The Millennial Guide to the First Presidential Debate

Independent Center Contributors Holden Lipscomb

Here we go. After all of the craziness, court cases, gaffes, and stumbles, we’re finally about to have the much anticipated Biden-Trump Presidential debate this Thursday. Despite gaining a sizable amount of populist support, Robert Kennedy Jr. won’t be sharing the stage with the presumptive Republican and Democrat nominees.

Something that’s worth keeping in mind: according to US Census Bureau population projections, this will be the first election when Millennials and Gen Z are the majority of the electorate. As a 27 year old, college educated, “politically homeless” independent, I know I speak for a large portion of my demographic when I say that we’re less than thrilled about the two choices.

Nevertheless, younger voters will still be watching the first debate closely. Or maybe cautiously might be the better word.

Here’s 5 things Millennials and Gen Z’ers should be keeping an eye on this Thursday:

  1. Is this a debate? Or another accusatory shouting match?

In 2020, the first presidential debate between Trump and Biden is remembered as a train wreck (at best). The minute Biden would attempt to answer a question, he would get steamrolled by Trump and promptly interrupted. The second debate was a bit better, but it still felt like political theater designed to get the bases excited.

Younger voters want common sense, competence, and compromise. This is dramatically different from what the frenzied bases are craving. Right now, I don’t care about Trump’s ongoing legal challenges, nor do I care about prosecuting Hunter Biden. I want to see if someone has a plan to solve our nation’s biggest challenges like entitlement and immigration reform.

  1. What tone will be set?

The Bullfinch Group conducted polling in 2023 that found out that the Millennial generation is incredibly optimistic. 77 percent of respondents believed that they’ll be better off a year from now than they were at the time of the survey.

Flip on cable news (which almost no Millennial and Gen Z American does anymore) and the narrative is entirely different. China is posturing in the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea, Israel and Hamas are in a brutal conflict, our immigration system is completely broken, we’re adding $1 trillion to our debt every 100 days, etc.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Ahead of his electoral landslide victory in 1984, President Ronald Reagan ran the famous “Morning in America” ad campaign. AND IT WORKED! 

I know we have significant problems facing this country, but a positive message and optimistic solutions are what this demographic needs.

We all remember how Obama’s message of “Hope” went with the youth vote in 2008.

  1. Housing

Talk to almost any Millennial and younger American and they’ll almost always mention a common theme: the housing market in America is out of control.

The radical truth is that most Millennials and Gen Z Americans are a lot like Baby Boomers. They dream of buying a house, raising a family, taking a vacation, and not stress about making bill payments.

In other words, they want their version of the American Dream.

Crazy right?

But with absurdly high interest rates and a limited supply of houses, many Millennials are feeling like the American Dream is out of reach. Many of my friends do what’s called “doom scrolling” on the real estate app Zillow: looking endlessly at houses that are out of their price range on their phone while they lay in bed.

Our generation isn’t lazy. In fact, quite the opposite. Millennials and Gen Z are the best educated generation. What’s more, 55% of them have a side hustle to help supplement their base income. For this demographic to feel like key life events are out of reach is a major problem.

Is any candidate going to address this in a serious manner? Or are we going to keep getting the short end of the stick?

  1. What to do about Congress?

The current 118th Congress is on track to become the least productive in US history. In fact, only 34 bills were passed in 2023.

As of today, it looks like the Senate and House will be flipping, meaning that Republicans will hold the Senate while Democrats will be in the majority in the House. This means more gridlock.

Congress wasn’t designed to move quickly and efficiently. But it also wasn’t designed to do anything at all. What are the two candidates going to do with this in mind?

Because of the extreme polarization, gerrymandering, and redistricting, large legislative majorities are over. 

This means that any meaningful piece of legislation MUST be passed with a degree of bipartisan consensus.

Sorry, taking votes on the floor over what to name new federal buildings doesn’t count in my book.

  1. Are we looking backwards or forwards as a country?

Is this really a repeat of the 2020 election? Or is this contest going to be something new and dynamic?

And while President Biden will understandably be required to defend his first term’s performance, I’m more interested to see how both candidates talk about the next four years.

Both Biden and Trump are far from perfect candidates, and both have their fair share of problematic histories to critique. But our nation needs a candidate who will address some of the country’s pressing issues. For example, Medicare and Social Security are scheduled to run out of cash in 2031 and 2033 respectively. I’ve heard almost nothing about this.

Maybe both candidates will be taking the usual shots at one another in the opening debate, much like two boxers feeling each other out in the opening rounds of a match. But I want to see if one candidate takes swings with bold policy proposals, solutions, and audacious messaging.

This might be wishful thinking, but seeing how they frame the upcoming debate and election will be telling as to what we can expect as election season marches on.

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