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Politics & Government

Disappointment Over Politics Spurs Some Millennials To Get Involved

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Now, once we get into 2016, the public all across this country gets its chance to vote for federal officeholders. It's an opportunity that many young people will pass up, although some are deeply involved. And this morning, we're going to hear from some of those young people, millennials, the generation born between the early 1980s and about 2000. Many say they're disappointed with politics. What's not to like? They say they're disappointed, yet some are motivated by that frustration. NPR's Asma Khalid spent some time with a group of college students who are into politics.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELLS)

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: I'm on the campus of Harvard University. They've been researching millennials here since the oldest of that generation could vote. Some 60 undergrads from colleges across the country are in town, at the school's Institute of Politics, to about political engagement. They're an unusual group. They read the news. They vote. And they even encourage friends to vote.

JOHN DELLA VOLPE: Why are you here? Why do you choose to engage in politics on your campus?

KHALID: John Della Volpe is conducting a focus group with these college students, and he wants them to remain anonymous so they can speak freely.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: It's because I actually kind of hate politics, and I want to change that outlook, which might be...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: We are the ones who are inheriting a seemingly corrupt or inefficient system...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: I feel like our generation is in this post-9/11 kind of angry...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: Politics has traditionally been for white men. And I think, for me, it's important to put my voice in as a Latina woman.

KHALID: When these young people talk about politics, it seems they have no faith in the system. But they have a profound faith they can change the system.

KABIR HOSSAIN: What I like to say is no vote, no voice.

KHALID: That's 22-year-old Kabir Hossain. After the focus group wrapped up, I found him hanging out with his friend, Theo Kelly. They both go to school in Pennsylvania. Kelly's a Republican. Hossain's a Democrat.

HOSSAIN: I'm very optimistic. Just this past summer, we made some, you know, huge milestones, you know, gay marriage rights. I feel like we're in an upward trend. There are a lot of good things happening.

KHALID: Recent surveys show millennials, more than any other generation, think America's best days are ahead. Kelly chimes in and says he's even upbeat about problems that have no clear solution.

THEO KELLY: Just from the college student standpoint, like, college tuition rates, student debt, like, it's getting very out of control. So that's something that I can see changing in the next couple years. Someone - I know someone's going to come and turn it around because I'm optimistic.

KHALID: It's the way so many millennials feel. They're saddled with debt and worried about job prospects. And yet, a Pew study shows about 85 percent think they'll have enough money to live the lives they want. Statistically, they're the most hopeful generation. But they're still distrustful of politics. Here's John Della Volpe again.

VOLPE: There's a lot of concern about inefficiencies and potentially even corruption within the system. The good news, though, is they're able to take the negativity within the process and try to reform the process kind of from the outside in.

KHALID: And that's exactly what 19-year-old Anna Del Castillo tells me. She's Latina and grew up in Mississippi. She says immigration is an important issue for her.

DEL CASTILLO: Right now, there's a lot of anger from minority groups because we feel like our communities aren't represented on the Hill, aren't represented in Senate, aren't represented in Congress. But, for me, that's not a pessimistic view. That's - you know, that's encouragement for me to get involved in the system.

KHALID: Del Castillo, like many of the people here, is motivated by her disappointment. Millennials want to change the status quo. During the focus group, the moderator, John Della Volpe, asked the students if they would engage more in the political system if their government asked. And nearly every hand in the room shot up.

VOLPE: I've asked that question 100 times, and I still see the same number of hands.

KHALID: So it seems the opportunity is there. Millennials are just waiting to be asked. Asma Khalid, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.