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The Missed Opportunity of the Netflix Election

Would Obama’s strong support of net neutrality have helped the Democrats in the midterms?

Illustration by Tyler Hoehne

Six days late and a generational vote short, President Barack Obama came out last week with a strong push for net neutrality and reclassifying the internet as a utility, a populist position with strong support among tech-savvy young people. Now imagine if he made this push just a few weeks earlier. The midterm elections could have been characterized as the “Netflix Election,” with Democrats pushing this issue and bringing out the Millennial vote to protect a free and open internet. Instead, Millennials largely sat at home on Election Day.

With the Senate on the line and a record $3.67 billion spent on political campaigns, these midterms certainly mattered. Yet, the election had the lowest voter turnout since World War II. According to exit polling data compiled by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, only 22.8 percent of Milliennials ended up voting in this year’s midterms. And they’re not to blame either. The Democratic Party and President Obama refused to really go for broke by running on issues that would get the youth active and engaged.

The net neutrality message just hits all the right buttons in this regard. Young people can’t imagine life without the internet and fear it turning into the closed-wall, tiered system that is television. They needed Obama and his party to do something bold on that front, to show support of the common good over the desires of for-profit special interests. For those in need of a quick primer (i.e., most of us), net neutrality is the premise that access to information or services available on the internet should be equally accessible, and certainly the speed and ease with which one can partake of this content shouldn’t be dictated by the internet service providers, which are often also the same telecommunications companies that also sell television and phone services. These providers have already slowed down some services they take particular exception to, such as the cable-flouting film-and-television streamer Netflix. Imagine the rallying cry to fight back against telecommunications giants (and the politicians they support) and their greedy plan to slow down your Orange is the New Black streaming speed. Come on, young people, your Netflix (along with countless other internet services you use, love, and work for) is at stake!

Even with a great message on net neutrality, Millennial turnout might not have provided the votes the Democrats who lost needed to win. But, Millennial voters are essential for the future, and they seem to be more naturally aligned with Democrats at this point in their lives. Millennials are more liberal, socially and economically, than previous generations. A real push on net neutrality during the midterms would have proven to this ever-so-important group of voters that Democrats will actually fight for these issues Instead, their was no pre-midterm push on net neutrality, there was no “Netflix Election,” Democrats lost big, and the Millennials stayed home, still unmoved, buffering like a low-tier video stream in an online world where the telecom companies get their way.

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