The last time a president was elected, millennials didn’t have the impact on the election they probably wished they had.

According to the Pew Research Center’s analysis of a 2013 U.S. Census Bureau report, America’s generation of adults born after 1980 accounted for 25.5 percent of eligible voters, and that portion should increase. As millennials grow older, the report states, their share of the electorate is expected to blossom to 36.5 percent by 2020.

As the political relevance of millennials grows, it will be interesting to see how they shape 2016 and future election cycles. The colleges and universities of America have a long-established tradition as hotbeds for political debate.

However, assuming their advisers had the foresight to glance at the voting data from the 2012 election, politicians today probably do not seek out university venues in the hopes of reaching out to young constituents.

Pew also reports that 41.2 percent of eligible voters aged 18 to 24 turned in a ballot in 2012 — more than a 7.3-percent decrease from 2008. This pales in stark comparison to the 71.9 percent of Americans aged 65 and older who cast ballots in 2012, for example.

Look around Ann Arbor today. Campaign signs are cropping up like weeds amid the flyers and sidewalk billboards that perennially bloom on campus.

It’s clearly evident that “Feel The Bern” and “Ready for Hillary” signage is more prevalent here than “Make America Great Again.” The one time I did see a Donald Trump T-shirt, it was coupled with a Hawaiian one, and I assumed it was worn ironically.

As the Republican Party continues to implode, someone has been canvassing the University with Democratic catchphrases. We know it isn’t the students, because if one applies Pew’s report to the University’s population, it seems like less than half of them care enough to vote.

Whoever the friendly neighborhood Democrat may be, he or she seems to be having an effect on the national stage. Friday, the New York Times announced that two and a half weeks before the first Democratic debate, Bernie Sanders has built a strong lead in the New Hampshire primary polls that will hold even if Vice President Joe Biden were to throw his hat in the ring.

The resiliency of Sanders’ campaign is impressive for a man who paints himself so vividly as a far-left socialist. In the Fox News era of journalism, where news outlets are more concerned with political ideology than the standards of ethical journalism, it’s remarkable that Sanders hasn’t been scorned as an enemy of the state or something similarly ridiculous.

No doubt that Sanders benefits from being a white man. If he were a minority or a woman, his campaign and position on issues would be bombarded by attacks from conservatives like Donald Trump, who appear to chase doses of xenophobia with a swig of misogyny at breakfast time.

It’s tiring to explain again how Sanders is a socialist on a mission to take the money power out of politics and Wall Street. With so much time remaining before the primary election, it seems repetitive, but it’s important.

The early success of Sanders’ campaign is a political miracle that will only grow more impressive the longer his current uptick in popularity maintains. To paraphrase the activist Saul Alinsky: Money and people are the two sources of political power.

Sanders has alienated himself from big-money politics, more so than anyone on the conservative side of the aisle, more so than Hillary Clinton. And this is what may cost Sanders as the election grows nearer.

In a typical campaign, candidates spend months and millions convincing voters to believe in them. Sanders must spend his time convincing those who believe in him to vote at all. His status in the polls is impressive, but they’re generated by research groups seeking responses.

CNN might just come to your house, or at least call you up on the phone, to see which candidate you’re leaning toward at the moment, but voting is a totally voluntary task. If you don’t take the initiative to cast a ballot on Election Day, you won’t be getting a call from the county clerk.

Everyone but the government might ask you how you’ll vote next election season.

The worst-case scenario for Sanders is if the ones spreading his leaflets across the country and this campus are the college students — young people filled with ideals, but who can’t find their way to the voting booth. It’s interesting to consider exactly why a 74-year-old senator resonates so loudly with the youthful masses, but that’s another conversation all together.

Because Sanders’ name doesn’t have serious financial backing (by choice of his own), he relies solely on the support of real ballots. Point is, the hashtags are helpful for now, but they won’t get Sanders the Democratic nomination. Millennials are a growing percentage of potential voters, and the most likely to voice their support of a candidate online, but they still have disappointingly low voter turnout.

Separate from the politician, Sanders’ idea of the taking money out of politics serves the best interest of every individual who doesn’t own or operate a super PAC. What Sanders is preaching is that he won’t be bought or influenced by anyone.

Millennials eligible to vote should do the same. Cut through gross political spending by casting ballots — not for Sanders, necessarily, but for positive self-interest.

Tyler Scott can be reached at tylscott@umich.edu.  

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