What makes millennials vote in this election year: fear, optimism or ignorance?
Zena is confused. She identifies herself as a democrat in the U.S. state of Virginia. Her choices are either Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders or his rival, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, both democratic candidates in the 2016 presidential race. Her confusion comes from the frustration with politics and the current gridlock in Washington, D.C.
"The dysfunctional congress is holding every single issue as hostage," Zena Bahr, who lives and works in Springfield, Va., said. She is one of many Arab Americans who want to feel safe in their own country. Comments by presidential candidates like Donald Trump have especially raised fears among Muslims in particular and Arab Americans in general, leaving them feeling threatened and discriminated against.
"We want to see someone in the Oval Office who really cares about all Americans," said Chris Daniels, 28, who works at TNTP, a national nonprofit founded by teachers. "Any president should not discriminate against any minority living in the United States, because that is not who we are, and it is against our beliefs," Daniels added.
The challenge with millennials is not ideology but performance. During President Barack Obama's two terms, the generation struggled economically. Millennials are more likely to be poor and less likely to be married.
Most importantly, today's households headed by 25- to 32-year-olds have accumulated only half as many financial assets as their counterparts had in 1984, even though more young people today hold college degrees.
"We want to work and earn a decent life," Zena said. "My parents owned a house when they were my age, unfortunately that is not my case." Zena wants a president who lowers the student loans in order for young people to buy houses or invest in something other than paying their debts.
According to the Census Bureau, the generation's unprecedented student-debt load has reached a new level and has become a big problem. About two-thirds of millennials, compared with only about two-fifths of later baby boomers, say they borrowed money to attend college or any higher education.
"I am working because I have to have a fixed income to be able to pay for my student loan," Zena said. "Any paying job is a necessity for the next 10 years to wipe out my debt."
Millennials fear the future. Therefore, they want to see a person taking office who can make life better for them. Like a magic wand? Maybe. They are voting out of fear sometimes, and not based on any political affiliation.
"I talked to Bernie and I liked him, then I talked to Trump and he seems to be a good businessman," said Tommy Swanson, 24, who works as a bartender. "Honestly, I do not care if the president is a Republican or Democrat - I want someone who can be good at his job."
When asked about the achievements of the presidential candidates, Swanson said: "I never followed any of the candidates' history, so I do not know in details what they did before running this presidential race to the White House."
According to a research from Harvard University, less than a third of young voters think that running for office is an "honorable thing to do," while two-thirds believe that politicians run for public service mostly for "selfish reasons."
"I do care about politics, but I do not like them," said Mike Mau, 23, who works as a waiter. "I do not remember when the last time Congress pushed a bill that has interest for us - the gridlock is killing the political life in Washington, therefore it is not working for the young people who are starting to hate the political system."
#FeelingTheBern is a hashtag promoted by Sanders' campaign targeting millennials. Campaign managers know well that young voters have a big impact on this election. They target the youth in many different media to explain their views, especially to the ones who are going to vote for the first time this year.
"I am excited," said Anthony Breir, 21, a student who does not think he is a democrat nor a republican. "I want to understand the process before I give my vote to anyone," he said. "I want someone who can provide jobs for us, and everyone in this country."
Everyone? Well, it will be a pretty tough task for the candidates then.
Cover credit: Sergio Algeri/GYV