Saturday, February 16, 2008

Narrowing the Gender Gap

The gender gap–the tendency of women to vote more often for Democrats and men to prefer Republicans––has been a feature of American politics for decades. On Super Tuesday pundit, David Gergen, captured what many considered a truism when he referred to the Democrats as the "mommy party" and the Republicans as the "daddy party." But by the time the Potomac primary was over this week, even that seemingly immutable feature of America’s political landscape had begun to shift. As Obama expanded his already large margin of support among Millennials, his surging support also earned him an even split with Clinton among women. Now a survey conducted last month by the Millennial Strategy Program of Frank N. Magid Associates demonstrates how the emergence of the new Millennial Generation (voters 25 years old and younger) is closing the gender gap in American politics. .

The phenomenon of a wide difference in party preferences and political attitudes by gender stemmed from the rise of the Baby Boomer Generation in the late 1960s. When idealist generations, such as the Boomers today and the Missionary Generation about eighty years ago, dominate the electorate, the political debate tends to focus on divisive social issues. The battle over women's suffrage at the turn of the 2Oth century is an early example. More recently, the debate has focused on the basic societal, familial, and economic roles of the sexes, along with educational and career opportunities for women, and reproductive issues.

Reflecting these debates, Boomer men and women early on developed very different political attitudes and preferences that persist to this day. According to the Magid study, a plurality of male Baby Boomers (39%) are self-identified Republicans, while just under a third call themselves Democrats (32%). By contrast, half of female Boomers (50%) say they're Democrats and only 20 percent are Republicans. Similarly, by a ratio of 1.75:1 Boomer males say they are conservative rather than liberal or progressive (35% vs. 20%). On the other hand, slightly more Boomer females call themselves liberal or progressive rather than conservative (25% vs. 23%). Majorities of Boomer women say they will vote for Democratic presidential (56%) and congressional (51%) candidates, while the voting preferences of Boomer men are split about evenly between the two parties.

Millennials, however, are a "civic" generation, like their GI Generation grandparents and great grandparents, so their political agenda is focused on achieving societal unity and in revitalizing political and government institutions rather than advancing moral causes and social issues. This change is reflected in the political attitudes and beliefs of Millennial males and females, whose voting behavior is much more similar than is the case with either Boomer or Gen X men and women. Among Millennials, for instance, most males and females have supported Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton in the early primaries and caucuses, while within older generations, men have tended toward Obama and women toward Clinton.

The Magid survey confirms this decreasing distinction between males and females among the Millennial generation. A solid plurality of female Millennials identifies as Democrats rather Republicans (43% vs. 14%), as do a somewhat smaller number of males (32% vs. 21%). Millennial women overwhelmingly indicate that they will vote for a Democratic rather than a Republican presidential candidate (52% vs. 16%) and a Democratic over a Republican congressional candidate (49% vs. 16%). Most Millennial men also say they would vote for Democratic over Republican presidential (42% vs. 31%) and congressional (41% vs. 29%) candidates.

Regardless of gender, most Millennials call themselves liberals or progressives rather than conservatives. Twenty-eight percent of Millennial males think of themselves as liberals and progressives compared with 20 percent who call themselves conservatives. Among females, 31 percent are liberals or progressives and 13 percent conservatives.

A new civic generation, the Millennials, is on the verge of giving American politics an extreme makeover. Unlike the Baby Boomers, who remain sharply divided by ideology and gender, the young men and women of the Millennial Generation will be working and voting together to change America and its government.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Millennials Are About to Give America an Extreme Political Makeover

Just as America's political landscape shifted dramatically with the 1968 victory of Californian Richard Nixon's "law and order" campaign, the demand for change from a new generation is about to shift the center of political gravity, not just in California, but across the country.

This year's political shakeup will result from the emergence of the Millennial Generation (Americans born between 1982 and 2003). When generations such as Millennials this year, Baby Boomers in 1968, and the GI Generation in 1932, enter the electorate in large numbers, they shift the balance of power between the parties, alter the nature of our nation's political discourse, and change the direction of public policy.

There are now one million more Millennials alive than Baby Boomers and twice as many Millennials as members of Generation X (born between 1965 and 1981). Almost 40 million Millennials will be eligible to vote in 2008. They are already voting in sufficient numbers to upset the prognosticators' predictions in the early primaries.

Millennials are rebelling against the divisive personal morality and alienation of Boomers and Generation X in favor of a revitalization of Americas' civic institutions. Right here in Hollywood, a dedicated group of over one hundred Millennials, gathered by, met the weekend before New Year's Day to finalize their own Declaration of Independence, entitled "Democracy 2.0." Citing a need to "upgrade" our nation's system of governance, the gathering identified the challenges that previous generations had failed to resolve, especially "economic inequality, America's role in the world, and the effect of money on the democratic process." But then, instead of condemning those in power for the nation's problems and walking away as Gen Xers might have done, or attempting to tear down the political system as some Boomers did, they asserted the need for their generation to fix each of those concerns. Their manifesto declared, "Our uniquely positioned to foster community engagement through social networks... It is our responsibility to use information and technology to upgrade democracy, transform communication, and advance political engagement and civic participation." Having assumed responsibility for solving America's problems, the group then generated a series of action plans to assure maximum civic participation by Millennials before adjourning to welcome 2008, the year that will mark the beginning of the Millennial era in American politics.

Millennials are the largest and most ethnically diverse generation in American history -- 40 percent are African-American, Hispanic, Asian, or of mixed race. Unlike any previous generation, Millennial males and females enter and graduate from college and professional schools at equal rates. As results from surveys by the Pew Research Center over the last year reveal, this experience of being diverse and not being bound by traditional gender roles makes Millennials a very tolerant generation. About six in 10 Millennials believe that homosexuality is an acceptable lifestyle and favor legalized gay marriage. Virtually all approve of interracial dating, have friends of a different racial group than their own, and reject a return of women to traditional roles. Two-thirds of all Millennials favor policies providing a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and 54 percent reject a fence along the Mexican border.

Millennials also overwhelmingly favor the expansion of the federal government, to deal with societal and economic concerns such as economic inequality, health care, and the environment. Pew survey data shows that almost three-fourths of Millennials believe government should take care of people who can't take care of themselves. An equal number support federally guaranteed health insurance for all citizens even if this requires raising taxes. Almost seven in ten Millennials interviewed in 2007 by Harvard University's Institute of Politics said that protecting the environment should be just as high a governmental priority as protecting jobs, and 43 percent favored environmental protection even at the cost of economic growth.

Not surprisingly, these attitudes cause Millennials to identify as Democrats by a margin of nearly 2:1. Recent surveys by media research firm, Frank N. Magid Associates, show Millennials to be the first generation in at least four decades in which more members call themselves liberals than conservatives.

Andy Sachs, the heroine in the first Millennial Generation "coming-of-age" movie, The Devil Wears Prada, exemplifies her generation in life style, career experiences and relationships. Unlike Benjamin Braddock, in The Graduate, a similar story but about Boomers, Andy is not a depressed, rebellious loner. Unlike Joel Goodsen, in the Gen X coming-of-age movie, Risky Business, Andy doesn't profit from her friends' sexual urges. She doesn't despise or lie to her parents either. Instead her friends and parents are her prime source of advice and support. More like Andy Hardy, the hero of the most representative GI Generation coming-of age movies, after some struggle, Andy Sachs lives for and by her ideals, even while managing and benefiting from her relationship with the Devil herself.

This spirit of "one for all" and concern for the group is the signature belief that distinguishes Millennials from Boomers or Gen Xers. As they bring this attitude into the electorate, America's public policy debate will shift way from limited government and lower taxes toward a new commitment to reinforcing the common good. While Democrats with their more societal, inclusive approach, appear to have the edge among Millennials, if the Republicans should nominate a candidate who responds to the attitudes of this generation, as did Abraham Lincoln to a similar generation in 1860, the GOP still can become competitive in the Millennial era.

At this early point in the presidential campaign, we can't be certain which candidate will be elected president and have the opportunity of leading America in a new era. Nor can we know for sure exactly what issues he or she will face in office. But, history does provide clear evidence that the path to success lies in understanding and gaining the support of America's next great generation -- the Millennials.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

“Co-Voters”: The Newest Force in American Politics

The Democratic contests on Super Tuesday will be the first tests of a new phenomenon in American politics—the ability of Millennial Generation kids to influence the voting decisions of their parents. When Caroline Kennedy began the string of Kennedy endorsements for Obama with her NY Times op-ed, she specifically referenced this new, “hopeful, hard-working, innovative, and imaginative” generation in America. She also said her three teenage Millennials had initiated the discussion of her publicly endorsing Obama, the first presidential endorsement she had ever given. And in the bellwether state of Missouri, Senator Claire McCaskill’s key endorsement was also initiated by conversations between her and her eighteen-year old daughter, according to this week’s edition of TIME magazine. Similar scenes are being played out in families of every ethnicity and race across America.

One of the defining traits of the Millennial Generation is the great relationship its members have with their parents. This leads Millennials to constantly interact with their parents in making key decisions about their lives—such as what clothes to buy, what school to attend and what job to choose. Now this phenomenon of inter-generational decision-making is spreading into the political arena.

In a January 2008 national online survey conducted by the Millennial Strategy Program of media research firm, Frank N. Magid Associates. A clear majority of all Americans (57%) and nearly two-thirds of Millennials (61%) say that this year's election is more important than other recent presidential elections.

The study also reveals how Millennial’s more optimistic attitudes about politics are spreading to their parents and even grandparents, helping to cause the increased turnout in Democratic primary and caucus contests that everyone has now noticed. Forty-percent of Millennials believe that the United States will be better off as a result of the 2008 presidential election; only 23 percent feel that things will be unchanged, and only nine percent think things will be worse after November. While about a third of both older generations believe that the outcome of the 2008 election will improve things, slight pluralities of both Xers (42%) and Boomers (43%) feel that the 2008 election will leave America unchanged or in worse shape.

But the politics of hope is beginning to infect Americans of all ages. In a December 2006 Magid survey, voters split evenly about whether Americans are too divided to unite and solve the country's problems or could come together with the right leadership and cause (45% vs. 47%). Now, a majority (50%) believes that Americans can unite and only a third (36%) remain doubtful. All generations have participated in this increased optimism, Millennials more than others.

As the campaign now spreads to twenty-two states on Super Tuesday, the contagious enthusiasm of Millennials for political participation will reshape the nation’s political landscape just as much as the GI generation and FDR’s infectious optimism did seventy-six years ago.

Candidates Dis MySpace/MTV’s Viewers at Their Peril

On Saturday, MySpace, MTV and the Associated Press sponsored a live broadcast of candidate interviews with questions coming from young voters in the audience. Barack Obama was there on time, “fired up and ready to go.” But the two leading Republican candidates, John McCain and Mitt Romney, failed even to appear. Hillary Clinton was late, forcing MTV to adlib through fifteen minutes of otherwise empty airtime. These are hardly major blunders in the middle of a hectic Super Tuesday campaign schedule, but the actions of the candidates illustrated once more, why Obama is surging among an emerging generation of young voters.

This is not the first time Republicans have had a hard time generating much enthusiasm for campaigning for the votes of Millennials-- those 25 and under—who get much of their campaign information from social networks. It took two tries and the anguished cries of that party’s leading bloggers before they agreed to a rescheduled YouTube debate. Even then, the GOP candidates insisted on seeing the questions in advance before answering them on live television. With authenticity and transparency key traits that Millennials seek in candidates, this unwillingness to put it all out there continues to drive young voters into the hands of the Democratic Party.

In a January 2008 national online survey conducted by the Millennial Strategy Program of media research firm, Frank N. Magid Associates, 48% of Millennials say they expect to vote for the Democratic presidential nominee this November, while only half as many (24%) plan to vote for the Republican. By a similar 2:1 margin, Millennials also say that they're likely to vote for the Democratic over the Republican congressional candidate in their district (46% vs. 23%).

The question remains, heading into Super Tuesday and probably beyond, whether Senator Obama or Senator Clinton will be the Democratic Party's nominee. Obama has done a superior job of organizing his supporters on the Net by adopting Facebook’s more open platform for his website. Clinton’s approach has been much more traditional and top down. As a result, Obama raised two and a half times as much money as Clinton in January. And having the nimble infrastructure of the Net ready to absorb his surging support, enabled Obama to take in about a half million dollars AN HOUR immediately after his South Carolina victory.

While the campaign for delegates on Super Tuesday continues to be covered by traditional media in terms of television ad buys and the nuances of debate performances, the untold story of the 2008 campaign remains the ever-increasing power of the Netroots to shape the final outcome. Pundits unaware of the influence in American politics of the new media and a new generation so comfortable in its use will, like the candidates, find themselves surprised once again by the results on Feb. 5.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Boomers Move Over, Its Millennials Turn

The scene at American University last week was electric: thousands of young people filling an arena to hear venerable Massachusetts Sen. Edward M. Kennedy endorse Barack Obama for president and praise the Illinois senator's ability to inspire and move a new generation of Americans.

It was the perfect setting for Obama, who has been focused on this new "millennial generation" from the start. Almost a year ago, in a speech to African American leaders in Selma, Ala., he underlined the differences between two different types of generations: the "Moses generation" that led the children of Israel out of slavery, and the "Joshua generation" that established the kingdom of Israel. The first was a generation of idealists and dreamers, the second a generation of doers and builders.

With that speech, in which he associated Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton with the former generation and claimed the mantle of the latter for himself, Obama fired the first shot in an election battle that's being fought along the dividing lines between these two generational archetypes.

American history suggests that about every 80 years, a civic (or Joshua) generation, emerges to make over the country after a period of upheaval caused by the fervor of an idealist (or Moses) generation. In 1828, 1860, 1896, 1932 and 1968, as members of new generations -- alternately idealist and civic -- began to vote in large numbers, the United States experienced major political shifts. This year, the civic-minded millennials, born between 1982 and 2003, are coming of age and promising to turn the political landscape, currently defined by idealist baby boomers such as Clinton and George W. Bush, upside down.

Reared by indulgent parents and driven by deeply held values as adults, members of idealist generations embroil the nation in heated debates on divisive social issues as they try to enact their own personal morality and causes through the political process. (Remember that boomer-era rallying cry, "The personal is political"?) In the idealist eras that began in 1828 and 1896, the nation divided between the forces of tradition and those advancing a more modern approach to morality. In 1828, Andrew Jackson's Democrats gave rural traditionalism a victory. In 1896, the tables were turned as Mark Hanna, the Karl Rove of his day, guided Republican William McKinley to victory over William Jennings Bryan and his agricultural allies, on behalf of industrial-age companies and their urban workers.

By 1968, however, it was the Republicans' turn to take up the cause of traditional values -- and end an era of dominance by a Democratic Party that seemed increasingly unable to maintain "law and order." Richard Nixon's victory in 1968 began an era of seven Republican presidential victories and firmly established the GOP as a traditionalist, Southern-oriented party.

It may surprise some to see baby boomers, so often represented as a generation of peaceniks and civil rights activists, producing this Republican realignment. But boomers were -- and still are -- a highly divided generation that actually tilts a bit to the right. On the college campuses of the 1960s, there were twice as many members of the right-wing Young Americans for Freedom as of the left-wing Students for a Democratic Society. It's no different 40 years later. A survey done last month by the media research company Frank N. Magid Associates found that twice as many boomers call themselves conservative as liberal. The only thing that unites this generation are its members' efforts to impose their diametrically opposed ideals, values and morality on everyone else through the political process.

Though each party has come out on top in one idealist era or another, the end result has been weaker government institutions and political deadlock. As politics becomes more polarized, voters sour on the two political parties. In the 1950s, most voters had favorable attitudes toward at least one and often both parties, but by the 1990s, most had negative impressions of both.

Because idealist generations are unwilling to compromise on moral issues, they've always failed to solve the major social and economic problems of their eras. In the decades after the 1828 election, the country was pulled apart over slavery, ultimately leading to the Civil War. After the 1896 campaign, the United States couldn't find a way to help blue-collar workers and farmers to share fully in the wealth generated by the Industrial Revolution. It took the Great Depression to usher in the sense of urgency that led to Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal. Today, issues such as affordable health care or quality education or climate change are endlessly debated but never resolved by two sides unwilling to set aside their ideological agendas for the common good.

But now, with another civic generation emerging, the times, as boomer troubadour Bob Dylan sang, they are a-changin'. Civic generations react against the idealist generations' efforts to use politics to advance their own moral causes and focus instead on reenergizing social, political and government institutions to solve pressing national issues. Previous civic realignments occurred in 1860, with the election of Abraham Lincoln, and in 1932, when the GI generation put Roosevelt in office. It's no coincidence that these "civic" presidents, along with George Washington, top all lists of our greatest presidents. All three led the country in resolving great crises by inspiring and guiding new generations and revitalizing and expanding the federal government.

Today's millennials look a lot like the GI generation, born between 1901 and 1924, which FDR described as having "a rendezvous with destiny" -- a phrase Ted Kennedy echoed last week in his endorsement of Obama. In 1930, the GI generation was nearly twice as large as the two previous generations combined. Today's millennials are the largest generation in U.S. history -- twice as large as Generation X and numbering a million more than the baby boomers. Though nearly 90 percent of the GI generation was white, it was diverse for its time. Many members were immigrants or the children of Catholic and Jewish immigrants. About 40 percent of millennials are of African American, Latino, Asian or racially mixed backgrounds. Twenty percent have at least one immigrant parent.

Civic generations are committed to political involvement and believe in using and strengthening political and government institutions. In the 1930s, young members of the GI generation regularly voted in greater numbers than older generations. Similarly, millennials have led this year's surge in voter participation, especially in Democratic contests.

In the New Hampshire Democratic primary, turnout was up by more than 50 percent over 2000 among voters under 30, while among older voters it rose by only a bit more than 10 percent. According to one research firm that tracks millennials' civic engagement, voters 25 and under accounted for 18 percent of all Democratic voters in New Hampshire this year. In 2000, the same age group (which then consisted mostly of the disaffected Generation X) made up only 13 percent of the New Hampshire Democratic primary vote. In Iowa, according to CNN, the differences were even more dramatic: Twenty percent of Democratic caucus participants were young voters, four times the number in 2004. Similarly unprecedented levels of voter participation in this year's Democratic elections in Nevada, South Carolina and even Florida's "beauty contest" primary have been driven by the enthusiasm of millennial voters.

Millennials' political style is also similar to the GI generation's. They aren't confrontational or combative, the way boomers (whose generational mantra was "Don't trust anyone over 30") have been. Nor does the millennials' rhetoric reflect the cynicism and alienation of Generation X, whose philosophy is, "Life sucks, and then you die." Instead, their political style reflects their generation's constant interaction with hundreds, if not thousands, of "friends" on MySpace or Facebook, about any and all subjects, increasingly including politics. Since they started watching "Barney" as toddlers, the millennials have learned to be concerned for the welfare of everyone in the group and to try to find consensus, "win-win" solutions to any problem. The result is a collegial approach that attracts millennials to candidates who seek to unify the country and heal the nation's divisions.

Unlike the young baby boomers, millennials want to strengthen the political system, not tear it down. According to a study last year by the Pew Research Center, most millennials (64 percent) disagree that the federal government is wasteful and inefficient, while most older Americans (58 percent) think it is. A 2006 survey by Frank N. Magid Associates indicated that millennials are more likely than older generations to believe that politicians care what people think and are more concerned with the good of the country than of their political party.

It also showed that millennials, more than their elders, believe that U.S. political institutions will deal effectively with concerns the nation will face in the future.

Given the public's disapproval of both Congress and President Bush, we're going to need all the optimism and change we can generate to overcome those challenges. Luckily, the millennial generation, like its GI generation forebears, is arriving right on time to deliver just what America needs.