Millennial eye issues rather than parties

Madeline Gray—North State Journal
Jenae Green

GREENVILLE, N.C. — The 2016 election has solidified North Carolina as a key battleground state, and the rise of the millennial generation of voters is playing a significant role in whether the state will swing red or blue.Of the more than 320 million Americans, a staggering 83.1 million are millennials. Nationwide, this demographic of young adults — ranging in age from 18 to 35 — is the largest generation in the country having surpassed the baby boomers.Carolina Demography, a consulting service at UNC Chapel Hill, has determined the millennial generation will surpass Generation X — those born in the mid-1960s to early 1980s — by the end of 2016, and by next year will surpass both baby boomers and Generation Y to become the largest adult population in North Carolina.”We pay taxes, work and will be leading the country one day. Our voices need to be heard,” said Brandon Cole Tillett, 18, of Greenville.Melissa Jenkins, 21, of Cary, added, “We are assumed to lack life experiences, to be ill-informed — some cases which are true — but for the most, we live in a country where there are plenty of opportunities to gain information.”Per the Census Bureau, youth voters in North Carolina swung the state in support of Barack Obama in 2008, marking the first time a Democrat carried the state in a presidential race in 32 years. With the state up for grabs this year, both presidential candidates have visited the Old North State frequently.Millennials have a variety of issues that are important to them. Tillett, a Republican, values fiscal responsibility, strong economic policies and foreign relations. Jenkins, a Democrat, values health care and foreign relations.”The issues that are important to me include the way the president and governor are handling health care,” said Jenkins. “The recent events regarding police brutality and the lack of progress toward ending brutality toward law enforcement; foreign relations and the interfaith relationships as they relate to terrorism abroad.”Drew Tawes, chairman of the N.C. College Democrats, said the issues most important to them include college debt and affordability, public education, LGBT rights and environmental issues.”The millennial voters are the largest block of voters in the nation,” said Tawes. “We are an important state for sure in this election. For example, Pitt County is a very purple district, meaning we can swing the votes either way. So the College Democrats are working to turn it blue.”But then there are people like Stephen Calkins, 23, of Greenville, whose position as an unaffiliated voter makes up much of millennial population. He votes based on values and not party affiliation.”I am unaffiliated and don’t align myself with either party. I am looking for candidates who value protecting the environment and supporting public school teachers,” said Calkins.”I’m supporting candidates that I can trust to be in a position of power to defend our rights and freedoms without overreaching,” added Cassidy Cloer, 20, of Burlington, another unaffiliated voter.One key factor among millennials in voting — they don’t vote a straight party ticket.”In main issues I find I lean toward Republican values, but I don’t vote a straight party ticket,” said Tillett. “Both parties are selecting who they think is the best for us, and I should give each one an equal shot to earn my vote.”In the eight years of having a Democrat as president, the best the Republicans can come up with is Donald Trump?” added Tillett. “The Democrats could only come up with Hillary Clinton, who is under an FBI investigation. We don’t have the best options this year.”Huntersville 19-year-old Grant Boulfon, another registered Republican, values the right to bear arms and lower taxes.”I don’t lean heavy on the right side, so I definitely had a mixed ballot,” said Boulfon. “I don’t agree with voting a straight party ticket. I look for a candidate that represents the values I see.”