Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Hillary learns fast

After missing the impact of the Millennial Generation vote in Iowa, just five days later the platform behind Hillary on election night in New Hampshire was made up of all young people waving American flags--with President Clinton out of sight after a congratulatory kiss. Hillary got Chelsea on the bus to join her in conversations with Millennials to help her learn what was on their mind too. While Millennials still voted 2:1 in favor of Obama, the work Hillary did in such a short time amount of time signals she still hasn't lost her considerable political skills.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Hillary missed the Millennials in Iowa

Despite all their efforts to put a positive spin on their Iowa showing on the plane to New Hampshire, the Clinton team couldn’t avoid acknowledging the most important mistake they made in Iowa—discounting the youth vote.

Not only did Clinton lose to Barack Obama by an almost six to one margin among Millennial Generation (those under 25) caucus attendees, but also her weakness in this age group was the key to her overall loss among women. While Hillary carried the over 45 female vote 36%-24%, Obama won women under 45 by a 50%-21% margin and the surprisingly strong turnout among young caucus goers turned that margin into an overall defeat among the female constituency Hillary was counting on the most. Had she and her team only read their history, they wouldn’t have been surprised by this outcome.

About every eighty years or so, a “Civic” generation, like the GI Generation and now the Millennials, comes along with a determination to use their size and their facility with communication technology to change the political culture of America. 2008 will be the first election when Millennials, the largest generation in American history, born between 1982 and 2003, will be eligible to vote in sufficient numbers to tip the political scales to candidates who they favor, but they have already made their presence known to those analyzing election data, not just the latest poll results. They, along with the last remaining members of the GI Generation, were the only age groups to cast majority votes for John Kerry in 2004. The YouTube inspired involvement of Millennials in the Senate races in Virginia and Montana was the difference in those two close elections, returning Democrats to majority status in 2006. But those initial tremors are minor compared to the tsunami of change that Millennials will set in motion in the 2008 elections.

Jaded pollsters, like Clinton’s Mark Penn, and columnists, like Thomas L. Friedman, who have been waiting for the emergence of a sizeable youth vote and youthful activism for decades, completely ignored this emerging phenomenon believing that today’s youth would disappoint those hoping for any sign of political commitment, just as people under 25 had done ever since the 1970s. But that attitude, common among Baby Boomers who believe the entire world should think and act the way they do, represents a significant misreading of history. Gen Xers, who adored and still revere Ronald Reagan and distrust government, were responsible for the decline in voter participation among young people in the 1980s and 1990s, but as studies by Harvard’s Institute of Politics have demonstrated, ever since 9/11 today’s youth have voted in increasing numbers, at a growth rate that surpasses that of all other generations. Now that they have a candidate like Barack Obama who appeals to this generation’s partisan passion for changing America, their impact will reverberate across the country as loudly as it did in Iowa last week.

A careful observer of the Obama and Clinton campaigns' youth turnout efforts could have seen the results coming. Hillary’s team were told to invite young people over for a night of watching TV shows like Gray’s Anatomy or The Office, and use that opportunity to engage them in a conversation on the issues. Obama’s team went about finding its cadre of supporters by using their website, built off of the FaceBook operating system or platform, in tune with Millennial’s social networking habits. Once they found potential supporters, Obama’s team didn’t ask them to watch television, something Millennials do infrequently, unless it’s on their laptop with shows downloaded from the Net, but to hang out at the local bar. There Michelle Obama, or “the closer” as her husband calls her, asked them to come out on caucus night and change America’s politics forever.

Clinton's attempt to make her gender define the nature of the historic change in this election missed another important trait of Millennials. This generation is the most gender neutral, race-and ethnicity-blind group of young people in American history. Only sixty percent of Millennials are white; twenty percent have an immigrant parent; and, ninety percent have a friend of another race. While Baby Boomers are justifiably proud of their idealistic efforts on behalf of civil rights and women’s rights, Millennials take diversity as a given and tolerance as the only acceptable behavior. That’s why, on caucus night, young women voted for Obama and his message of hope, while older women felt motivated to support the first credible female candidate for President. Once again, the Clinton’s circle of Boomer advisors just couldn’t understand why everyone wasn’t thinking and behaving like they did.

The generational differences in the two candidate's teams were embarrassingly obvious during their speeches to their supporters on caucus night. A collection of Silent and Boomer Generation former leaders, from Madeline Albright to Wesley Clark, not to mention Bill Clinton, was planted behind Hillary. Obama’s backdrop was his kids, his wife and throngs of young supporters who knew that their efforts had created an historic moment for the country. Given this generational bias, really a blind spot in their thinking, it’s hard to believe Hillary can fix her problem with Millennials before the final campaign showdown on February 5, let alone in the few days between Iowa and New Hampshire. But if she can’t find a way to appeal to this emerging generation quickly and on its own terms, she will become the first, but certainly not the last, candidate whose failure to recognize the historical pattern of generational cycles in American politics has cost them their future.

Morley Winograd is co-author with Michael D. Hais of Millennial Makeover: MySpace, YouTube and the Future of American Politics (Rutgers University Press, March 2008)

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Hooray for Hollywood, Millennials Organize

While the eyes of the nation’s political insiders were trained on Iowa and New Hampshire in an attempt to divine the future of American politics, the script for that drama was being written on New Year’s Eve in Hollywood at the Party for the Presidency (P4P).

One hundred and fifty representative (demographically and attitudinally)leaders of the Millennial generation, born between 1982 and 2003, gathered here for a weekend of workshops and networking to finish writing their own declaration of political independence, called “Democracy 2.0.” The conference was the culmination of three years of effort by mobilize.org, an organization of Millennials, established to implement their generation’s desire to “upgrade democracy” for the 21st century and generate a series of action plans, to involve youth in the 2008 campaign.

The Party for the Presidency gave these future leaders of America a chance to:

· Define the values they would use in working together to make their vision come true,

· Gain consensus on the defining characteristics of the Millennial Generation that will enable them to be successful in their quest, and

· Prioritize the issues they wanted to work on in order to make a difference.

Not only were the gender (51% female /49% male) and ethnicity (60% white, with the rest about equally divided among African-Americans, Asian-Americans and Hispanics) of the participants representative of this generation, but their preferences on what values they wanted to use in working together during the conference were also a mirror image of the values Millennials will bring to America’s civic debate.

Using the latest in technology, another key trait of the generation, they voted anonymously using wireless keypad devices to:

  1. Work towards developing mutual trust and respect.
  2. Be open-minded.
  3. Take an active role and “speak your mind”.
  4. Keep focused on the big picture.
  5. Listen and pay attention to each other.
  6. Act with honesty and empathy.

Building from the results of smaller gatherings held during the last two years, the conference also sought to identify the unique traits of this generation that will enable it to attain its goals. The three traits garnering the most votes had to do with how adept the generation is in the use of communication technologies, especially social networks. Indeed, one participant after another talked about how they had cut their organizing teeth using MySpace and FaceBook. In addition, the generation’s tolerance on social issues and ethnic diversity were traits the group also recognized as being a major distinction between Millennials and the generations of Americans coming before them. The participants also rated their generation's characteristics of innovation, interdependency, and global citizenship as key differentiators between them and older Americans.

These traits produce a different political mindset from what America experienced with either Baby Boomers or Generation X. When asked to place their own ideology on the political spectrum, two-thirds of the group put themselves somewhere on the left, with one-third, the mode or greatest number, at “Center-Left.” But the results were even more dramatic when members of the group were asked to pick from various combinations of fiscal and social liberalism or conservatism to describe their political beliefs. Thirty-six percent, the mode on this survey question, chose socially liberal and fiscally moderate, with only four people, less than 3%, choosing any combination that included the notion of being “socially conservative.” This suggests that Mike Huckabee’s chances among Millennials are slim, in spite of his professed faith-based concern with the environment and poverty.

This set of ideological beliefs translated directly into overwhelming support for the Democratic Party. Fifty-five percent of those in attendance identified themselves as Democrats, 19% as Independents and 14% as Republicans. And, lest it be thought that those at the P4P were simply an unrepresentative, self-selected group of youthful left-wingers, these party identification numbers are very close to those obtained in larger, more "scientific" national surveys of the Millennial Generation conducted by the non-partisan Pew Research Center.

Who was the overwhelming favorite among the Democratic candidates for President of those at the P4P? Senator Obama, or “Barack” as the head of his California field operations--the only campaign prescient enough to send a representative--called him. He not only had the support of 51% of the participants (compared to 22% for Hillary Clinton and 12% for John Edwards), but when the group was asked who was the most “youth friendly” candidate among the Democrats, Obama swept the voting with 73%. Most of the extra votes must have come from Clinton, who got only 4% from the group on this question, while Edwards climbed up to second place with 22%.

Everyone was allowed to vote on the Republican side as well, and the results suggest two of that party’s candidates at least have the potential for attracting independent voters in New Hampshire. McCain finished first with 36%. Ron Paul came in second with 27%. Only 9% of Millennial leaders chose Mitt Romney, however, which does not bode well for his chances in early primary states with high numbers of independent voters, such as New Hampshire or Michigan . Not surprisingly, Ron Paul, with 42% was rated as the most “youth friendly” candidate in the Republican Party. Rudy Giuliani finished a surprising second at 19%, perhaps because of his identification with 9/11, an indelible event to most Millennials. Still, these numbers confirm that, if it can mobilize the votes of those under 25 in the 2008 election, the Democratic Party will add a powerful weapon to its campaign arsenal.

And based on the energy of the first night of this three-day conference, it won’t be hard to get this generation engaged. After three hours of intense discussion and voting, the group was asked to come up with some ideas on what could be done to “help our society better involve citizens, specifically young people, to help address our most important problems.” P4P participants were offered an initial set of eleven ideas from previous organizing conferences sponsored by mobilize.org. Even after limiting any new suggestions to those that won the consensus support of everyone else at their individual tables, participants thought of 47 more ideas for potential foundation funders to consider. Voting on which of these ideas to concentrate their energies, however, had to wait for another day. Having started with a spirited display of break dancing as energetic as any jitterbug contest that its generational counterpart, the GI Generation, would have staged , the group broke up for the night to party and watch an advance screening of, what else, a political movie.

By the time they were done, as the ball dropped to signal the arrival of 2008 in Times Square, this group of Millennials had put the country on notice that its generation is “uniquely positioned to foster community engagement through social networks of all kinds,” as its draft Democracy 2.0 declaration states, and assume “our responsibility to use information and technology to transform communication and advance political engagement and civic participation.” As the draft declares in its conclusion, “It is our democracy. It is time to act.”

December 29, 2007

Morley Winograd is co-author with Michael D. Hais, of Millennial Makeover: MySpace, YouTube and the Future of American Politics, to be published in March by Rutgers University Press.