While attending the 2008 Personal Democracy Forum in NYC the other week, I had the pleasure of listening to an enlightening and motivating talk by Morley Winograd, who along with Michael D. Hais co-authored Millennial Makeover: MySpace, YouTube, and the Future of American P.... The book is a illuminating and detailed study of American generations and how each one has redefined the political and cultural landscape of our history.
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