But even as the new generation’s increasing presence in the electorate holds out the promise of the end of the gender gap in American politics, the strains of the Democratic primary contest threaten to pit this new “civic” generation’s inclusive and optimistic attitudes and beliefs against the more divisive political behavior of older generations, especially Boomers.
In the March 4
Of course, generational conflict is nothing new in U.S. elections. In fact, in our book, Millennial Makeover: MySpace, YouTube, and the Future of American Politics, we point out that the rise of new, large and dynamic generations, which vote against the established patterns of older generations, is one of the primary causes of the political realignments that have transformed American politics every four decades throughout our country's history.
The impact of these realignments on the political system and the country depends on the kind of generation that produces the realignment. The last previous generation gap in 1968 featured the ideological, moralistic, and highly divided Baby Boomer generation vs. the gung ho, institution building beliefs of their parents--members of the GI generation, the nation’s previous “civic” generation. It split the Democratic Party apart in that year's presidential election and created the cultural wars that the country has endured for 40 years since. This year's generation gap (and resulting political realignment) is caused by the rise of a civic, unified Millennial Generation with its penchant for win-win, group-oriented solutions to the country's challenges.
All other things being equal, the coming Millennialist realignment should benefit the Democratic Party and make it America's majority governing party for at least four decades. Millennials identify as Democrats by a nearly 2:1 majority and are the first generation in the last three or four to contain a greater number of self-perceived liberals than conservatives. They favor governmentally based policies to deal with issues such as economic inequality, health care, and the environment. Millennials support a multilateral approach to U.S. foreign policy. And, they place little importance on divisive social issues and hold "liberal" positions on such matters as gay rights and abortion.
However, the close nominating contest between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton puts the prospects of a Democratic realignment based on the Millennial Generation in real jeopardy. A large majority of Millennials prefers Obama over
But Millennials, raised on principles of fairness and consensus decision making, will be particularly influenced by how the end game that decides the Democratic nomination plays out Unless the rest of this year’s primaries produce a decisive outcome, the most important generational choice confronting the Democrats in the first half of this century will be made over the next several months by the party’s super-delegates. If Hillary Clinton wins "fairly" after receiving the largest number of votes and having the most pledged delegates, a large majority of Millennials will likely remain Democrats and Senator Clinton will have a very good chance to lead a Democratic political realignment. If, on the other hand, Barack Obama, the Millennials' preferred candidate, is denied the nomination in a way that Millennials see as unfair, the Democrats will almost certainly lose an historic opportunity to win the loyalty of this generation and control of American national politics for the next four decades.
Morley Winograd and Michael D. Hais are co-authors of Millennial Makeover: MySpace, YouTube, and the Future of American Politics, published by Rutgers University Press