S. E. Williams
“Millennials: We lost the genetic lottery. We graduated high school into terrorist attacks and wars. We graduated college into a recession and mounds of debt. We will never acquire the financial cushion, employment stability, and material possessions of our parents. We are often more educated, experienced, informed, and digitally fluent than prior generations, yet are constantly haunted by the trauma of coming of age during the detonation of the societal structure we were born into. But perhaps we are overlooking the silver lining. We will have less money to buy the material possessions that entrap us. We will have more compassion and empathy because our struggles have taught us that even the most privileged can fall from grace. We will have the courage to pursue our dreams because we have absolutely nothing to lose. We will experience the world through backpacking, couch surfing, and carrying on interesting conversations with adventurers in hostels because our bank accounts can’t supply the Americanized resorts. Our hardships will obligate us to develop spiritual and intellectual substance. Maybe having roommates and buying our clothes at thrift stores isn’t so horrible as long as we are making a point to pursue genuine happiness.” ― Maggie Young
This year, San Bernardino County led California in voter registration with a proportional increase in the number of registered voters of 10.6 percent; while Riverside County saw an 8.8 percent proportional increase—the third largest in the state.
By early July, more than 18 million (greater than 73 percent) of the state’s eligible voters had registered to vote reflecting the second highest number of registered voters in the state’s history.
For a state to experience such an increase in registered voters during a presidential election year is not an aberration; however, California Secretary of State Alex Padilla has called this year ‘atypical’ and speculated the high registration numbers could result in a new election record for the state.
Although both parties have successfully registered new voters in California, the Democratic party has seen the greatest increase in its voter rolls having added more than 700,000 new voters.
Despite Riverside and San Bernardino Counties great improvements in voter registration, a look at total voter registration by county in early September, showed that Riverside County with a total voter registration of 65.24 percent and San Bernardino County with a total of 62.64 percent of eligible voters now registered, both fell well below the statewide average of registered voters by county. The state average stood at 73.45 percent—a clear indication there is still a lot of room for growth in voter registration in both counties.
A report by the Voter Participation Center in 2015 revealed the daunting number of potential voters who remained unregistered nationally. The numbers included 51 percent of millennials, 51 percent of Asians; 49 percent of Latinos; 37 percent of African Americans and 40 percent of unmarried women.
The data placed a spotlight on the reservoir of untapped voter potential in America— unmarried women, people of color, and millennials (the core of the Obama coalition). A coalition that now represents a majority in this country—57 percent of the nation’s eligible voters.
Some have identified these voters as the Rising American Electorate or the New American Majority—Riverside and San Bernardino Counties are fertile ground for these rising demographics.
For the first time in 2012, U.S. Census data confirmed San Bernardino County as majority Hispanic when this group’s segment of the area’s population grew to 50.5 percent.
Between 2013 and 2014, the U.S. Census Bureau noted the Hispanic population in Riverside and San Bernardino Counties totaled nearly 2.2 million—approximately half of the entire Inland Empire population.
During the same period, the area also experienced growth in the Asian population and a notable increase in African Americans even as the number of Whites in the area continued to decline.
However, ethnic minorities were not the only part of the Obama Coalition to experience significant growth in the Inland area during this period.
By June 2015, millennials in America totaled more than 83 million and represented 25 percent of the nation’s population—exceeding the country’s baby boomers as the largest segment of the nation’s populace. During that period of millennial expansion, Riverside and San Bernardino Counties experienced the second largest growth in its millennial population than anywhere else in the nation.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, millennials are more diverse than any of the nation’s preceding generations with 44.2 percent being part of a minority race or ethnic group. As an aside, by 2014 the nation’s youngest Americans (those younger than 5 years old) became majority-minority for the first time, with 50.2 percent being part of a minority race or ethnic group—making them even more diverse than millennials.
Not surprisingly, California is among five states or equivalents in the nation with a majority-minority population. Included among them are Hawaii (77.0 percent), the District of Columbia (64.2 percent), California (61.5 percent), New Mexico (61.1 percent) and Texas (56.5 percent).
At least 20 percent of the country’s millennials are Latino which may partly explain the large number of millennials in places like Riverside-San Bernardino and Los Angeles among others.
Obama’s coalition or the New American Majority appears to be holding strong this election cycle, partly buoyed by his rising approval ratings. On Monday, according to Gallup, Obama’s job approval rating reached 57 percent, tying for the highest approval rating before an election for any second term president in history—breaking even with Bill Clinton who also attained 57 percent and far out-performing Republican presidential hero Ronald Regan, who was rated six points lower at 51 percent during this time in his second term as president.
The changing demographics (growing Obama coalition) in the Inland region has the potential overtime, to change the nature of politics in Riverside and San Bernardino Counties; but to do so, citizens must vote. Across the country, pundits have continued to assess the potential impact various segments of voters may have on this year’s election based on whether or not they show up at the polls.
Republicans are concerned minorities and millennials will vote in greater numbers than ever before and supported numerous laws in various states aimed at suppressing the vote (many were stopped in the courts); while Democrats are concerned minorities and millennials may not bother to show up and cast their ballots and as a result are working diligently in communities around the nation to get their voters to the polls.
Most Americans view voting as a sacred right of citizenship, others as a civic responsibility. In either case, no one is held personally accountable for not voting.
There are countries however, where voting is a compulsory civic responsibility; countries where, if you want to retain citizenship rights that include one’s ability to receive payments from the state when necessary (like America’s disability, unemployment, or Social Security benefits, for example), you must have proof of voting. At least twenty-one countries currently have such requirements. Included among them are nations like Australia, Luxembourg, Belgium and Singapore.
Without mandatory voting requirements in America, getting eligible voters to register is the best first step in an effort to increase voter turnout.
California’s increase in voter registration this year was partly owed to a huge spike in online registration that occurred the weekend of Friday, September 23 through Sunday, September 25, the result of a reminder that appeared on Facebook’s newsfeed to register to vote online; nearly 200,000 Californians registered that weekend compared to an average daily online registration of less than 10,000 per day. More than 50 percent of those who registered online that weekend were under 35 years of age.
The next week Padilla released the following statement: “Friday’s registration activity was the fourth highest in the four-year history of California’s online voter registration site,” Padilla said. “Registering to vote is the first step to becoming an active voter. For many who may be new to the political process an invitation to register can be a powerful nudge to get involved. Facebook has demonstrated the power of social media to engage more people to register to vote, helping thousands take a big step to casting a ballot this November.”
The marriage of technology with millennials to increase voter registration may provide just the impetus needed to enhance voter participation by this important demographic.