CINCINNATI - Anyone who researches the millennial generation will find a disproportionate number of articles on two topics: Those accusing the generation of possessing a host of less than desirable characteristics, and those written by millennials defending their generation from harsh criticism.
This five-part series will take a closer look at local millennials, who are defining their generation and setting a precedent for others to follow. MORE: Who are the millennials?
- RELATED The Millennial Mind Pt. I: In a generation accused of 'entitlement,' local woman fights stereotypes
The 2012 election cycle found Raya Mafazy, 28, feeling frustrated with what she saw as “false narratives surrounding” Republican women. Born in Kenya, Mafazy said as a proud American immigrant and member of the Republican Party, she felt compelled to challenge public perception.
“I wanted to showcase the savvy, intelligent, diverse women I knew (in Cincinnati) with the same conservative principles,” she said. “We were all frustrated with the biased media, so we set out to harness the voices of elevate the profile of young professional Republican women.”
Mafazy’s family moved from Kenya to the U.S. in 1990. As a competitive figure skater, she came to Cincinnati in 2000 to enhance her training. Following earning a communications degree from the University of Cincinnati, Mafazy toured Europe for several years as a professional figure skater. Three years ago, she decided to hang up her skates and move back to Cincinnati.
“The first thing I did when I got back was go to a bunch of young Republican meetings to find my niche,” she said. “They were all different and they all had their plusses and minuses, but I decided to do my own thing.”
In 2012, Mafazy founded the Young Republican Women of Cincinnati (YRWC), which counts 30 dues-paying members. She said it was important to connect with other young women in the city who shared similar ideologies and aspirations. As president of the organization, she hopes to inspire other young women to get involved in politics regardless of their political affiliations.
According to Pew Research 37 percent of millennial voters identified themselves as Democrats, while 22 percent identified themselves as Republicans. The largest share--38 percent--professed to be Independent voters.
Center stage or waiting in the wings?
During the 2008 election cycle, the millennial generation suddenly seemed to take center stage. Democrats heralded a landslide victory among voters under 30, boasting a 66 percent margin in favor of Barrack Obama.
While the numbers seemed high, closer examination showed only 18 percent of young registered voters turned out, the lowest number since 1972. During the 2012 election the number only grew by only one point to 19 percent, according National Exit Poll conducted by Edison Research.
Low voter turnout among millennials is not an indication that the generation is content with politics as usual.
A 2013 Harvard Public Opinion Project revealed if given the chance, millennials would replace every member of Congress in both parties. While on paper those surveyed desired sweeping reform, less than half actually planned to vote during mid-term elections in 2014.
So are young voters apathetic or do they feel disenfranchised, feeling their vote will fail to make a difference?
The 2010 Pew Research Center study on millennials reported the group to be the most tolerant generation in history in terms of sexual, racial and gender bias. While this may be the generation most open to female leadership, Mafazy said she sees little motivation among young women. She pointed out that the United States ranks 78th internationally for women in government.
“I think that’s pretty awful," she said. “The problem is not that women are being defeated; they’re not running. So I say get out there: Democrats, Republicans, Independents: it doesn’t matter. Talk to your local parties, your city parties, your county parties, and start going to meeting. Just get involved.”
Job creation + inspiration
Hamilton County Republican Party Chairman Alex Triantafilou said one of the best ways to spur millenial involvement to inspire the generation through young leaders like Mafazy.
He sees a bright future for the young woman he calls a “dynamic self-starter.” He believes Mafazy is everything the party is looking for in a candidate: someone who builds relationships through grassroots networks.
“It’s critical that women, and young women especially like Raya, do exactly what she is doing,” he said. “They begin to engage themselves in the local political scene so they can grow their political network and be successful when they roll out a campaign.”
In order to attract more millennial voters, Triantafilou said the Republican party must also focus on job creation, a subject that’s all too familiar to the generation. He said his party needs to talk about jobs and business growth, which leads to success and job creation for young people who are coming
out of college and entering the workforce.
“As the millennials have kids and do other things, we want to be the party that talks about job growth and job creation in the private sector,” he said.
But talk from both parties has done little to change a harsh reality. A 2013 Harvard Study, revealed only 6 in 10 millennials have jobs , with half of those being part-time. A Feb. 7, 2014 report published by the United States Department of Labor showed a 16.3 unemployment rate for those under 30 .
Mafazy said the GOP needs to connect with millennials on their own turf, using social media sites such as Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. She thinks one of the failings of the 2012 election cycle in the Tri-State was that Republicans primarily focused their campaign on outlying areas of Cincinnati. She said the party failed to recognize the sweeping trend of millennials choosing to live in urban areas. Mafazy lives in Over-the-Rhine.
“The GOP has done a great job of covering the suburbs, but they need to be more entrenched in the cities and get more active where all the young professionals are,” she said.
By 2020, millennials will account for 40 percent of the electorate. More than anything, Mafazy wants her generation to get involved in their own future so they won’t become disenfranchised. She encourages others to do their own research by listening to the political views from all parties. She explained too often children inherit a party from their parents that doesn’t necessarily represent their ideas or values.
“I think it’s very important for the people in my generation to actually do the research, listen to different candidates and read about what’s going on in our country,” she said. “Figure out how issues are affecting their lives so that they can proactively understand our political world and know what they’re really voting for. And that’s probably my biggest frustration with our generation is a lot of people don’t know what they’re voting for, they’re just voting.”