How LA millennials are engaging with the 2016 presidential election

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Los Angeles native Alverta Rivera stands on Vermont and 36th Street outside a strip mall leaning on a fence listening to music with a single earbud in, holding her cellphone.

When asked about which candidate has her vote, 18-year-old recent high school graduate said, “It was going to be Bernie Sanders but now, Hillary Clinton. I feel like she’s more experienced. Trump is a Republican and I consider myself a Democrat and he’s just very ‘extra’ sometimes.”

Angeleno millennials like Taco Bell Manager Rivera are part of the biggest eligible voter bloc in Los Angeles and the nation. Soon they will be using their power to make the country's political decisions.

Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign revolutionized politics for many young people and mobilized them to become politically active by going to rallies and being involved in protests.

“I was really inspired by his ideas,” said Nick Fiorillo, a University of Southern California student and director of College Democrats. “He introduced words like socialism and single payer healthcare policies that are real progressive policies Democrats have shied away from in past years. He has helped build new momentum here for really advancing a progressive agenda.”

Almost a third of the county’s population falls into the 18-to-34 age demographic, making them the biggest group in LA, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. They’re also one of the most diverse.

“LA is a very young place,” said self-identified millennial Berto Solis, 30, a research associate for the Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University. He said that Latinos and Asians are the youngest and fastest growing groups in the county.

Author Morley Winograd studies millennial behavior. He has written books such as “Millennial Momentum” and “Millennial Makeover.” A senior fellow at USC Annenberg School's Center for Communications and Leadership, he said that millennials will be the biggest registered voting group by the 2020 election.

Young Voters Find Their Voices

At 19 years old, Fiorillo carries himself with a professional demeanor and speaks articulately about politics. He got involved in politics as an intern for Washington state Sen. Maria Cantwell. This initiative reflects some of his peers' civic-minded natures.

“I do think we are an incredibly engaged group of the electorate,” Fiorillo said. “Young people, especially millennials, have grown up through war, we grew up through terrorism, through police brutality, so many issues. It’s easy to get cynical ... but it’s really amazed me that millennials have not given up hope. They have not given up on the process.”

Winograd’s research supports Fiorillo’s sentiments. The author said that the age demographic is interested in civic affairs and solutions that involve society’s participation, which is why they felt so connected to Sanders.

Morley Winograd, author and USC public policy expert, on traits of millennials

“The Sanders campaign offered millennials several things,” Winograd said. “A chance to be part of a movement or a large group of collective action, which is very appealing to millennials. He also advocated for a more transparent political system and one of the things that millennials value in their day-to-day life, in their buying habits, in their work or anywhere else is transparency in decision-making.”

Liberal millennials are not alone in their desire for collective action and a transparent political system.

Clia Zwilling, 26, is the vice president of Long Beach Young Republicans. Growing up, Zwilling had a Republican father and a Democrat mother, but said her family only discussed policies and ideas, not partisan politics. Her conservative political identity was forged in reaction to more liberal students she encountered while attending Linfield College in Oregon.

Zwilling expressed concern for corruption within the two-party system.

“I used to volunteer a lot and then I realized in my experience how corrupt the democratic party was and then that turned me away,” Zwilling said. “The way they manipulate people, especially minorities, into believing that they’re helping them and that they’re the party of equality when in reality I feel that the main figureheads, the people with power are the rich, white old men that we think that the republican party is for but really it’s the democratic party.”

At the beginning of this year, she revived the Long Beach Young Republicans with friend Nestor Moto Jr. and said that they are having new members come to every meeting.

“You could join the other older groups, but I think that there are many young republicans and it’s nice to meet people your age and network,” Zwilling said.

Speculative Stereotypes of Millennials

Despite the ways millennials are engaged in politics, they have been stereotyped as lazy, entitled and financially unviable, according to articles from the Huffington Post, Chicago Tribune and Daily Mail.

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Nick Fiorillo, 19 - click to read his thoughts

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Clia Zwilling, 26 click to read her thoughts

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Nicole Powell, 21click to read her thoughts

Based on his research, Winograd agreed these stereotypes exist for millennials, but said they have always been around as a way for older generations to discredit their younger counterparts. He said millennials are, “demanding but not entitled. Narcissistic, not true; very involved in group outcomes and other people's welfare.”

Some millennials have adopted a more collectivist attitude to help them navigate an increasingly diverse world.

“I wanted Bernie to win but he didn’t get that far,” said Keysheria Doss, a 23-year-old full-time employee at a South LA AT&T store. “He just seemed very honest, like he was willing to help everyone so I feel like that’s what we need, someone that’s willing to help everyone.”

Speaking to this point, Winograd said, “Their unique behavior is that they are extraordinarily tolerant and inclusive. They are interested in group decision-making and win-win solutions, not confrontation and win-lose outcomes.”

Responsibility Beyond the Polls

Republican Zwilling said she will be voting for Trump come November although she is a constitutionalist at heart. She said she made the “difficult decision” because of the power the next president will have to appoint a new Supreme Court justice to replace Antonin Scalia.

While many other people share Zwilling’s beliefs, among millennial voters, Trump supporters are in the minority.

Berto Solis, research associate for The Center of the Study of Los Angeles, on millennial voting patterns

"Survey data at any level, LA or nationally, shows that a vast majority of millennials have no interest in voting for Trump or what he is advocating,” Winograd said. “I think it’s something like a 74 percent disapproval rating. Something astronomical. He’s not inclusive, he’s not tolerant, and he’s a divider as opposed to a unifier.”

The political landscape is undoubtedly shifting. College Democrat Fiorillo described the changes he sees among his millennial peers.

“People don’t necessarily identify with one particular party; they really look at the issues,” Fiorillo said. “I think that millennials have certain issues which are really important to them. I’ve been really inspired by friends who are active in the Black Lives Matter movement and participate in our democracy.”

Nicole Powell grew up in Blair Hills, a diverse and affluent Culver City neighborhood. She fights for black liberation through her writing and activism and studies black liberation theology at Harvard. Like some other millennials, she has been disillusioned by the 2016 presidential nominees.

“Voting is important … but it won’t achieve liberation for people,” she said. “My goal is to see the candidate who would be least harmful to our communities and I’m not sure who that is yet.”

Powell said she wants to use her education to “influence others and to uplift voices that are silent. In the next two years I can use my influence to take up space and also make space for others who don’t have space to share their perspectives.”

Spreading the Word

Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign proved social media to be a key tool in winning the young vote. Millennials also look to social networks to find their political news, according to an article in Forbes.

“It’s kind of interesting to see Snapchat covering things like the Democratic National Convention and Republican National Convention,” said Lana El-Farra, voting rights coordinator for Asian Americans Advancing Justice. “Millennials and kids that wouldn’t have thought to go and watch any of these conventions, all of a sudden, have this reel of the highlights. It’s kind of cool.”

You can't get rid of the system. The system is you.

— Berto Solis

Rivera, the Taco Bell manager, who hopes to go to college soon, said that her Downtown LA high school encouraged students to vote and would register them on campus.

Fiorillo and Zwilling have been involved in non-partisan voter registrations as well.

The Future is Bright

Millennials are discovering that increased involvement also leads to unforeseen challenges, such as the amount of time and effort required to make tangible change. Solis said he has seen young people grapple with these obstacles firsthand.

“You can’t get rid of the system. The system is you. If you keep talking about us versus them and the system being broken, you’re never going to change that thing you’re a part of,” Solis said. Fiorillo and Zwilling are examples of young people working from within the system to change it.

Fiorillo said that he sees a bright future for the millennial generation.

“Millennials are now able to really take these issues for themselves,” Fiorillo said. “We are going to make sure we are part of the solution here. I think millennials, because we are a unified force, and because we have this growing energy, we are in a real interesting place here to make a big push for more representation in government and more change regarding the issues we really care about.”

More than anything, this collectivist attitude best describes the millennial generation. This mentality is a hallmark of the 2016 election cycle and will likely take the lead in the next presidential race.

By the 2020 election, Winograd said that “what millennials do, think, believe and say will be what America does, says, thinks and believes.”

Millennials share their thoughts

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Eric Torrres, 31 - click to read his thoughts

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Sarah Cook, 19 - click to read her thoughts

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Brianna Gomez, 25 - click to read her thoughts

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Corbin Quan, 22 - click to read his thoughts

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