Wednesday morning, Rep. Jared Polis, along with three other members of the House of Representatives, met with millennial voters at Avery Brewing Company in Boulder to discuss issues that they feel matter to the younger generation. The initiative, dubbed Future Forum, is a plan by House Democrats to re-engage with a constituency that has become more vocal in recent months, but still isn’t as politically active as other age groups. Polis, who represents Boulder and other areas of the Front Range, sat with Reps. Eric Swalwell (California-15th District), who chairs the group, Diana Degette (CO-1st), and Steny Hoyer (MD-5th). Hoyer, who is also House Minority Whip, talked with local voters at length about the biggest issues facing the country today.
But the news media and their portrayal of “political theater” was among the most consistent topics.
“[They need to be] breaking into [millenials],” said Ilia Fiene, a former CU student and current master’s student studying landscape architecture at the University of Oregon. “All of us turned our backs on watching the news and watching politics because there are so many outlets and so many people bickering at one another,”
The evolution of media was also discussed, and how people get their fill from non-cable news entities. From The Daily Show to TheSkimm, and any number of apps, the four congressmen and women all got to hear a new perspective on how political messages get out in 2016.
“They wanted a conversation,” Rep. Hoyer said. “They want a two-way conversation. Not just a unilateral conversation where government or politicians or others are telling them something, but asking them and engaging in conversation. And of course [the] social media that we have not only makes it possible, but advisable and welcome.”
And it was a different format than a typical town hall meeting. After some opening remarks from Polis, the constituents were broken up into four groups so they could have significant time with one member of the House. Polis, Hoyer, Degette and Swalwell each hosted groups of no more than seven people, so that conversations would be organic, continuous and would give each prospective voter the opportunity to speak. But even with the palpable optimism after the event had ended, representatives and voters alike knew that open forums were only the tip of the iceberg.
The most recent Gallup Poll from September 2015 shows that roughly 55 percent of Americans either trust government “not very much” or “none at all” to handle international issues, and 61 percent trust it “not very much” or “none at all” to handle domestic issues. Polis and his fellow congressmen and women see that, and also understand that the gridlock on Capitol Hill is not getting anyone excited about being a part of the political process.
“I think there are some real concerns from Congress right now,” said Ben Droz, a D.C. inhabitant who does advocacy for a nonprofit group. “These are problems that are so systemic that millennials are thinking ‘How can we make a change when the system is set up to be totally against what we want?'”
“There’s no doubt it’s difficult,” Hoyer said. “I can work across the aisle with some but there is no doubt that there is an ideological hard-line in the Republican party that says my way or no way. We need to get through that, and frankly the voters of America need to demand that their member of Congress work together with their own party and the other party.”
While Democratic voter turnout is still lower than its historic high in 2008, but aside from that high, this cycle has reached the highest numbers since 1992, according to a Pew Research study. With Bernie Sanders, a favorite among the younger demographic, starting to gain momentum and the primary in Wisconsin garnering what looks to be the highest turnout in a primary contest since 1980, the most recent primary, there is a chance for millennials to get more involved again in the political process.
“We’re excited to be where people are,” Polis said. “It’s really about making yourself accessible, showing people that you care about issues that you hear from our younger constituents.”