Katelyn Rice / Staff Photographer

By Ben Theriault, Staff Writer

The Millennial generation is continuing a common trend—young citizens abstaining from political action. Reasons why this occurs and how to change this fate are explored by assistant professor within the Political Science Department at Rutgers University, Shauna Shames, in her presentation “The Great (Political) Divide: Why Women, Minorities, and Millennials are Underrepresented in Politics.”

On March 6 USM welcomed Shames to Talbot Hall. The event was hosted by the Extended Teacher Education Program coordinator Flynn Ross, and was a part of the Gloria S. Duclos Convocation, under the theme of race and participatory democracy. Sponsors of the event included the Scholars Strategy Network, League of Women Voters of Maine, and the University of Maine Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center.

She has written the book Out of the Running: Why Millenials Reject Political Careers and Why it Matters, which deals with contemporary politics and the lack of representation amongst millennials.

The lecture began with Shames explaining how she reached this topic as a focal point of her book. At Harvard University, she started her doctoral dissertation as “Why don’t more women run in politics,” which then grew to focus on women of color, and then entirely on millenials.

While working on her dissertation she interviewed a group of 750 Harvard attendees who studied politically oriented subjects such as political science, law, and public policy at a graduate level. She viewed this selection of students as some of the most likely to run for a public office. The question she started with was “Are you ambitious?” This resulted in 95 percent saying yes. When asked, “Are you politically ambitious?” the results were significantly lower. Men were much more politically confident than women; an average of 15 percent more men than women said that they were politically ambitious.

This gap is smaller between white men and women, but substantially higher amongst minority groups. Black women reported the lowest amount of political ambition in the entire census. A similar poll was taken using the same group, asking about their trust in the government. Black women were reported as having the lowest trust levels.

Shames contemplated that the reason millennials refuse to participate is attributed to the actual running process. Dave, a student in her research pool, stated: “I… [would] risk capture by going into a political process as corrupted, and sclerotic, and generally putrescent as the American one, so full of money,” when asked why he would refrain from attempting to hold a public office.

A major focal point of Shames’s presentation The key to invoking involvement, Shames stated, is through proving to millennials that there are meaningful rewards for engaging within the political system. Shames said that currently many see the risk to reward ratio as improperly balanced; millenials need to understand that many of the issues that they hold dearly cannot be attained without enduring the sometimes gruelling process of American politics.

Potential remedies to this issue were discussed at the end of the lecture. USM Women and Gender Studies professor, Kimberly Simmons, speculated on the creation of a third party fundraising commission that could compensate women for unique financial barriers such as child care, while running.

Local musician and Maine Committee of Maine Clean Elections activist, Viva, stated that she thinks the solution can be found within campaign alliances. Through this dynamic, politicians would find a group of issues that unites them and they would all share similar platforms. She stated If politicians work together in finding areas that unite them, the hyperpartisianism of our election system could potentially be reduced. This could potentially make voters feel like they have more than just one choice and could be a step towards the spread of ranked choice voting.

Shames looked to Maine politics as a potential inspiration for young people. In particular she mentioned how the Maine Clean Elections Act came into fruition through volunteer collaboration. She suggests that millennials could start making big differences through volunteering with campaigns and community engagement.


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