By Chris Haring
With Millennials and “Gen Z” becoming a greater portion of the voter base, understanding their values is imperative as we consider America’s political future
Talking about death publicly in an honest context can be uncomfortable at best. Understandably, the topic remains deeply sensitive and personal for many folks and can trigger such emotionally charged reactions that political leaders, elected officials, and other public figures simply choose to avoid it whenever possible.
It is remarkable that under those circumstances, medical aid in dying has achieved a groundswell of support in such an unfavorable environment, resulting in a steady expansion of its legalization over the past several decades. Since Oregon became the first state to legalize the practice with the 1994 Death with Dignity Act, nine more (and Washington D.C.) have gradually joined the list of aid-in-dying states.
In recent years, perhaps in response to the global COVID-19 pandemic, the right to die has noticeably occupied a position of greater visibility in the national political landscape. Similar to abortion or LGBTQ+ rights, voters have been increasingly considering broader issues such as bodily autonomy and individual choice when electing candidates at all levels.
This has been especially true for our two youngest generations, says The Brookings Institution. In an ongoing series of commentaries titled How younger voters will impact elections, authors from the D.C. think tank examine what unites (and divides) Millennials and “Gen Z” (officially, but much less commonly, known as “Plurals”).
While partisanship in the United States has only become more pronounced – with the divisive, hateful rhetoric surrounding it following suit – young voters often fail to fall neatly into “Republican” or “Democratic” camps. Their political opinions are less reflective of how they identify and more so of what they believe in, and this has manifested itself within the two major parties quite differently.
Additionally, the impact of the evolved news landscape and the flow of information should not be understated. While previous generations relied on a more centralized system to learn about events and pressing issues of the day, Millennials and Gen Z have practically grown up with the easy accessibility of the internet and social media at their fingertips.
Younger Americans are also more politically engaged than their parents were at the same age, even though their interests and sources tend to be more focused and less uniform. They are less reliant on institutions and the opinions of previous generations and more willing to consider voting outside of the expected partisan framework in future elections.
All this suggests that, compared to their parents and grandparents decades ago, Millennials and Gen Z might be more open to holding unique, nuanced views on deeply personal topics like bodily autonomy. Frankly, they are less likely to care about judgment from others, even people they otherwise stand with politically on other issues.
It is through that same spirit of independence and self-determination that Death with Dignity believes that younger Americans’ values, not their partisan alignments, will shape our collective future. Our suggestion to political candidates, elected officials and other leaders is to become better educated about (and willing to address) end-of-life options – a growing segment of your constituents certainly are!