Thursday, December 4, 2008
Millennials are the largest generation in American history, more than 91 million strong. They are coming of age just in time to join the workforce, enter the housing market, stabilize home prices, and buy the nation's expanding inventory of durable goods to furnish their new homes. Despite being burdened with student loan debt and graduating just when the job market is shrinking, this group of optimistic, civic-minded young Americans is ready to demonstrate that it is not only capable of electing a President, but also helping to resolve the country's housing crisis.
The “helicopter parents” of Millennials constantly hovered over their children as they grew up in order to protect them from anything that might harm their self-esteem. As a result, many older American’s, especially the 27 to 43 year old members of Generation X, think the Millennial’s “can do” attitude will crumble once they are confronted by the “realities of the real world.”
But this ignores the cyclical nature of generational change. The GI Generation --- the Millennial’s civic generation’s great-grandparents who came of age in the 1930s and 1940s- were raised in much the same way and acquired many of the same values cherished by Millennials. These members of what have come to be called “the Greatest Generation” were able to draw upon a deep reservoir of confidence and determination to lead America’s recovery from the Depression and later win the struggle against both fascism and communism.
To give Millennial’s the same opportunity to rescue America, the new Obama administration should give the emerging generation the same attention in its policy initiatives that it gave expended on getting their votes. Certainly the opportunity is there, particularly in rescuing the now devastated housing market,
One unintended collateral benefit of the rapid drop in housing prices across the nation is to put many suburban homes within reach of first time home buyers, something that has not occurred for at least a decade. Even in pricey California, for example, the ratio between income and cost of housing has begun to drop dramatically, notes a recent paper by Chapman University graduate students Gil Yabes and Jason Goforth, with the ratio between income and mortgages dropping by one half or more in Orange, Riverside, and San Bernardino Counties, close to pre-bubble levels.
That’s a big opportunity, one that President-elect Obama’s “Home Ownership Initiative” should seize on. The Millennials could well be the demographic that could buy these more affordable homes and staunch the rise of foreclosures threatening the U.S. economy.
It’s not that these young people don’t want to own homes. A 2004 study of students enrolled in a four-year university, a community college and an historically black college found that about the same 40-percent plurality in each group preferred to live in a “suburban community, single family home,” upon graduation. The second choice of these Millennials was to live in a “rural area, with large lots and open space.” Only about a quarter wanted to live in an “urban setting with mixed housing styles.” Luckily for them, five years later, their preferred housing stock has just become imminently more affordable.
Now the Democratic Congress and President Obama should enact a significant tax credit incentive for first time home buyers, many of whom would be Millennials. By rapidly expanding the universe of potential home buyers, this program would help stabilize housing prices in the critical lower cost housing market. At the same time it would help stem foreclosures among existing home buyers, whose loss of home equity has made abandoning mortgages more rational economically than keeping up payments.
In 1934, during an earlier time of far greater economic pain, the Federal Housing Agency (FHA) was created to provide financing for a new type of mortgage requiring a lower down payment with the loan to be paid off over 25 or 30 years. The federal agency’s financing authority was greatly extended through Title II of the Housing Act of 1949, which provided federally guaranteed mortgage insurance and helped a flood of returning GI's own a home. Now it is time for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to be given the authority to finance a new mortgage structure for homebuyers under thirty.
By lowering down payment requirements for this select group of home buyers to 10% and stretching the terms of mortgages to the number of years these young people are likely to be active in the workforce, forty, monthly payments on starter homes could be brought in line with the Millennial’s ability to pay. Initially, this combination of tax credits and new types of mortgage financing would slow the decline in home prices that triggered the problems in the country's financial markets. In the longer run, it will make sure that the benefits of widespread homeownership will expand to a new generation of Americans.
One young Millennial to whom we talked recently was concerned that the hours her retail employer wanted her to work were being cut as holiday shopping continued to sour. She expressed concern that there was still “more than a month before Obama gets sworn in and everything turns around again.”
While her statement exhibits the kind of economic naiveté that frustrates some older Americans, it does provide an important lesson – political as well as economic - for the incoming administration. The Millennial Generation, whose votes were key in nominating and then resoundingly electing President Obama, want to see things improve rapidly. After all, they lack either the experience or the equity that Baby Boomers have acquired over the years.
Once in office, President Obama should embrace the impatience of America's youth as one way to insure that his economic policies are enacted quickly. By making an explicit appeal to America's largest generation’s desire for homeownership, he would not only take a big step toward ensuring the popularity of his economic program, but its effectiveness as well.
Morley Winograd and Michael D. Hais are fellows of NDN and the New Policy Institute and co-authors of Millennial Makeover: MySpace, YouTube, and the Future of American Politics (Rutgers University Press: 2008), named one of the New York Times 10 favorite books of 2008.
Monday, December 1, 2008
According to Harvard University’s Institute of Politics, almost 60 percent of Millennials are “personally interested in engaging in some form of public service to help the country.” This idea is strongly supported regardless of gender or party affiliation. While many of those surveyed thought of public service in the context of going to work for government or even running for office, there is no reason to channel the generation’s enthusiasm solely into these more politically oriented activities. Instead, President-elect Obama should create an entity that his administration can use to help Millennials find ways to rebuild all of America’s civic institutions.
Just as MyBarackObama.com was not an ordinary political website, this “Sprit of Service,” social network should not be an attempt to replicate email lobbying efforts like MoveOn.org. That kind of activity can be turned over to an Obama friendly DNC which is already salivating at the prospect of inheriting the campaign’s estimated 13 million email addresses. Instead the site should provide direction to all its “friends” without attempting to assert control over their decisions. As Republican online campaign consultant Mike Turk pointed out to the relatively deaf ears of his party’s leadership last year, “What makes you successful online is not how many emails you can amass, but the quality of the people on the list. [Letting them interact] is the free pizza, Cokes and music with which you feed your volunteers.”
Already we have evidence that the Net savvy Obama operatives get this distinction. At the official website of the transition, change.gov, viewers are invited to join discussions on critical policy issues, such as health care reform, in the “hope it will allow you to form communities around these issues.” Millennials have enough energy and tech savvyness to run with this ball once it is handed to them. As members of a “civic” generation they believe their personal involvement will make government work again, reinforce the power of the Democratic Party, improve the education of their siblings, and help their local community manage through difficult times. What change.gov or its successor can provide them is information on how to get involved, a place to share ideas, and a chance to link to others with similar interests and energy.
The key will be to port this community-building online activity into the post-Inaugural world in a way which gives it a connection to the President without drowning it in bureaucratic rules or short term political priorities. Despite the ultimate benefit government will receive from the volunteer activities the site will generate, it cannot be housed inside of government—even as part of the official national service “Corps”—because of the perverse impact some of the provisions of the Paperwork Reduction Act and our Freedom of Information laws have on dealing with volunteers. Even though those who are attracted to the site are likely to become even more closely identified with the Democratic Party, it cannot be housed at the DNC which would inevitably succumb to the temptation to overly politicize the site. Instead a non-profit devoted to the cause of harnessing Millennial’s interest in civic engagement should establish the site with an advisory board of directors made up of “friends of Obama” and an operational staff drawn from the ranks of the online experts of his campaign. Properly funded, organized and structured, this “Spirit of Service” will enable Millennials to satisfy their desire to rebuild America’s civic institutions and restore our national pride.
Morley Winograd and Michael D. Hais are fellows of NDN and the New Policy Institute and co-authors of Millennial Makeover: MySpace, YouTube, and the Future of American Politics (Rutgers University Press: 2008), named one of the 10 best books of 2008 by the New York Times.
Monday, November 17, 2008
The first large wave of the Millennial Generation, about one-third of the young Americans born from 1982-2003, entered the electorate to decisively support President-elect Barack Obama. Young voters preferred Obama over John McCain by a greater than 2:1 margin (66% vs. 32%). This is well above the margin given by young voters to any presidential candidate for at least three decades, if not at any time in U.S. history. In 2004, young voters preferred John Kerry to George W. Bush by a far more narrow 10 percentage points (55% to 45%). Moreover, the support of young people for Obama crossed all ethnic lines: he won the votes of a majority of African-American (95%), Latino (76%), and white (54%) young people.
Dispelling the myth that young people never vote, Millennials cast ballots in larger numbers than young voters had in any recent presidential election. About 23 million young people, an increase of 3.4 million over 2004, accounted for almost two-thirds of the overall 5.4 million increase in voter turnout. Their participation increased at a rate greater than older generations. As a result, young voters increased their overall share of the vote from 17 percent in 2004 to 18 percent in 2008. In contrast to previous recent presidential elections, a majority of young people voted in 2008 (53%), and in the competitive battleground states, youth turnout was even higher (59%). This was significantly above the 1996 (37%), 2000 (41%), and 2004 (48%) levels. In the earlier elections "young people" were primarily members of Generation X, an alienated and socially uninvolved cohort; by contrast, the young voters of 2008 were mostly members of the civic-oriented Millennial Generation.
Their unified support for Barack Obama combined with their high turnout made the Millennial Generation the decisive force in his victory. Young voters accounted for about 7 million of Obama's almost 9 million national popular vote margin over John McCain. Had young people not voted, Obama would have led McCain by only about 1.5 percentage points instead of seven. Republican Internet guru, Patrick Ruffini, pointed out that without Millennials, Obama would not have won the combined 73 electoral votes of Florida, Indiana, Ohio, and North Carolina. While he may still have won in 2008 without young voters, Obama's margin and his political mandate would have been far narrower.
Contrary to the hopes of many Republicans, the Millennial Generation’s support for Barack Obama is not a one-time phenomenon. Millennials are every bit as supportive of the Democratic Party as they are of Obama personally. Millennials identify as Democrats over Republicans by a 2:1 margin and Pew survey results indicate that they have done so since at least early 2007, well before Obama emerged as a well-known national political figure. More of them consider themselves liberals rather than conservatives (31% to 18%), as well. When it comes to policy, Millennials are liberal interventionists on economic issues, active multilateralists in foreign affairs and tolerant non-meddlers on social issues—a profile that most closely matches the Democratic Party’s platform as well as the new President’s agenda. Their propensity to vote straight Democratic was clearly evident in 2008 when young voters supported Democratic congressional candidates by about the same margin that they did Obama (63% vs. 34%).
What’s more, as with previous civic generations, they are likely to vote a straight ticket for their preferred party for the rest of their lives. The Millennial Generation is ready to take its place as America's next great Democratic civic generation just as their GI Generation great grandparents did nearly eighty years ago. Welcome to the Millennial era.
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
Millennials, born between 1982 and 2003, now comprise almost one-third of the U.S. population and without their overwhelming support for his candidacy, Barack Obama would not have been able to win his party’s nomination, let alone been elected President of the United States. This new, “civic” generation is dramatically different than the Baby Boomers who have dominated our society since the 1960s and understanding how is critical to comprehending the changes that America will experience over the next forty years.
The arrival of social network technologies enabled Millennials to create the most intense, group-oriented decision-making process of any generation in American history. This generation’s preference for consensus for everything from minor decisions, like where to hang out, and major decisions, such as whether go to war, stems from a belief that every one impacted by a decision needs, at the very least, to be consulted about it. This approach will dominate how leaders of America’s primary institutions – from corporations and churches to government at all levels ---will be measured in the years ahead.
Contrast that approach to those of the candidates who struggled in 2008. In her losing run for the Democratic presidential nomination, Senator Hillary Clinton presented a case for a highly assertive, controversial --- if sometimes a bit too strenuous ---Boomer style of leadership. She emphasized the value of her years of experience and wisdom. Senator John McCain tried that approach as well during the summer lull, but found it didn’t have sufficient power to overtake Obama in the national polls. He then rolled the dice and asked a Generation-X governor, Sarah Palin, to help him win voters by emphasizing their mutual belief in the superiority of traditional social values and small government. The Republican ticket has had about as much success with this strategy as Governors Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney did Millennial voters during the primaries.
To successfully manage the transition to a Millennial era, institutions will need to find leaders of any age far-sighted enough to fully embrace Millennial attitudes and behaviors. They have to give Millennials full reign to makeover the outdated structures they will inherit.
Millennials, in particular, are ready to take on the challenge. Millennials were taught that if you follow the rules and work hard, you will succeed. As the first generation to experience “always on,” high-speed access to the Internet at a young age, Millennials have confounded the vision of many Gen X futurists who envisioned the Net as a tool to enhance individual freedom and liberty, not as a new resource for community building. Sharing their ideas and thoughts constantly from short Twitter texts, or “Tweets,” to extended, if often amateurish, videos on YouTube, Millennials generate and absorb an overwhelming amount of information. Individual Millennials use this ability to influence their own decisions, and then those of the wider group. If institutions and their leaders want their decisions to have any credibility with this new generation, every institution will need to open its own governance procedures to ensure a level of transparency and fairness that meets the test of Millennial values.
There have been other times in American history when a “civic” generation like the Millennials has emerged to transform the nation. In the eighteenth century a “civic” generation, called the “Republican Generation” by the seminal generational theorists William Strauss and Neil Howe, created the constitutional republic whose democratic values we celebrate to this day. About eighty years later, an equally “civic” impulse propelled America in the war to abolish slavery and extend liberty and freedom to all citizens. And when the last “civic” generation was called upon by its elders to conquer fascism and remake America’s economy in the twentieth century, the GI Generation responded with such fervor and ability that they were labeled the “Greatest Generation” by a grateful nation.
Now, another eighty years later, it is the Millennial Generation’s turn. Its “civic” revolution draws its unique character from the particular way Millennials were brought up, and their use of interactive communication technologies. We believe the Millennial Generation's revolution will be just as profound as that of previous “civic” generations. Barack Obama’s victory does indeed mark the end of the late 20th century “idealist” era of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. But its significance is more than political. The Millennial Revolution will shape almost every aspect of American society in the era ahead. .
Monday, November 3, 2008
Just how big an advantage
this proves to be for the Obama campaign depends on how many Millennials actually cast their ballots in the election. In 2004, about half of eligible young people turned out to vote; they favored John Kerry by a relatively narrow 55% vs. 45% margin. This gave Kerry about a 1.7 million vote plurality among young voters, a lead that was more than wiped out by George W. Bush's lead among older generations—Silents like John McCain and Joe Biden, Baby Boomers like George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, and Gen Xers like Sarah Palin. This year, the sheer size and overwhelming unity of Millennials is likely to provide Barack Obama with a much larger advantage.
Even if Millennials vote at only the same rate that young people did in 2004, Obama will receive about a six million vote plurality from them. Given the political interest and high voter turnout that Millennials showed in the presidential primaries earlier this year, it seems likely that their turnout on Tuesday will be higher than that of young voters four years ago. If 55 percent of Millennials go to the polls, Obama's plurality among them will grow to about 7 million. And, if Millennials vote at the same 60 percent rate that older generations do, Obama's national plurality from young voters will be almost 8 million. Given that George W. Bush beat John Kerry by only a little more than three million votes, the Millennial margins Obama is likely to enjoy should prove to be the decisive factor in this year’s election. .
While it was painful for Democrats to experience at the time, the inter-generational contest between Barack Obama, with his solid support among Millennials, and Hillary Clinton, with her dedicated cadre of Boomer women proved to be a great advantage to the Democratic ticket in the general election. Once Senator Clinton graciously and enthusiastically endorsed Obama at the convention, the stage was set for a campaign that could unite the generations in November. By contrast, John McCain’s nomination of Sarah Palin, a classic Gen X candidate for Vice President, did irreparable damage to his candidacy among Millennials. Like her generation, Palin’s risk-taking style is confrontational and entrepreneurial with little tolerance for government activism. By contrast Millennials are focused on solutions that involve the whole group and use government as an instrument to bring people together on behalf of the greater good. Millennials were the first generation to register their disapproval of Palin, and her negatives among this key constituency have continued to climb throughout the campaign. Millennials are a generation of "liberal interventionists" in the economy, "activist multilateralists" in foreign affairs, and "tolerant non-meddlers" on social issues—all things the McCain/Palin ticket is not.
But, as we forecast in our book, Millennial Makeover: MySpace, YouTube, and the Future of American Politics, what the Millennials do on November 4, 2008 is going to be only one important step in what this generation will accomplish over the next four decades. The Millennial Generation is a civic generation and, like their GI Generation great grandparents, America's last civic generation, Millennials will lead a makeover of American politics. This realignment will make the Democratic Party the dominant force in U.S. politics and will turn the country away from the divisive social issues and gridlock of the past forty years to a win-win approach that confronts and actually resolves fundamental economic and foreign policy matters. Welcome to the Millennial era.
Sunday, November 2, 2008
Should help you sleep at night at least.
Monday, October 27, 2008
Sunday, October 26, 2008
Obama's success to date lies in his ability to blend his own persona as the messenger with a unifying and uplifting message that reaches the newest generation of Americans, Millennials, born between 1982 and 2003. His campaign has mastered marketing through social networks and other Internet-based communication technologies. This “cool” approach defeated the “hot” rhetoric that came from his primary opponent, Hillary Clinton, and is likely to perform even more favorably against the more confrontational and traditional campaign of John McCain.
But Millennials don’t just represent the key constituency behind Senator Obama’s successful campaign but a key market opportunity for economic growth. Almost one-third of all Americans are in this generational cohort, and even though many of them are still too young to vote, almost all of them influence the daily purchases of the families of which they are a part. Until brand managers and marketing mavens master the art of reaching and attracting Millennials, consumer expenditures will continue to languish.
CEO’s need to learn how to create brands whose image attracts Millennials to something more transcendent than their product’s functionality or characteristics. Corporations will only hit their growth targets if they are willing to change their own message, messenger and media to fit the tastes of this generation.
A recent study by the Economist Magazine’s Intelligence Unit suggests this campaign lesson has not yet penetrated the thinking of many in the “C suite” of the world’s corporations. More than half of those executives said they did not currently have a strategy to target or retain this demographic group. In their report, Maturing with the Millennials, survey respondents acknowledged the need for new tactics to target the millennial customer, but indicated a lack of preparation to do so.
For instance, the report found that, “While 44% indicate that communicating the right messages in the right medium and at the right time is critical to their success, the majority have yet to leverage enriched content, peer recommendations and enhanced online experiences as part of their outreach—even though they acknowledge these are among the most effective ways to communicate with Millennials.” This sounds a lot like Hillary Clinton’s advisors Mark Penn and Mandy Grunwald on the eve of the Iowa caucuses when they derided the supporters of Obama as looking “like Facebook” pages. When Obama’s Facebook legions came out to vote in droves in the Iowa caucuses they dealt a fatal blow to Senator Clinton's cause.
Companies, fortunately, do not have to suffer the short shelf-life of failed candidates. They can change their strategies in order to capture an emerging new base. We have seen this with companies who have succeeded with emerging ethnic markets at home and with whole new markets abroad.
Even though most executives surveyed by The Economist understood that Millennials have specific consumer needs, few have tailored their marketing strategy for this generation. Four out of 10 executives in the Economist’s survey said that Web 2.0 technologies, such as webcasts and online forums, are the best way to serve millennial customers. More than 80 percent agreed that consumer needs vary by age group, and 42 percent believed that a bigger share of investment should go towards Millennial customers. Yet remarkably , the respondents reported that telephone, e-mail and physical storefronts were the top three ways that Millennials could interact with their company currently.
The risks companies are taking by not addressing millenials are great. This argument is detailed in a new book, The Brand Bubble, by John Gerzema, Chief Insights Officer for Young & Rubicam. His research shows that consumers’ trust in brands has declined by half in just ten years. Instead consumers increasingly turn to nontraditional sources of information, such as search engines and social networks, to determine what they should buy and from whom. That is why any good corporate CEO should check every day what customers are saying about their company on the mushrooming “Why I hate xx” websites that now exist for every major company.
To restore their brand’s value and regain traction with the buying public, companies will need to reinvent themselves in order to engage Millennial constituencies on Millennial terms and in Millennial media. They will need to learn the art of attracting support without appearing to be chasing after it in much the same way Obama did in his campaign.
One leading edge private sector example of how to pull off this Zen-like non-effort is Nike’s successful efforts to enhance its brand’s attractiveness by creating online communities of runners. By partnering with Appleit created an application for runners that transfers running time, distance and even calories burned to a Nano so that the results can be uploaded for sharing with others. By building virtual running communities, Nike gave its customers an opportunity to register their individual profiles while receiving content that they can access while running . Nike was able to create its own social network linking people with similar running habits, such as those who run with poodles, to produce a strong bond of affiliation among each member of the group, and from that experience an equally strong sense of loyalty to the Nike brand.
In 2006, the International Television and Video Almanac pointed out that Americans were being bombarded with about “5,000 marketing messages each day, up from 3000 in 1990 and 1500 in 1960.” Nothing in the trend line for communication technologies suggests this amount of corporate generated content, is likely to decrease in the coming decades. Not surprisingly Millennials can absorb much more information at any single moment than previous generations. But this does NOT mean that they are absorbing information in the same way . To gain the attention and brand loyalty of Millennials, companies will have to turn to non-traditional, online information distribution platforms to create a new message that builds a sense of community and caring around their products.
The best way to do that is to incorporate a cause or purpose into the reason for buying a product. It may be protecting the environment by going green, or reducing inequality in the world through acts of charity, or demonstrating a commitment to young people by investing in educational institutions, or all of the above. Regardless of the cause, not only did the era of unfettered capitalism end with this month’s financial meltdown, but so too did the days of appeals to consumers based solely on narrow self-interest or conspicuous consumption. Bling is out; doing good is in. Make that your message, and you have a story that will work effectively in the Millennial era.
Morley Winograd and Michael D. Hais are co-authors of Millennial Makeover: MySpace, YouTube, and the Future of American Politics (Rutgers University Press: 2008)
Wednesday, October 8, 2008
The second presidential debate left few observers willing to predict anything but an Obama victory in November. But one nagging question remains in the minds of many pundits. Will Millennials, whose overwhelming support for Senator Obama’s candidacy represents his margin of victory in polls in many battleground states, actually turnout to vote in November?
One such skeptic is Curtis Gans, an eminent researcher on voting trends and turnout at the American University’s Center for the Study of the American Electorate, whose most recent report even goes so far as to deny the existence of the Millennial Generation. Aging Boomers like Tom Friedman have made the same public mistake, demonstrating just how convinced many leading thinkers among that generation, which is well represented among leading political commentators in the media, are that the political style of young people today is not like their own youthful political behavior was and is, therefore, not appropriate or useful.
Since Gans' research report was focused on, in his words, the increased, “almost record,” turnout in this year’s presidential primaries, it is particularly surprising that he chose this vehicle to announce his distaste for the Millennial Generation and its political style. Gans cites the work of William Damon as the source of his knowledge about this generation, which is strange given the large number of more well-documented studies of the Millennial Generation disproving Damon’s contention that the parents of Millennials are “creating a generation of young people who lack confidence and direction.” The evidence shows just the opposite.. If anything, employers and teachers who interact daily with Millennials complain that they are almost too confident, to the point of sounding “cheeky.”
This generation's self-confidence and orientation toward the group and the broader society has important political implications. Recent polling data from USAToday/CNN demonstrate that Millennials are paying close attention to the 2008 election and have every intention of voting, at numbers rivaling those of older voters. Their survey of more than 900 young Americans, taken Sept. 18-28 found that:
• 75 % of Millennials are registered to vote
• 73% plan to vote
• 64% have given "quite a lot" of thought to the election
Even Gans concedes that Millennials may vote in large numbers in this election. But he says that they will do so only be because of their fondness for Senator Barack Obama and not because of any long-term commitment to the political process. Millennials he says “were brought in by the uniqueness of Obama’s candidacy—precisely because he seemed to offer something different than the politics they had been eschewing.” He continues, “they won’t stay in if he’s not elected and their interest and engagement won’t be sustained if he does not live up to the promise of his candidacy once in office.” Nothing could be further from the truth.
There is no doubt that Millennials have responded very positively to Senator Obama and his candidacy and that the Obama campaign has strongly targeted this generation. Millennials supported Obama overwhelmingly in this year's Democratic primaries and virtually all current general election surveys indicate that Millennials favor him over John McCain by at least a 2:1 margin. But the political attitudes and identifications of Millennials were clearly evident long before the Obama candidacy gained widespread visibility. A Pew Research Center survey conducted in March 2007 indicated that Millennials identified as Democrats over Republicans by nearly a 2:1 ratio (52% vs. 30%). And, a study conducted at about the same time by the Millennial Strategy Program of communication research and consultation firm Frank N. Magid Associates showed that Millennials were the first generation since at least the GI Generation to contain a greater number of self-perceived liberals than conservatives. All of this at least raises the possibility that the high level of Millennial political involvement is significantly based on the Democratic and liberal affinities of the generation and would be strong even without Obama's strong candidacy.
Gans makes it clear why he is sure that the political involvement of Millennials stems solely from their attachment to Barack Obama. He yearns for the “idealistic activism” of the 1950s and 1960s when, according to Gans, all of America shared a “different ethos” thanks to an educational system based “on John Dewey’s philosophy.” Since, in Gans' mind, the emerging Millennial Generation doesn’t share the liberal idealism of his own youth, it cannot possibly sustain its current level of political activity.
If only it were so, Curtis.
In fact, the ideological ferment of the late 1960s, led by half of the Baby Boomer Generation’s counter-cultural rebellion against authority, and the reaction against this social turmoil by the other half of Boomer Generation, produced the political gridlock that caused the very cynicism in the older portions of the electorate that Gans decries. Even his own expert on the Millennial Generation, William Damon, concedes that Millennials “are working hard, doing well enough in school, and staying out of trouble.” Indeed, America is enjoying far lower levels of socially deviant behavior, such as teen age pregnancy and crime, since these indicators began to soar during the adolescent years the Baby Boomer Generation with its disdain for social rules and convention.
But Gans' own words demonstrate the flaw in his thinking. The 1950s that he writes about so nostalgically was actually an era dominated by the behavior and ethos of the GI Generation, another “civic” generational archetype, just like Millennials, not by his beloved Boomers. That generation put FDR in the White House, brought about the New Deal approach to progressive government, defeated fascism in WWII, and voted at rates greater than those of previous generations. Their Democratic loyalty lasted a lifetime: the last remaining members of the GI Generation and the first sliver of Millennials provided the only pluralities for John Kerry over George W. Bush among any of the generational cohorts voting in 2004.
The previous falloff in voting by young people described by Gans in his diatribe is completely explained by the generational attitudes and behaviors of Boomers and Gen-Xers as they moved into and out of young adulthood. One generation, Boomers, initially turned out to vote spurred by admirable idealism and then often left the political process when they discovered in Gans’ telling phrase, that “their leaders showed feet of clay.” The other, Generation X, never bothered to participate in large numbers having been discouraged by the political gridlock Boomers had created. Now that Millennials make up the entire population of voters 26 and under in this election, you can be assured that they will not only vote at rates comparable to older voters, just like their GI Generation great-grandparents did, but they will also continue to vote heavily and participate vigorously in the nation’s political process for the rest of their lives.
They will do so, because unlike Curtis Gans and his ilk, which never were able to translate their idealism into action, Millennials are intent on working together to create a better America than the one Boomers have left them as an inheritance. Their confidence, political activism, and unity will begin to initiate that change on Election Day this year thanks to a record turnout of young voters. The 1.7 million vote plurality given to John Kerry by young voters in 2004 will grow to between 8 and 10 million for Barack Obama when this involved and unified generation goes to the polls on November 4. Only Curtis Gans and out of touch Boomers will be surprised.
Sunday, October 5, 2008
Millennials will translate their passion for service into careers in government at all levels. They will be especially influential, as outlined in this recent oped from the Ft. Worth Telegram, in remaking our health care, environmental and educational systems.
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Two underlying driving forces produce all realignments: the coming-of-age of a sizable dynamic generation of young Americans and a major advance in communications technology. While the Baby Boomers and their love of television produced America’s last political makeover in 1968, this year’s election will result in a realignment driven by the political emergence of America's largest generation, the Millennials, born between 1982 and 2003, and their Internet-based social networking technologies.
Almost forty million Millennials will be eligible to vote in November and they currently favor Obama over McCain by about a 2:1 margin. Should that unified attitude hold until election day, their numerical strength would provide Senator Obama more than an eight million vote margin on election day among young voters, a pickup of more than six million votes over the level of support John Kerry’s received in 2004 among this same age group.
The number of Millennials in the electorate will only grow as more of them reach voting age and their presence in the electorate will completely transform how our government is run, and by whom, in this year’s election and for forty more years thereafter.
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
The conventional wisdom, based upon Gen Xers initial gaming activities, believes that teens, particularly boys, play violent games and use that activity to exhibit a great deal of anti-social attitudes. But now that all American teens are Millennials, the generation's group orientation and interest in finding win-win solutions is completely shattering this stereotype. Just as Millennials use the liberating technology of the Internet to actually increase group interaction through social networking, the generation has appropriated gaming technologies to also accomplish their civic oriented agenda.
The Pew study showed that almost all teens play games, both boys and girls and that:
Game playing is social, with most teens playing games with others at least some of the time.
· 82% play games alone at least occasionally, though 71% of this group also plays games with others.
· 65% of gaming teens play with others in the same room.
And their game playing also incorporates many aspects of civic and political life.
· 76% of youth report helping others while gaming.
· 44% report playing games where they learn about a problem in society.
The studies results confirm other observations about the interaction between technology and generations. Technology in and of itself is neutral and valueless. The attitudes and beliefs of the generation using the technology is what determines how the technology will be used and to what ultimate purpose.
Monday, September 15, 2008
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
After 16 years of Baby Boomer presidents, first Bill Clinton and then George W. Bush, primary voters in both parties rejected quintessential Boomer ideologues (Hillary Clinton, Mitt Romney, and Mike Huckabee) in favor of candidates who were explicitly opposed to Boomer-style politics. Although Barack Obama is chronologically a very young Boomer, he signaled, in a March 2007 Selma, Alabama speech, his desire to break with the divisive politics of an earlier, “Moses” generation. Instead he embraced the beliefs of this century’s “Joshua” generation, Millennials, born between 1982 and 2003. For his part, John McCain is a member of the older Silent Generation, born between 1925 and 1945 and has constantly exhibited that generation’s style, positioning himself as a political maverick who attempts to bridge ideological gaps to achieve larger goals.
But the big break is with the Boomer generation. Unlike Boomers, Millennials have been raised to play nice with each other and find win-win solutions to any problem. Boomer (and Generation X) parents sat toddler Millennials in front of the television set to watch “Barney” and absorb each episode’s lesson of self-esteem and mutual respect (even as they bolted from the room, sick from the sweetness of it all). With the show’s “my friend is your friend and your friend is my friend” lyrics hard wired into their psyche, Millennials have a strong desire to share everything they do with everyone else.
The arrival of social network technologies enabled Millennials to create the most intense, group-oriented decision-making process of any generation in American history. This generation’s need to make sure the outcome of both minor decisions, like where to hang out, and major decisions, such as whether go to war, reflects both a penchant for consensus and team work which will become the future benchmarks for American political life.
In contrast Senator Clinton made a definitive—if sometimes a bit too strenuous—case for a Boomer style of leadership in her primary campaign, emphasizing the value of her experience and wisdom. Governors Huckabee and Romney’s approach, for their part, stridently insisted upon the need to preserve the superior set of traditional values .
Now it’s time to encourage the Boomers to take their well-deserved retirement, and offer the opportunity for newer, Gen X leaders and their values. This may be difficult for many Xers, who will need to overcome their own lack of understanding of, and in some cases outright disdain for, the youngest generation. Humorists Steven Colbert and John Stewart, both quintessential Gen Xers, recently demonstrated their risk-taking mindset by mocking Millennial attitudes as demonstrated by Senator Obama’s rock star reception in Berlin. The failure of their Millennial audience to laugh at the joke, or buy into Senator McCain’s attempt to suggest it somehow made Obama less qualified to be President, demonstrates the challenge the Millennial zeitgeist will pose for those seeking to become the nation’s leaders.
The change from Boomer to Millennial style is already becoming evident in other areas of American life as well. At the 1968 Olympics, as the Boomer inspired, idealist era began, African-American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos, the gold and bronze medalists in the men's 200-meter race, raised a black-gloved fist in a protest for black power as the Star Spangled Banner was played to celebrate their victories. Forty years later, Jason Lezak, captured the values of the new Millennial era as he explained how he was able to swim the fastest 400-meter freestyle leg in history to bring gold to his teammates. “It’s the Olympics and I’m here for the USA . . . .I got a supercharge and took it from there. It was unreal.” Lezak was joined at the award ceremony by his Millennial teammate, Cullen Jones, only the second African-American to ever win a gold medal in swimming. In sharp contrast to Smith and Carlos forty years earlier, Jones happily celebrated the victory of his team and country.
Ultimately the 2008 election will turn on which candidate can bring these new attitudes and beliefs to bear on the number one issue facing the country—the economy. Unlike Boomers, whose focus was on economic growth to support their workaholic personalities, Millennials are more concerned about economic inequality and believe government has a key role to play in bringing about a greater degree of economic fairness. Almost 70 percent of Millennials express a preference for “a bigger government that provides more services,” compared to only 43 percent of older generations who agreed with that statement.
Connecting the current sorry state of the American economy and its dependence on foreign oil with the other favorite concern of Millennials, global warming, is an even better way to win this generation’s support on economic issues. Whoever is elected this year will need to reshape America’s economy in line with Millennial expectations of inclusiveness and fairness as dramatically as FDR’s New Deal created a new economic framework for the Millennial’s generational forbearers, the GI Generation.
The Broadway musical, “Bye Bye Birdie,” captured the end of the conventional era of the ‘50s, as the onslaught of Rock n’ Roll pitted child against parent and ushered in an age that celebrated rebellion in all its forms. The confrontations between Boomer “Meathead” (Michael Stivic) on “All in the Family,” with his tradition bound father-in-law, Archie Bunker, captured his generation's desire to overturn the establishment using the power of ideas to persuade the recalcitrant of the error of their ways.
Now it’s time to realize new values are ascending. Millennials generally get along great with their parents and celebrate the wholesome values of “High School Musical,” where boys and girls of all types come together to defeat those that seek to win only for their own personal ambition. Those nominated in the next two weeks at their party’s convention should heed this lesson. To gain the presidency, the winning ticket will have to appeal to the Millennial sense of pride and teamwork in meeting the challenges the country faces.
Saturday, August 16, 2008
If the candidates pay proper attention to generational politics, each convention will begin with a nod to their party’s Boomers and then pivot away from the past to address, on the final night, new voters whose support they will need to win in November.
The candidates must take the lead in managing their party’s convention so that the ticket and its platform reflect the desire of the electorate to move beyond the cultural wars of the 1960s. Each party’s understanding of this generationally driven challenge will be evident in how it handles the iconic, Boomer figures demanding center stage at their conventions.
Obama, in an acknowledgement of the generational strains in his party, has agreed to Hillary Rodham Clinton's request to not only address the convention in prime time on Tuesday night, but to have her name placed in nomination the following night. In return, he has gained the agreement of former president Bill Clinton to, in effect, lead the Boomers in the Democratic Party to embrace and endorse Senator Obama's nomination on Wednesday night.
As tough as that challenge has been for Obama, the problem is more acute for John McCain. President Bush's job performance ratings are among the lowest of any president. But he remains popular with Boomer ideologues in the GOP, who are continually looking for signs that McCain has stayed from party orthodoxy. Any attempt to deny a sitting president the spotlight at their national convention, as Democrats did in keeping Lyndon Johnson from addressing their 1968 convention, will be met with cries of “I told you not to trust him” from Republican true believers.
It appears that McCain’s advisers have decided to throw cultural war red meat to the delegates with appearances by Bush and Vice President Cheney on Monday, in hopes that the electorate won’t pay too much attention until later in the week.
If history is any guide, the place where both candidates will be willing to make concessions to their party’s ideological base will be the party’s platform. Since this policy statement is debated early in the convention, with little penalty for abandoning a plank or two later in the campaign, platforms are the easiest way to throw a bone to ideological purists. The Generation X and Boomer Democratic blogosphere has previously attacked Obama for failing to adhere to hard left positions on post 9-11 issues and offshore oil drilling.
Similarly, a number of conservatives have condemned McCain's former positions on climate change, immigration, and campaign finance reform.
The choice each candidate must make is whether to use the platform debate to give the cultural warriors in their party a final opportunity to replay the political drama of the nation’s Boomer past or to use the platform debate as a “Sister Souljah” generational moment and decisively break with that kind of divisive politics.
In the end, however, there will be no better place for the two candidates to demonstrate their break with the politics of past generations than in their acceptance speeches.
The McCain campaign has signaled its intention to use their candidate’s story of personal sacrifice on behalf of the nation throughout the convention. This effort will likely culminate in an acceptance speech attempting to simultaneously distinguish his life’s experience from those of the Woodstock generation (“I was tied up at the time”) and arouse the passions of his party’s Boomer base.
The challenge, however, is how to do that that without awakening a set of related thoughts among Millennials about just how old and potentially out of touch with their generation he is. Millennials weren’t around for Woodstock, don’t care about it, and prefer that everyone “play nice” together. Passion displayed as anger turns them off. To capture a new and winning coalition in this campaign, McCain would be better off using his acceptance speech to underline his national security credentials based on a lifetime of service, both of which appeal greatly to Millennials.
Obama’s decision to deliver his acceptance speech before a large outdoor audience on the 45th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech comes with its own set of risks. Echoes of that remarkable speech are sure to arouse the passions of the liberal half of the Boomer generation. But, it will also remind viewers of the turmoil of the 60s that drove a majority of the nation to embrace the Republicans’ appeal for “law and order.”
Obama’s rhetoric will need to inspire a new generation to take the next steps toward achievement of King’s dream, without creating a backlash among the rest of the electorate that wasn’t enamored with the racial overtones of the Democratic primary campaign.
To succeed in November, both candidates will have to speak explicitly to the future and demonstrate that their campaign represents the hopes of a new generation. The country is waiting for a new leader with a new approach to guide it out of the Boomer briar patch in which it has been stuck since 1968. After the conventions, we will have a clearer idea who can best lead the country into a new era of American politics.
Saturday, August 9, 2008
In his autobiographical film, Avalon, Barry Levinson captured the impact of
But the very same generational trends that pulled American families apart in the late 1960s and ‘70s, is about to return full cycle to the attitudes and beliefs of a “civic” era very much like the 1950s and early 1960s, with equally profound impacts on where and how we live.
Just like their GI Generation grand-parents or great grand-parents, Millennials have a deep and abiding interest in the communities they participate in. Growing up, this interest was captured by the enormous popularity of social networks, such as MySpace and FaceBook. Over eighty percent of all Millennials have a personal site on at least one of these networks.
The same desire to connect to their friends and build better communities is evidenced in the volunteer participation rates of Millennials, especially in comparison to their older Gen X siblings or parents. Eighty percent of Millennials performed some sort of community service while in high school, triple the rate of high school Gen Xers. Not only do seventy percent of college-age Millennials report having done voluntary community service, but 85 percent of them consider it an effective way to solve this nation’s problems. It is no coincidence that the candidate with the most appeal to Millennials, Senator Obama, issued a call for mandatory programs of service in high school and college in return for financial assistance with higher education during the week leading up to
Now the first initial indications of how this sense of community will impact Millennial behavior as they enter young adulthood are available and it contains good news for
But there is one more generational trait that portends well for
Tuesday, July 8, 2008
Mr. Winograd was kind enough to speak with me at length after his lecture and both he and Mr. Hais agreed to an interview for Weoped, which was conducted over email and is published below. On behalf of the Weoped community, Geoffrey, and myself, I want to thank both Mr. Winograd and Mr. Hais for their time and for building a case for the potential of my generation to effect some real change around here. What's a-matter with kids today? Absolutely nothing!
Q. What is your definition of the Millennial Generation?
A. Millennials are young Americans born 1982-2003. The Millennial Generation is the largest in American history. There are nearly 100 million Millennials living today, about 40-percent of whom will be eligible to vote in the 2008 presidential general election. This means that the Millennial Generation has the potential to be as large a voting bloc this year as senior citizens (persons 65+). The power of Millennials will only increase in the future as more of them join the electorate and members of older generations inevitably pass from the population.
In addition to being America's largest generation, the Millennials are also the most ethnically diverse. About 40-percent of Millennials are non-white: African-American, Latino, Asian American, or of mixed race. One in five Millennials has at least one immigrant parent. The Millennial Generation also has a less pronounced sense of gender-role distinctions than any previous American generation. In fact, if anything, the Millennial Generation may be the first female-dominant generation in U.S. history. Certainly this is the first time a majority of college undergraduate and professional school students are female rather than male.
Q. In your book, Millennial Makeover, you note that Millennials vote more Democratic than previous generations. Since much of the Democratic Party platform--not to mention Obama's recent trending toward centrist positions--appears to be maintaining the status quo, in what ways would you characterize Millennials as "progressive" and not just "Democratic?"
A. In effect, these are two different questions. The political attitudes and behavior of Millennials are separate and distinct from whatever tactical positions the Democratic Party and Barack Obama may take in contesting the 2008 election. Specifically, at least at this point, the Millennial Generation is both Democratic and "liberal" or "progressive." They identify as Democrats over Republicans by a 2:1 ratio and they are the first generation in at least four decades in which more people consider themselves to be liberals rather than conservatives.
The "liberalism" or "progressivism" of the Millennial Generation is reflected in its attitudes on a range of specific issues. On economic matters, Millennials are "liberal interventionists," favoring governmental activity to deal with matters such as economic inequality and health care. Upwards of seven in ten Millennials agree that "government should take care of people who can't take care of themselves," favor "a bigger government that provides more services," and believe that "government should guarantee health insurance for all even if this requires raising taxes." Two-thirds of them favor increased environmental protection even at the cost of higher prices.
On social issues, Millennials may be characterized as "tolerant non-meddlers." Six in ten of them have no objections to gay marriage and reject the idea of women returning to traditional roles in society. Nine in ten white Millennials believe that interracial dating is acceptable.
In foreign affairs, they are "activist multilateralists." Like other generations, a majority of Millennials (six in ten) perceives that the Iraq war has hindered the overall battle against terrorism. This rejection of the Iraq war and the way it is being managed should not be interpreted as isolationism, however. A solid majority of Millennials believes that it is necessary for the United States to be highly involved in international affairs Specifically, two-thirds of them favor an American foreign policy focused on building international ties rather than relying on U.S. military strength.
Q. Why did the "idealist" efforts of the 60s generation (Baby Boomers) appear futile in retrospect. How will the Millennial Generation succeed in its "civic" agenda?
A. The Baby Boomer and Millennial generations represent two unique and distinctive generational archetypes. It is necessary to understand the differences between these two types of generations to know why the Millennial Generation will succeed in achieving its goals while the Baby Boomers failed.
As an "idealist" generation, the Baby Boomers are driven by deeply held values that they attempt to enact through the political process and on which they are unwilling to compromise. While idealist generations want to use the political process to achieve their values, they tend to regard institutions, including government, as incompetent and morally bankrupt. As a result, they attack and weaken those institutions, thereby lessening the chances they will succeed in accomplishing their aims.
In addition, like other "idealist" generations, the Baby Boomers were, in the 1960s, a highly divided, even fragmented, generation, and remain so today. Because of the participation of some of its members in the civil rights, women's rights, and anti-Vietnam war movements, there is a perception that the Boomers were a liberal generation. In fact, even on the college campuses of the 1960s there were about as many conservatives as liberals and Republicans as Democrats. Among the majority of the Boomers who did not attend college, conservatives and Republicans may have actually outnumbered liberals and Democrats. Beyond this, the Baby Boomer Generation is divided along demographic lines. For example, it is this generation that gave us both the term and the persistent reality of the "gender gap" (liberal and Democratic women versus conservative and Republican men). The Boomers are also divided ethnically in their political attitudes. Virtually all African-American Baby Boomers consider themselves to be Democrats, while most white Boomers say they are Republicans. Indeed, the Boomers are so politically and demographically divided that it is really impossible to find an agenda that can be said to represent the entire generation. Given this, is it any wonder why the efforts of the "idealist" Baby Boomer generation appear futile in spite of its four-decade long domination of American elections and politics.
By contrast, the Millennials are a "civic" generation. Politically, such generations are characterized by a desire to find win-win solutions that meet the needs of and resolve the problems facing the entire group (society). Unlike idealist generations, civic generations tend to have positive attitudes toward societal institutions. This aids civic generations in achieving their goals because, rather than weakening societal institutions like their idealist parents and grandparents, they strengthen existing institutions and build new ones.
In addition, unlike the Baby Boomer Generation, the Millennial Generation is unified politically. We have already indicated that Millennials identify as Democrats and liberals by about a 2:1 ratio and that majorities of them hold "liberal" or "progressive" positions on most political issues. These attitudes and identifications cross demographic lines. A majority of both white and non-white and male and female Millennials identify as Democrats. In the just concluded contest for the Democratic presidential nomination, clear majorities of Millennials, regardless of gender and race, voted for Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton.
In sum, because of their numbers, their group-oriented desire to find win-win solutions to America's problems, their support for and willingness to enhance societal institutions and their attitudinal and behavioral unity and cohesion, Millennials will likely succeed, where Baby Boomers failed, in achieving their political goals.
Q. How sweeping a change do you believe us capable of? What other generations would you compare us to in this regard? Will ours be a revolution or merely a reformation of the current bureaucratic system?
A. As just detailed, Millennials belong to a generational archetype labeled “civic” because of their intense interest in rebuilding society’s governmental and political institutions. Prior civic generations in American history created our republican form of government at the Constitutional Convention that delivered on the promise of political independence of the American Revolution, at least for white males. Eighty years later, the next civic generation provided the political support for Lincoln to abolish slavery and extend and guarantee those freedoms while asserting the primacy of the federal government over State’s Rights when it came to matters of constitutional principles. The next and most recent civic generation was the GI Generation, whose support of FDR’s New Deal allowed the federal government to become the arbiter of economic and social justice. That generation’s liberalism made progressive government possible in America after thirty years of debate about the wisdom of a strong central government.
Given this historical track record and the characteristics of America's next civic generation, we believe that Millennials have both the numbers and the attitudes to once again transform American government. The changes will be sweeping because, as indicated, Millennials are more unified than other recent generations in their beliefs about what needs to be done. They will demand the federal government take the lead in finding solutions to America’s broken health care and educational systems, while lessening the degree of economic inequality. The programmatic solutions Millennials will favor will be a synthesis between the federal government establishing new systems and priorities and local, individual action to accomplish the desired results within the new systems. Millennial era government will represent just as much of a change from today’s Progressive Era bureaucratic form of government as FDR’s New Deal was from the laissez-faire policies of his predecessors.
Q. Millennial Makeover emphasizes the potential of the Internet to enable us to organize and communicate for political and civic action. During this election, we have seen the candidacy of Ron Paul receive overwhelming, fervent support on the Internet, but it translated into less than 1% of the popular vote in the Republican Primaries. How do you account for this discrepancy? Does a candidate's support on FaceBook or MySpace actually have political currency?
A. There are many studies, many of which have been cited on the daily TechPresident blog, which have demonstrated a corollary this year between social network activity/support and votes for both Democratic and Republican candidates. The case of Ron Paul, however, demonstrates that just having an online presence doesn’t mean a political campaign can count on that activity to translate into a significant amount of political support. Instead, as we point out in discussing the four Ms of politics in our book, Millennial Makeover, a campaign needs to make sure the Media of social networking, is aligned with its Message. If that is done with the right kind of Messenger, then Money will flow to the campaign. Ron Paul’s message is an intensely libertarian, anti-government message. It is not a Message that appeals to civic-oriented Millennials. So while the Messenger (Paul) could raise surprising quantities of Money on the Media of the Internet, he was not able to build the kind of communities on social networks that Obama’s Message of unity and hope was able to do. And so he also failed to generate the level of support and Money that Barack Obama (or for that matter, Hillary Clinton) was able to do. In sum, all four Ms have to be in alignment for the power of the Net to be truly transformative.
For further analysis and information, please pick up a copy of the book Millennial Makeover: MySpace, YouTube, and the Future of American Politics
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Now that pundits have exhausted themselves asking and answering the question, "Why did Hillary lose?" it's time to turn to the much more important question, "Why did Obama win?" Asking that question encourages a look beyond the tactics of the just concluded primary campaign to the broader strategic and historical trends that made him victorious. Examining those trends, which we did for our book, Millennial Makeover: MySpace, YouTube and the Future of American Politics, demonstrates that the 2008 election is a realigning event marking the end of one political era and the start of another.
Historically, when these types of realignments or makeovers occur, they produce changes in the voting coalitions that support the two parties, and this year’s political transition is no exception. For example, the previous realignment in 1968 shifted the South from the Democratic bastion that it had been for well over a century to a solidly Republican region, while at the same time former GOP strongholds in New England, the upper Midwest, and the Pacific Coast moved toward the Democrats.
Despite the clear historical evidence that these makeovers, which occur regularly about every forty years, are as American and normal as apple pie and baseball, many observers seem unable to recognize the changes in party coalitions that are a part of this year’s political dynamic. As New York Times columnist, Frank Rich, perceptively noted, this sometimes leads commentators to ignore their own polling data. NBC did this recently when it emphasized the unwillingness of most white males to support Democrat Barack Obama--in spite of the fact that the last time a majority of white men had voted for a Democratic presidential candidate was in 1964, prior to the last political realignment.
What NBC and others seem unable or unwilling to acknowledge is that the Democratic coalition (indeed that of both parties) continues to evolve. As the title of a recent article by Alan Abramowitz put it, "This is Not Your Father's (Or Mother's) Democratic Party." The Democratic coalition is no longer the New Deal coalition of the Deep South and urban white blue-collar workers assembled by Franklin Roosevelt. It is now a coalition heavily comprised of both the most downscale and upscale ("gentry liberal") voters; ethnic minorities, not only African-Americans, but also the rapidly growing Latino and Asian populations; and young people. Geographically, at this early point in the general election campaign, Barack Obama has a solid lead in the East and Pacific Coast blue states, more than hold his own in the "swing states" of the Midwest and Florida, and is even competitive in a number of formerly red states in the upper South (Virginia and North Carolina) and West (Colorado, New Mexico, Montana, Nevada and Alaska).
What is underpinning the newly emerging Democratic coalition and propelling the unfolding political makeover are the same two elements that have produced all of America’s earlier realignments: a new generation of voters and a new communication technology that mobilizes that emerging generation. The 2008 realignment is being fueled by the Millennial Generation, born 1982-2003, and the social networking communications Millennials use so well. The Millennial Generation is the largest in American history. There are nearly 100 hundred million Millennials, about 40-percent of whom will be eligible to vote in November. This will give the Millennial Generation the capacity to have as much impact in 2008 as that of the more frequently touted senior citizens (those age 65 and older).
Like their GI Generation forbearers who fueled FDR’s New Deal realignment, the Millennials are a "civic" generation, focused on basic economic and foreign policy matters, rather than the cultural wars of the Baby Boomers. In the economy, Millennials are "liberal interventionists." In foreign affairs, they are "activist multilateralists."
Upwards of seven in ten Millennials agree that "government should take care of people who can't take care of themselves," favor "a bigger government that provides more services," and believe that "government should guarantee health insurance for all even if this requires raising taxes." Two-thirds of them favor increased environmental protection even at the cost of higher prices. While, like other generations, most Millennials have now come to believe that the Iraq war has hurt the fight against terror, virtually all favor active American participation in world affairs. However, they believe that such activism should be based on building international ties rather than relying primarily on U.S. military strength.
As a result of these attitudes, Millennials identify as Democrats over Republicans by a greater than 2:1 margin according to a March 2008 Pew survey Barack Obama led John McCain among Millennials nationally by a similar ratio (54% vs. 34%) in a June 2008 Rasmussen Survey.
Obama and the Democrats may be assembling a new majority voting coalition, but recent surveys indicate that important numbers of some groups important in recent Democratic victories, such as white suburban women, have not yet fully warmed to the Obama candidacy. And while Obama and the Democrats hold the advantage on most issues, national security and John McCain's military and governmental experience offer McCain opportunities to win over the Millennial Generation--if he can break decisively with current Republican Party orthodoxy. His Vice Presidential choice and the role George W. Bush will play at the Republican national convention in September will reveal just how much political courage this war hero will bring to the fall campaign.
Focusing on the broader historical and societal trends that helped propel Obama to victory in the primaries also makes clear the strategic path that he must take to be victorious in November. Who he chooses for Vice President and how he orchestrates the Democratic National Convention will reveal whether his own campaign understands, and is willing to ride, the wave of change that has lifted his candidacy so far. A new political tide is rising. Whichever side takes advantage of the changing tide will claim victory in November--and political dominance in America for the next four decades.
Tuesday, June 3, 2008
In 1896, the Democrats and William Jennings Bryan looked back to an agrarian America and to Jefferson's and Jackson's "yeoman farmer", leaving it to Republicans William McKinley and Mark Hanna, the Carl Rove of his era, to appeal to an emerging urban America. The result was GOP dominance of U.S. politics for the next forty years.
The Democrats got it right in 1932. That year, spurred by the Depression, Franklin Roosevelt built a coalition based on the economic egalitarianism of the GI Generation, many of whom were blue-collar workers and the children and grandchildren of the last great wave of European immigrants to the United States.
But as late as 1968, many Democrats still wanted to rely on the New Deal coalition even as a young idealist generation, Baby Boomers, attempted to get the party to focus on a different set of concerns including civil rights, women's rights, and opposition to the Vietnam war. The resulting divisions presented an opportunity that the Republicans have exploited ever since.
Now, forty years later, American politics is undergoing another period of political and generational change just as it did in 1896, 1932, and 1968. If the Democratic Party has the courage to embrace a new generation of young voters and the group-oriented values it favors, it can once again recapture the political advantage for the next four decades.
Unfortunately, most of the advice the party is getting on what constitutes a winning coalition in 2008, is being provided by pundits and candidates who seem locked in the politics and divisions of the past. Some tell the party to focus on the "white working class," or "hardworking white people." On the other hand, a recent Wall Street Journal article suggested that the focus should be on "senior citizens," virtually all of whom vote and who, together, comprise about 20-percent of the electorate. But these approaches to coalition building neither recognize the major demographic changes continuing to take place in America nor the factors that lead to political makeovers or realignments.
Throughout history, realignments have been produced by the political coming-of-age of a large, dynamic generation and its use of a new communication technology that mobilizes the opinions and votes of that generation. Today's realignment stems from the emergence of the Millennial Generation (Americans born 1982-2003) and its use of Internet based social networking technologies.
The Millennial Generation is the largest in American history. There are over 90 million Millennials, about four in ten of whom are of voting age, making them just as powerful a force in the 2008 election as the much more frequently touted senior citizen cohort.
The Millennial Generation is also the most diverse in our history. Four in ten are non-white and about 20-percent are the children of at least one immigrant parent. Reflecting their gender-neutral behavior, a majority of college undergraduates are women, for the first time in U.S. history. Solid majorities of Millennials are tolerant on social and racial issues, favorable to governmental intervention and egalitarian policies in the economy, and an activist, but multilateral, approach in foreign affairs. With few exceptions, Millennials have overwhelmingly supported Barack Obama in this year's presidential primaries and caucuses.
At the same time, changes in America's economy and the composition of its population serve to continue the half-century long trend, noted recently by Alan Abramowitz in the Rasmussen Report, of the diminishing contribution of "white working class voters" to the American workforce overall and to the Democratic electorate specifically:
"In the 1950s, manual workers made up 47 percent of the white electorate in the United States while sales and clerical workers made up 21 percent and professional and managerial workers made up 32 percent. By the first decade of the 21st century, however, manual workers made up only 24 percent of the white electorate, while sales and clerical workers made up 33 percent and professional and managerial workers made up 43 percent. Since the 1960s, however, Democratic identification among both white manual workers and white sales and clerical workers has declined sharply while Democratic identification among white professional and managerial workers has risen. Today, white professional and managerial workers are actually more likely to identify with the Democratic Party than either white manual workers or white clerical and sales workers."
As Joel Kotkin and Fred Siegel wrote recently, the Democratic Party is rapidly becoming a party of "gentry liberals", minorities and youth with little resemblance to the working class-based party coalition assembled by FDR almost eighty years ago.
This shift in America's economic dynamics and demographics, coupled with the generational and technological changes the country is experiencing, produces an historic opportunity for the Democratic Party in 2008. In a March 2008 Pew Survey, Millennials identified as Democrats over Republicans by a greater than 2:1 margin. Millennials are the first generation in more than forty years in which a larger number say they are liberal rather than conservative. In contrast to older generations that are sharply divided by sex and race in their ideology and party identification Millennials are united in their political leanings, a fact that serves to enhance the potential decisiveness of this powerful new generation.
All of this gives the Democrats a clear leg-up in the Millennial makeover that's under way. Whether the Democratic Party takes advantage of this historical opportunity largely depends on the choices it makes in building its electoral coalition. Will it look backward, as it did to its detriment in 1896, or forward, as it did in 1932, to its benefit? The consequences of that choice will shape the fate of the party and the nation, not just in 2008, but also for the coming four decades.