The high cost of partisan destruction

Before the two major parties undertake another campaign in which the emphasis will be on winning by destroying the credibility of the opponent, they should take a close look at the collateral damage.

A comprehensive new national poll of America’s 18- to 29-year-olds — the millennials — shows a generation increasingly disillusioned with politics and cynical about the ability or willingness of elected leaders to build a nation in which they can find a steady job, buy a home and prosper.

It appears both parties have succeeded in convincing a generation that the other guy can’t be trusted and won’t get the job done.

“The dreams and aspirations of America’s largest generation, the Millennials, were formed in large part by the very personal impacts of a Great Recession and an America at war,” states the “Survey of Young Americans’ Attitudes Toward Politics and Public Service” by The Institute of Politics at Harvard University.

“And now, less than four years after millions of young people from across the country banded together to vote — some for John McCain, more for Barack Obama — Millennials feel let down and abandoned by the public and private institutions that they entrusted to guard their dream,” concludes the survey. It is part of a research project that began in 2000 with a survey of 18-to-24-year-old college undergraduates.

Just 64 percent of millennials are registered to vote, compared to 73 percent four years ago. The number saying they are definitely going to vote in the presidential election is a disheartening 47 percent. While that is probably more bad news for President Obama than it is for his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, both parties should find it alarming. Because while many are disillusioned about a lack of economic progress since President Obama’s election, particularly as the economy concerns them, there is no evidence the Republican Party is capturing their hearts either, said polling director John Della Volpe.

Six in 10 strongly or somewhat agree that elected officials are motivated by selfish reasons, not public service. Half believe politics is too partisan. Only 21 percent reporting being politically active and even among college students, the traditional hotbed for political activism, the number is 22 percent.

And no wonder — nearly one in three agree that political involvement rarely has any tangible results and 45 percent conclude that “politics today are no longer able to meet the challenges our country is facing.”

This should raise serious concerns for the future of the Republic. The bedrock of our Republic is the faith of the governed that the people who represent them can formulate policy that will improve the nation and their lives. If large numbers of citizens cynically drop out of the process, control will shift to the most partisan — on both sides of the political spectrum — who do bother to vote, making compromise and consensus on policy ever more difficult.

Yet the coming election, in which powerful special interest groups will spend tens of millions of dollars to influence the outcome through vicious attack ads, promises to be the most contemptuous yet, fueling cynicism. And the days of the parties working together in Washington post-election seem over. The election, the effort to deny opponents any legislative victory and spin all policy in stark for or against terms, never ends.

The millennials are a generation that seemingly can’t afford to think in ideological terms. Of 20 issues presented to them, 78 percent represented jobs as the most important, far above all others. This is a generation concerned with surviving.

And they may be up for grabs. Only 16 percent say they are “strong Democrats,” and 10 percent “strong Republicans.”

In seeking short-term victories, the major parties may be setting the stage for their own demise.

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