their generation, some of the millennials interviewed by the Pacific Island Times said they want their voices heard in the upcoming elections.
“Nationwide, we’ve seen my generation come out. People are starting to care. My generation is starting to care,” said Christian Valencia, a sophomore at the College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts and resident of Yigo. “With the advent of social media, I think, we are all blasted with news about Donald Trump, about Hillary Clinton, and with all of our local politicians.”
Valencia added, “They want their voices out, as well as in social media. I have Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and I’ve seen people posting their concerns. Just what I tell most of my friends: you can voice all of your concerns but what you should really do is vote this election. Because your vote will matter and in the coming years, within the next two decades, we will be the deciding bloc in the coming elections.”
Kimberly Dela Cruz, a student of criminal justice at the University of Guam, intends to vote in this coming election. She agrees though that some of her peers seem to be apathetic to the election process. “I would say that they would rather not vote since it would take up their time. They would rather go shopping or eating out. I am just starting to vote now. Now that I am older,” said Dela Cruz, who will be voting for the first time on Guam after moving here four years ago.
Leo Llegado, another criminal justice major, said, “I like voting. I think it gives you a voice in the elections. For public administration and criminal justice majors, the candidates actually come here. It sparks the students not only to vote but to also get to know the candidates in a closer way so they are encouraged, when they see their platforms, their ideas and thoughts,” he said.
“These close interactions with candidates encouraged him to vote. “I think it is a great thing. I honestly think that this is what made me want to vote. We really appreciate the candidates coming in because it gives us a better idea of the person running,” Llegado added.
Efforts to encourage millennial voting participation have been initiated in the past, including the introduction of Bill 279-33, which Sen. Nerissa Underwood said would allow pre-registered voters who are 17 years of age to vote in the primary election if they will turn 18 by the general election. In her statement upon the introduction of the bill, Underwood cited studies which show the youth will vote if asked to do so. “This policy increases youth engagement in the political process by creating an ethos of participation from a younger age. Once a person votes, that person is likely to vote again.”
With the passage of the bill, Guam joins 21 states plus the District of Columbia that already allow 17 year olds who will be 18 by the general election to participate in the state primaries or caucuses.
GEC executive director Maria Pangelinan, in a letter of support, said the “commission welcomes any legislation that will promote participation in the voting process. In particular, she said, “the commission is very supportive of the efforts to grow the young voters, a very poorly represented sector of our voter population (8.6 percent of the 2014 general election voters).”
While millennial numbers lag in the elections, social media participation rates for this particular group has been consistently on an upward curve. Some see this as a factor that could spur the increase of millennial participation rates this coming election.
“Millennials will likely be more positive about voting than their X-er peers,” University of Guam professor Ron McNinch said. “The reason is selfies. Voting is an easy selfie experience. It is also easy to share therefore, it translates not only into voting but into activism.”
According to McNinch, as millennials learn that they can express their opinions and have a possible influence, a lot of hidden values emerge. “But we are just at the start of studying this,” he said.
Above the labels attached to the millennial generation, “their acceptance and inclination for all things digital,” which include the use of social media, has been viewed as a defining trait. According to a Pew Research study, modern technology has been used by millennials as “a badge of generational identity,” as something that distinguishes them from other generations.”
On Guam, any hot topic — whether the upcoming elections or raises in the wages of government officials — often elicits a firestorm of reaction across social media. The various online platforms have become the forum for the younger generation to get their news before it hits the paper or to discuss various causes and express their perspectives on issues that matter to them, individually or collectively.
Political candidates recognize this potential. The more tech savvy ones have gone beyond the street corner waves and billboard signs into the social media arena, putting out a barrage of advertisements on Facebook, YouTube and other platforms with the hope of getting their message across the millennial demographic.