Millennials have a lot on their plate to worry about from finding jobs to finding a Pokémon. It appears that knowing the leaders of our nation isn’t one of those top priorities.
The resurrection of the Nintendo-owned Pokémon carton and games from the 1990s with an app-version has taken the world by storm. As my colleague Julie Gunlock explains, this yellow character has done more to get kids exercising in a few days than seven years of Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move pet-project.
Sadly, a new poll by Vox finds that Millennials know more about the fictional character than the second highest leader of the free world. In a survey of over 2,000 Americans, 98 percent of Millennials who responded recognized Pokémon, but only 61 percent recognized Vice President Joe Biden. Biden was mistaken for Speaker of the House Paul Ryan by 6 percent of Millennials, perhaps because of his rock-hard abs. Another 3 percent thought he was Senator majority leader Mitch McConnell and one percent thought he was former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. To be fair, three older white men can be confusing to the most diverse generation.
Jokes aside, this poll is not a laughing matter. The last few Millennials will hit voting age over the next presidential cycle, yet we’re totally clueless about what matters most and it’s not catching a Pikachu.
Vox explains our obsession with Pokemon:
Pikachu and Joe Biden don’t have a whole lot in common.
One is an electric mouse that paralyzes prey with thunder bolts; the other is a silver fox who melts hearts with a smile. One was born in 1996; the other in 1942. One battles Bulbasaurs and Zubats; the other negotiates federal spending levels with cranky senators.
But the biggest difference between Pokémon’s spokes-creature and America’s vice president may be their recognizability among the country's younger generation.
Pikachu has been around for two decades and was one of the foremost celebrities during millennials' formative years. Still, the near-perfect recognition here hints at the recent cultural ubiquity of Pokémon Go.
According to the survey, 43 percent of Millennials report playing once per week compared to just 15 percent of the general public, but to be fair elections come around only every 104 weeks (two years) and presidential elections every four years. Perhaps the day-to-day ubiquity of Pokémon is why Millennials are more connected to the characters than political leaders.
We are reminded though about the abysmal lack of knowledge of civics, history, government, and related current events among the youngest generation. Not too long ago we reported that one in ten Millennials thought Judge Judy was a Supreme Court justice as pointed out by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni survey of recent grads.
Millennials are not only the biggest living generation, but we’re growing into the largest voting bloc. According to Pew, as of April of this year an estimated 69.2 million Millennials (ages 18-35) had hit voting age nearly matching the 69.7 million Baby Boomers (ages 52-70), and Millennals have only increased in size since this Spring. There are just 28 million eligible voters from the Silent Generation (ages 71+) and 57 million eligible Generation X voters.
Maybe, with this lack of understanding, it is not that unfortunate that voter turnout among Millennials remains the lowest of all current generations. Only 46 percent of Millennials voted in the 2012 presidential election, down from 50 percent in 2008. The 2004 election was the first presidential cycle Millennials were old enough to vote in. Because neither presidential candidate this year is likely to resonate with millenials, turning young people out to vote will be a yeoman’s lift.
For a generation with so much potential to sway elections, it’s scary that most are more concerned with catching a cartoon character than understanding the leaders of this nation who shape policy and the direction of the country.