Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Happy New Year, Democrats

As the first year of the Obama administration draws to a close, Democrats would do well to celebrate their successes this year and look to the future, rather than dwell on the funk that seems to embrace many of its supporters these days.

While the numbers have fluctuated within normal statistical margins, throughout 2009 Pew research has indicated that the Democrats have held around a 1.5:1 party identification lead over the Republicans. During the course of the year between 48% and 53% of Americans identified with or leaned to the Democrats while between 35% and 40% identified with or leaned to the GOP. This Democratic advantage is significantly higher than it was in the Clinton years of the 1990s, when the Democrats' lead averaged about five percentage points. It is particularly large compared with 1994, the year the Democrats lost their congressional majority to the Gingrich revolution, when the two parties were tied in party ID at 44% each.

In fact, the competitive position of the Democratic Party now approaches what it was in the mid-1960s, when it was the unquestioned dominant force in U.S. politics. In a 1964 Gallup survey, conducted just prior to Lyndon Johnson's landslide victory over Barry Goldwater, the Democrats' party identification lead over the GOP was 49% to 24%.

Underpinning this rebound in the Democratic Party's competitive position is a major generational and ethnic transformation of America. It is a very different looking America now than it was in 1964, but the Democratic Party is once again far better positioned to benefit in the future from the opportunities presented by our changing nation.

--In 1964, about ninety percent of Americans were white as were more than eight in ten (82%) of those who identified as Democrats. Today the "minority" contribution to America's population has nearly tripled and non-Caucasians comprise about four in ten Democratic identifiers. By mid-century the United States will become a "majority-minority" country, however, as in the mid-1960s, more than 95% of Republicans are white.

--In 1964, only a minority of women worked outside the home and almost all women married by the time they were 25. Now women, many of whom are unmarried or minority, comprise more than six in ten Democratic identifiers. Virtually all of the women who do call themselves Republican are white and most are married.

--In 1964, nearly half of the electorate had only a high school education. An additional third had gone no further than grade school. Just one in five were college graduates. Now, a majority of Americans have at least some college exposure and nearly three in ten are college graduates. While, as in 1964, about 30% of Republican identifiers are college graduates, the percentage of college graduates among Democrats has doubled from 14% to 28%.

--the 1964 electorate was dominated by the GI Generation (born 1901-1924), the generation of the New Deal and World War II, and the Lost Generation (born 1883-1900), that primarily came of age around World War I and in the 1920s. About half of the 1964 Democrats were members of the GI Generation, who identified with that party by a 2:1 margin. Half of 1964 Republican identifiers were from the Lost Generation which by then was a generation of senior citizens. Today, with a completely different generational configuration than in 1964, the GOP still skews relatively old and the Democrats young. Like the GI Generation before them, Millennials, born between 1982 and 2003, overwhelmingly identify as Democrats over Republicans (58% vs. 19% in a November 2009 Pew survey).

In 2008, only 40% of Millennials were eligible to vote and they comprised about 17% of the American electorate. When Barack Obama runs for reelection in 2012, about 60% of Millennials will be of voting age and one in four voters will be a Millennial. By 2020, when virtually all of them will be able to vote, more than a third of the electorate (36%) will come from the Millennial Generation. As the largest (95 million) and most ethnically diverse generation in U.S. history (40% of Millennials are non-white) the Democratic Party should benefit from their loyalty at least as much over the next three or four decades as did the attachment of the GI Generation to the Democrats in the middle-third of the 20th Century.

The United States is a changed and continually changing nation. Taken together, these changes have made America a more diverse and more open nation. This should let the Democratic Party face the future with confidence and courage. But, the Democratic Party's opportunities cannot be taken for granted. The first step in taking advantage of these opportunities for Democrats would be to start building a future for America built on this reality and letting go of the timidity and tentativeness that seems to have been their governing motif in 2009.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Author Jeff Gordinier Discusses X Saves the World

great summary of inter-generational tensions from a Gen X perspective.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

A Generation's Loyalty is at Stake

As Congress returns from its holiday vacation, it and President Barack Obama need to address a number of challenges facing the country from health care reform to jobs and what strategy to pursue in Afghanistan. How the Democratic leadership deals with these issues may well determine the future loyalty of an entire generation of new voters, and with it the future of the Democratic Party.

A recent study by two economists, Paola Giuliano and Antonio Spilembergo, entitled “Growing Up in a Recession,” suggests that experiencing an economic recession during the impressionable ages of 18-25 can have lifelong effects on a person’s attitude toward government and its role in the economy.The Democratic Party’s most enthusiastic and loyal new constituency, Millennials (born 1982- 2003), have had their young lives thoroughly disrupted by the current economic downturn. With their level of unemployment exceeding 25%, what is for other generations a Great Recession is for Millennials their very own Great Depression. Such an experience is likely, according to the new study, to increase Millennial support for policies that favor government redistribution of income and other liberal economic ideas.

However, Giuliano and Spilembergo also demonstrate that this same experience often makes young people less trusting of government institutions. Conservative columnist, Ross Douthat suggested recently that the difference between the Democratic New Deal loyalties of the GI Generation that came of age during the Great Depression and the greater Republican orientation of Generation X that experienced Jimmy Carter’s stagflation economy in the 1970s is the degree to which government dealt effectively with the economic crisis of their youth. “When liberal interventions seem to be effective, a downturn can help midwife an enduring Democratic majority. But if they don’t seem to be working — or worse, if they seem to be working for insiders and favored constituencies, rather than for the common man — then suspicion of state power can trump disillusionment with free markets.”

This raises the stakes for what Congress does in the next six months to new heights. Millennials, more than one-third of whom lack health insurance, will be watching closely to see if their needs are addressed in the final version of health care reform, something Millennials support to a far greater extent than any other generation. Of course, failure to pass meaningful reform may well deal a death knell to the emerging Democratic majority that the Obama campaign created last year.

But Millennials care even more about jobs and the health of the economy. A recent poll by Harvard's Institute of Politics found that the economy is unquestionably young people's leading concern, with 48 percent of respondents saying it was their top national priority. (That was more than twice the number of those who rated health care their top priority, 21 percent,with the war garnering mention by 10 percent of respondents.)With record unemployment among members of this generation, any jobs package the Congress puts forward must specifically meet the concerns and needs of Millennials. In particular, Congress must deal with the high cost of education,something Millennials still see as the ticket to future economic success; the lack of job opportunities even at the intern level for those just entering the work force; and the lack of access to fundamental job skills training that community colleges can provide to those ready to go to work soon.
While the Democratic leadership often believes that s today’s youth thinks about issues of war and peace in the same reflexive way that young Baby Boomers did four decades ago, Millennials are more likely to want to understand the mission and strategy for success in Afghanistan before making up their mind on whether or not to support a deepening American involvement in that conflict. With Millennials providing the overwhelming majority of front line troops, however Congress chooses to pay for that campaign, it must ensure that those who do go to fight are better equipped than the military force George W. Bush initially sent to Iraq.

The effectiveness of any legislation Congress adopts over the next six months will not be known for years but the way Congressional Democrats approach their policy decisions will be clear enough to Millennials. The stakes are large and will have long-reaching impact. If the decisions are made by cutting deals with special interest groups, none of which represent this generation and its financial concerns, or by compromising Millennial principles of equity and social justice, members of the generation are likely to sit out the 2010 midterm elections and wait for their favorite messenger, Barack Obama, to return to the ballot in 2012 before making their future preferences known. If that happens, the results in the gubernatorial elections in Virginia and New Jersey last month will only be a prelude for a much bigger Democratic disaster next November. ) If, instead, Democratic leaders take off their generational blinders and recognize that the base of their party is now made up of an overlapping core of Millennials, minorities, and women and respond accordingly, they will help to solidify the Democratic loyalties of America’s largest generation for decades to come.

Monday, November 30, 2009

For Millennials, Its Still the Economy Stupid

This month’s off year elections sent one message to Washington that has been heard loud and clear. Voters expect Congress to focus on the economy, especially employment, and take decisive and affirmative steps to deal with both the causes and ravages of the greatest economic downturn in the U.S. since the Great Depression. As the Obama administration considers a variety of new proposals to help bring down the unemployment rate, one key constituency is raising its voice and asking for a return on the investment it made in his presidency.

Members of the Millennial generation, born between 1982-2003, who were eligible to vote in 2008 went for Barack Obama over John McCain by a 2:1 margin and made up over 80% of the President’s winning margin. They continue to support his presidency and identify as Democrats by similar margins. A late October Pew survey indicates that Millennials identify as Democrats over Republicans by almost 20 percentage points (52% vs. 34%), well above the 8-point Democratic advantage among older generations. In the latest Daily Kos tracking survey, 80% of Millennials had a favorable opinion of the president; only 14% of everyone in this generation viewed him unfavorably. This compares with a 55% vs. 39% favorable/unfavorable ratio among the entire electorate in a series of November surveys conducted by organizations ranging from ABC News and the Washington Post to Fox.

But despite the clearly stronger support the President has among their generation, Millennials are increasingly restive about the lack of action in Congress to address the economic problems they face – both now and in the future.

Recent Pew research studies underline the major impact that the recession has had on individual Americans and their families. Thirteen percent of parents with grown children told Pew researchers that one of their adult sons or daughters had moved back home in the past year. Pew found that of all grown children living with their parents, 2 in 10 were full-time students, one-quarter were unemployed and about one-third had lived on their own before returning home. According to the census, 56 percent of men 18 to 24 years old and 48 percent of women were either still under the same roof as their parents or had moved back home.

The lack of jobs was particularly acute among adult members of the Millennial Generation (18-27 year olds), 61% of whom said that they or someone close to them was jobless recently. A clear plurality (46%) says that the “job situation” rather than rising prices (27%), problems in the financial markets (14%) and declining real estate values (7%) is their major economic worry.

As a result, the number one concern among Millennials is the state of the economy and the need for jobs, but they have a unique perspective on how to deal with this issue.

Millennials believe there is a clear link between education and employment and are increasingly concerned that the pathway through the educational system into the world of work is becoming increasingly more difficult and expensive to navigate. Recently, about one hundred of the nation’s top private sector and government leaders gathered for the Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council also identified education as the nation’s top economic priority.

For Millennials, the problem is personal. A smaller share of 16-to-24-year-olds – 46 percent – is currently employed than at any time since the government began collecting that data in 1948. A job market with Depression-level youth unemployment (18.5%) and a wrenching transformation in the types of jobs America needs and produces makes the implicit bargain of education in return for future economic success harder for Millennials to believe in every day.

Recently Matt Segal, Executive Director of the Student Association for Voter Empowerment (SAVE) and Founder and National Co-Chair of the “80 Million Strong for Young Americans Job Coalition” presented some ideas to the House Education and Labor Committee on what Congress could do to address this challenge. He advocated increased entrepreneurial resources be made available to youth; more access to public service careers through internships and loan forgiveness programs; and the creation of “mission critical” jobs in such fields as health care, cyber-security and the environment that would tap the unique talents of this generation. Since two-thirds of Millennials who graduate from a four-year college do so with over $20,000 in debt, debt, his testimony also urged immediate Senate approval of the student debt reform bill recently passed by the House.

There is more that can be done beyond these excellent recommendations. This summer, the President's Council of Economic Advisors released a report outlining the importance of community colleges in making America's workforce more competitive in the global economy. "We believe it's time to reform our community colleges so that they provide Americans of all ages a chance to learn the skills and knowledge necessary to compete for the jobs of the future." The report urged Congress to pass House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larsen’s bill, The Community College Technology Access Act of 2009, in order to help meet President Obama’s goal of graduating five million more Americans from community colleges by 2020.

Millennials, like their GI Generation great grandparents in the 1930s, are facing economic challenges that caught them by surprise and for which no one prepared them. But Millennials aren’t looking for a handout or sympathy. Instead, in the “can do” spirit of their generation, they are organizing to overcome the challenges created for them by their elders. It’s time for the Democrats who control Congress to recognize these concerns and to act decisively on their behalf.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Who Needs Critical Thinking when I have Facebook?

One of the most often expressed criticisms of the Millennial Generation (born 1982 –2003), is that it seems to have lost all ability to analyze data, examine the logic and wisdom of a proposition, or read a blog and sort out the good and the bad in the argument being advanced.
Usually described as “critical thinking,” this type of skill seems to be absent from a generation focused on sharing, communicating and finding group consensus.
Often, the lack of critical thinking skills is attributed to the generation’s constant use of social media. Indeed, one of the traits older generations find most annoying about Millennials is their constant “pinging” of their friends to find out what the group thinks rather than making a prompt and decisive choice on their own.
As Millennials begin to assume positions of authority within society, many people, particularly those in the Baby Boomer generation, are increasingly concerned about this missing skill and determined to find ways to teach it to a generation raised on the Net.

But the very same Boomers who deride Net-based group decision-making would quickly agree that the most effective way to learn is through trial and error.

Nature and society evolve using this simple technique and Chaos theory suggests the perfection of the most incredibly complex systems occurs through this simple process of continuing what works and discarding what doesn’t.
Yet, to a large extent, the use of critical thinking as a means to solve problems contradicts this truth about natural selection and evolution. Rather than having expert thinkers come up with the right solution to a problem, the process of trial and error creates multiple experiments that attempt to solve the problem and uses objective empirical results to determine the best solution.
With this approach, more trials – and errors – produce better results. This concept is used every day on a range of problems, from the creation and maintenance of complex operating systems to a simple search on Google.
Since individual effort is normally contributed cost free to the process, this method provides an incredibly inexpensive way to conduct trials and sort out errors from valid solutions.
That is the type of problem solving approach Millennials have used almost since birth.
They use it every day on social networks such as Facebook or YouTube to decide what movie to go to, at which restaurant to eat, and even for which candidates to vote. Rather than insisting on solving society’s challenges using the inherited, but inevitably limited wisdom of experts, Millennials would prefer to share their ideas and let the group find the right answer through their combined experiences.
Given how far astray critical thinking has often taken us, maybe it’s time to embrace the Millennial Generation’s approach and see if it leads to even better results than the preferred methods of older generations have given us. In so doing, we may find another proof of the old Biblical adage that out of the mouths, or in this case the text messages, of babes comes wisdom.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Four Ms of Millennial Politics

Pundits were quick to point out that the percentage of Millennial voters (those 29 and younger ) in the Virginia and New Jersey gubernatorial elections last week were roughly half of what they were in 2008. This led the voice of what passes for wisdom inside the Beltway, Charlie Cook, to proclaim, “we knew that young and minority voters who had never cast a ballot before they did for Barack Obama last year were very unlikely to show up at the polls this year or next.”

His extrapolation of two state’s unique odd year election results into a guaranteed outcome in the 2010 general election is breathtaking for what it reveals about Cook’s own biases and those of his peers. It’s reminiscent of James Carville’s comments prior to Barack Obama’s 2008 primary triumph that “we have a word in politics for those who are counting on the youth vote to win. We call them losers.” But at least Carville saw the light after looking at the surge in young voters for Democrats in 2008 and recognizing that a new generation, with different attitudes toward political participation than the preceding generation, Generation X, had arrived in the American electorate.

Unfortunately, too many of those operating as if the world didn’t change in 2008 are Democrats, whose misreading of last week’s results could cost the party dearly in 2010. The two gubernatorial losses cannot simply be dismissed, as the White House tried to do, as merely a reflection of circumstances unique to New Jersey and Virginia, unrelated to national campaign strategy. In reality, the 2009 election returns once again demonstrated the importance of aligning all four Ms of political campaigns--Messenger, Message, Media and Money—with Millennial Generation attitudes and behavior if any campaign, Democrat or Republican, hopes to be as successful in winning the votes of young people as Barack Obama was in 2008.

A year ago Obama won 60% of the vote in Virginia among 18-29 year olds. In New Jersey his margin was even greater, 67%. Even after taking into account Obama’s overwhelming support among minorities and considering only white Millennials, the appeal of this particular messenger to this cohort is clear. Nationally, Obama won 54% of all white Millennial Generation voters. He won 42% of white Millennials in Virginia, reflecting that Southern state’s relatively conservative views. But even this was well above the support Obama received from older white voters. He also carried 58% of New Jersey white Millennials, reflecting the overall partisan and ideological orientation of that state.

Neither Democratic gubernatorial candidate in last week’s election had a biography that matched the bi-racial, community organizer, outsider image of the President. Jon Corzine’s Wall Street riches and political insider image hardly matches the selfless, socially concerned profile of Obama. Corzine’s lesser appeal to Millennials is partially a reflection of that difference. While Millennials were the only generational cohort to prefer Corzine over the Republican winner, Chris Christie, Corzine’s support fell to 57% among all Millennials and 42% among white Millennials. Coupled with the decline in the Millennial Generation’s contribution to the electorate, from 17% to 9%, even this level of support wasn’t enough to re-elect Corzine.

Creigh Deeds’ bio was even less like Obama’s, with a political career focused on playing the inside game in the State Capitol and appealing to the good old boys in rural Virginia. This was one reason he became one of the first Democrats to actually lose the Millennial vote to a Republican, 44% for Deeds vs. 54% for McDonnell. And despite his focus on attempting to win over more conservative Democrats, Deeds actually lost white Millennials to McDonnell by 2:1 margin.

But the President’s appeal to Millennials went beyond his unique personal qualities. He also had a message that helped engage and motivate young people from its overall theme of change to his specific call to help young people pay for college by expanding opportunities to serve their community. By contrast, Corzine’s record contained nothing that was particularly appealing to Millennials. And Deeds’ attempt to run a campaign based on social issues ran directly counter to the Millennial Generation’s greater interest in pressing economic issues like jobs. McDonnell’s campaign, by contrast was focused like a laser, as President Bill Clinton used to say, on the state’s need to improve economic opportunity for all of its citizens.

Still, having the right messenger and message will not win over Millennials unless a campaign reaches out to them by using the media to which they pay attention, expending sufficient resources to break through the daily chatter that is also a part of the generation’s unique behavior. Corzine certainly spent plenty of his personal money on his campaign, but most of that money was devoted to television commercials, the least effective way to reach Millennials. By contrast, in Virginia, McDonnell used the Internet extensively, including a major Google ad buy late in the campaign, to make sure his message of social issue moderation and economic opportunity was heard by Millennials.

There are many things that are different about this newest generation of Americans. At this point, Millennials identify as Democrats by nearly 2:1 and are the first generation in forty years to contain more self-perceived liberals than conservatives. Millennials are positioned to make the Democrats the majority party for decades. But Democrats cannot take them for granted because in one very fundamental way Millennials are no different than any older generation.

Like all voters, Millennials are more likely to participate in elections and vote for candidates who appeal to their concerns with a convincing and credible message that is heard often enough to make an impact. Democrats should take a lesson from their President’s successful campaign in 2008 that used that formula to win two out of three Millennial votes. Or, they could spend some more time analyzing and explaining away last week’s two gubernatorial defeats only to discover that Republicans have already completed their analysis and are ready to launch a campaign with just the right four Ms to appeal to Millennials and give the GOP victory in 2010.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Deeds Done

The likely defeat today of Democrat Creigh Deeds by Republican Bob McDonnell in Virginia's gubernatorial election sends an important message to both political parties, but it's not clear either one will listen to it. McDonnell's win will give Republicans something to crow about after three straight losing elections in the formerly dark red state, but his path to victory didn't follow the route currently being touted by conservatives in his party. Democrats are inclined to dismiss Deeds likely defeat as an isolated incident that reflects more of Virginia's tradition to vote for the out party in the off year or the result of a lackluster campaign on Deeds' part. For example, the Deeds campaign was nowhere to be found on the Net, even as McDonnell's campaign finished with a Google Ad blast, targeted at both voters spending the day in Virginia and those many Virginians who spend their days working in DC. ( The resulting failure of Democratic voters to turn out in sufficient numbers to make the election even close, however, sends an important message that Democratic leaders across America should not ignore.

Deeds began the general election campaign by using McDonnell's master's thesis at Jerry Fallwell's Liberty University in an attempt to paint his opponent as a right wing ideologue on social issues. In effect, Deeds adopted the traditional Republican campaign strategy of emphasizing social issues. But that approach lost its punch when American politics entered a new, civic-oriented era. In times like the present, broader societal concerns, not the politics of polarization carry the day. Just as the hot topics of the 1920s-Prohibition and the teaching of evolution -disappeared from the political debates of the 1930s, the favorite wedge issues of the 1990s-abortion, gay rights, and, once again, evolution or creationism--have fallen to the bottom of voter priority lists.

As a result, the initial success of Deed's attack was thwarted as McDonnell turned the electorate's attention to the more pressing question of jobs and the economy. His campaign themes were job creation, sound fiscal governance and bipartisanship-with no emphasis on the social issues that Republicans, like former Senator George Allen, had previously used in the state to define their party. Yet Deeds didn't seem to get the message, manifesting ambivalence about embracing President Obama and his domestic policies throughout the general election campaign.

Nor did Deeds put forward an alternative plan to provide a positive vision for the economic future of Virginia that would engage young voters and minorities. One self-described "Obama fanatic," who decided not to cast a vote for either candidate this year, put it best when she said, "I wanted to hear more from him [Deeds] about his plan to create jobs and address our taxes." Some polls during the campaign even indicated that between a quarter and a third of African-Americans (a group that is normally 90%+ Democratic) contemplated voting for the GOP candidate.

As American politics enters a new era driven by the civic-orientation of the Millennial Generation (born 1982-2003) and the rising number of minority voters, each party must rethink the composition of the ideological and demographic coalition on which it will build to ensure future success. One clear lesson that can be drawn from the results in Virginia is the need for both parties to base all four Ms (message, messenger, media and money) of their campaigns in the years ahead to reflect the new civic era America has entered. Candidates with a demonstrated desire to serve will need to deliver a message focused on greater economic equality and ethnic inclusiveness using all of today's new media in order to win.

The results in Virginia are likely to provide a good example of how that winning formula can be used not just by Democrats, but also by Republicans who are able to unshackle their campaigns from the ideological straight jacket their party's base is normally so intent on imposing. The outcome will also demonstrate that for Democrats to simply raise the party banner without embracing Barack Obama's formula for victory will not be enough to carry the day. The political equivalent of Darwin's law of "adapt or die," remains the fundamental truth of American politics in this new civic era.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Engergizing Millennials: Key to Dem Victory in 2010

The latest unemployment numbers and poll results have led most observers to predict a major setback for Democrats in the 2010 Congressional elections. But a year is a lifetime in politics and much can change between now and then to influence next year’s vote. As Ron Brownstein recently pointed out, the demographic makeup of the electorate is likely to be a key factor in whether or not the Democrats can maintain their current majority margins in 2010. While traditionally Democrats have focused on turning out African-American and Hispanic voters to offset Republican strength among white male voters that equation is no longer the only calculation Democratic strategists need to make.
Today the level and intensity of interest among Millennials young voters 18-28, is equally important in ensuring Democratic victories. But for that group of voters to turn out in large numbers, Congressional Democrats will have to make a much more concerted effort than they have to date to deliver on a series of policy issues of major concern to Millennials, the generation that provided Barack Obama 80% of his popular vote margin over John McCain in 2008.
As with most other Americans, the number one concern among Millennials is the state of the economy and the need for jobs. But Millennials have a unique perspective on this issue, one that Congress must understand and address. Millennials believe there is a clear link between education and employment and are increasingly concerned that the pathway through the educational system into the world of work is becoming increasingly more difficult and expensive to navigate. Two-thirds of Millennials who graduate from a four-year college do so with over $20,000 in debt. A job market with Depression-level youth unemployment (18.5%) and a wrenching transformation of the types of jobs America needs and produces makes the implicit bargain of education in return for future economic success harder for Millennials to believe in every day.
Recently Matt Segal, Executive Director of the Student Association for Voter Empowerment (SAVE) and Founder and National Co-Chair of the “80 Million Strong for Young Americans Job Coalition” presented some ideas to the House Education and Labor Committee on what Congress could do to address this challenge.

He advocated increased entrepreneurial resources be made available to youth; Senate action on the student debt reform bill recently passed by the House; more access to public service careers through internships and loan forgiveness programs; and the creation of “mission critical” jobs in such fields as health care, cyber-security and the environment that would tap the unique talents of this generation. Coupled with the recent passage of the Kennedy Serve America Act, enacting these initiatives would demonstrate that Democrats are serious about improving the economic situation of Millennials and, at the same time, provide organizing ammunition in the 2010 campaign.
Of course no economic program can ignore the impact of health care on this generation’s—and America’s—economic well being. Many of the entry-level jobs young people seek and obtain come from employers who simply can’t afford to provide health care coverage under today’s system. Young adults between the ages of 19 and 29 represent nearly a third of all uninsured Americans, and two-thirds of those uninsured young people reported going without necessary medical care in 2007 because they could not afford to pay for it. As a result, polling has consistently indicated that a majority of young people support President Obama’s health care proposal, especially if it contains a public option to control costs. One of the more compelling components of the president’s plan for Millennials is that it would allow parents to cover their children through the family’s health insurance up to the age of 26 instead of the current limit of 19. And Millennials expect Congress to act. Only a third of Millennials, as compared with half of older generations, are concerned that the government will become too involved in health care.
Yet many pundits continue to perceive health care reform as an “old people’s issue,” likely to increase the turnout of seniors, but not Millennials, in the 2010 elections. Some have even suggested that Millennials will object to a health care system that limits the differential in premiums insurance companies can charge relatively healthy young people vs. older, less well adults. But this theoretical inter-generational transfer of wealth is not likely to stir up much opposition among Millennials. Unlike the Baby Boomers of four decades ago, Millennials do not speak to their elders across a generation gap, but have actually formed strong and enduring bonds with their parents and come to the public arena determined to find solutions that work for people of all ages. Already, Young Americans for Health Care Reform has accumulated 1200 fans on Facebook since the group was formed less than a month ago.
If Congressional Democrats can successfully negotiate passage of a health care reform bill that provides cost-effective coverage for the 30% of Millennials who currently are not insured, Democrats will have another major arrow in their quiver going into the 2010 election.
Millennials, like their GI Generation great grandparents in the 1930s, are facing economic challenges that caught them by surprise and for which no one prepared them. But Millennials aren’t looking for a handout or sympathy. Instead, in the “can do” spirit of their generation, they are organizing to overcome the challenges created for them by their elders. It’s time for Democrats in Congress to recognize these concerns and the loyalty of a generation that identifies as Democrats over Republicans by a 2:1 margin. One way to accomplish this is by passing meaningful health care reform while helping to create new pathways to economic opportunity, especially for young people who are just entering the work force. Doing so now, as the battle for 2010 shapes up, will help energize the newest and most loyal element of the Democratic Party’s 21st Century coalition, the Millennial Generation.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Civility Crisis and How to Cure It

While the nation has been right to focus on the most recent outbreak of incivility, if not downright hostility, directed toward President Obama generally and his health care proposal specifically, the diagnosis of what ails the country and what must be done to end this type of behavior has been way off target.
Republicans, who were quick to compare the actions of their party’s fringe elements to harsh, sometimes over the top Democratic criticism of former President George W. Bush missed the qualitative difference between expressing strong policy disagreement with the opposition, which is fair game in any political season, and taking guns to Presidential appearances. Ironically, Republicans are guilty of the same “moral equivalency” judgment error that they accused Democrats who minimized Communist war crimes in Vietnam and the actions of urban rioters of in the 1960s of committing. Speaker Nancy Pelosi was closer to the truth when she likened today’s vitriolic rhetoric to the hate speech directed toward gays in San Francisco in the 1970s, but she failed to pursue the historical analogy far enough.
This kind of anger, born out of a sense of fear of a rapidly changing world, and directed at those that seem to be causing the world to move both too fast and in the wrong direction, has erupted regularly whenever America has gone through the type of generational change it’s now experiencing.
As generational theorists, William Strauss and Neil Howe pointed out, an idealist generation animated by moral beliefs, such as today’s Baby Boomers, have, in their youth, regularly shaken American society by confronting the cultural values of older generations. Such generations have always been followed by an alienated, individualistic generational archetype, which tends to be rude and disrespectful, especially toward its elders. The most recent historical examples of this archetype are the Lost Generation who came of age in the 1920s and Generation X, born 1965-1981. As members of these two types of generations mature and assume positions of leadership, society coarsens and rhetoric escalates from being merely confrontational to speech that is deliberately designed to provoke and incite. It’s the difference between Boomer rock n’ roll and Gen X rap--or between Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin.
But inevitably, this harsh cultural style engenders a backlash from an emerging civic-oriented generation. The most recent civic generations are Millennials (born 1982-2003) and, in the 1930s and 1940s, the GI Generation. Historically, the type of generational alignment we see now is associated with the most traumatic and significant crises in American history: the American Revolution and adoption of the Constitution, the Civil War, and the Great Depression and World War II. The way this generational confrontation has been resolved in American history should give pause to those who encourage incivility, either by their silence or their direct involvement.
Popular opinion was sharply divided during the Revolutionary War. Between a fifth and a third of the population of the Thirteen Colonies supported the British. Estimates are that after the war, between sixty and one hundred thousand Loyalists fled the newly born United States. Nor did the Constitution’s ratification end our divisions. In spite of George Washington’s warning against the “partisan spirit” and the intentional failure of the Constitution to mention them, nascent political parties— Republicans and Federalists —formed by the end of his administration to confront one another on the issue of the proper role and size of the federal government.
Roughly eighty years later, seemingly irreconcilable differences between generations and regions led to the Civil War. Once Lincoln assumed the presidency, he faced opposition from all sides. The words, if not the deed, of his assassin, John Wilkes Booth, “Sic semper tyrannus” (“Thus always to tyrants”) succinctly expressed the thoughts of most white Southerners about Lincoln. In the North, much of the criticism was intensely personal: Lincoln was called an “ape,” a “baboon” or worse. Many opposed what they perceived to be a war sacrificing the blood of white men to free blacks. Riots protesting the military draft broke out in Northern cities. In New York blacks were lynched and the city’s Negro orphanage burned. Even within his own Republican party, a faction called him timid for failing to emancipate the slaves sooner than he did or to pursue a more vindictive policy against the secessionist states.
When the generational archetypes were again aligned in a similar way in the early 1930s, the country was confronted by the greatest economic crisis in its history. While a hero to many, a month before his inauguration, Roosevelt was nearly the victim of an assassination. Giuseppe Zangara, an unemployed bricklayer with anarchist leanings, fired at FDR but hit Anton Cermak, the mayor of Chicago instead and killed him. Once in office, Roosevelt was personally criticized from the right for being a “traitor to his class.” In shrill language that is once again being tossed cavalierly around Washington today, FDR’s policies and programs were labeled “foreign,” “socialist,” “communist” and “fascist.” His Social Security proposal was derided as a severe invasion of privacy. At the same time, from the other side of the political spectrum, Roosevelt was criticized for not doing enough to dismantle the capitalist system and, in the words of Huey Long, “Share the Wealth.”
History demonstrates that the first years of a transition from an ideological era, such as the one Boomers and Xers dominated from 1968 to 2008, to an era dominated by civic generations, like the GI Generation and Millennials, are initially among the most rancorous, contentious, and sometimes violent, of any in American history. But history also provides valuable lessons for how to deal with these tensions in order to increase civic unity.
The Founding Fathers worked hard to promote an “era of good feelings,” admonishing citizens to maintain decorum in their public debates, even as they privately excoriated their opponents. Lincoln confronted his detractors directly, most famously with his principled stance that “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” And FDR condemned “economic royalists” intent on defending their privileged position to the detriment of the “forgotten man.”
As the newest civic era begins, both Republican and Democrats must, in President Obama’s phrase, “call out,” those who engage in lies and demagoguery or threaten physical violence toward governmental institutions and leaders. Both sides need to brand such actions, not just wrong-headed, but a threat to the nation’s ability to successfully sail through the troubled waters of our current generational alignment. History suggests that a true sense of national solidarity will return when the nation successfully confronts the major challenges it will continue to face. But in the interim the least that must be done is to denounce actions and behavior that will make future unity more difficult, if not impossible, to achieve.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Obama Gets an A, Cong. Dems an Incomplete

Back to school week was a good one for President Obama, but Congress still has some lessons to learn. After telling the nation’s schoolchildren to study hard, stay in school, get good grades, and be unwilling to accept failure, the President directed a very similar message to Congress as he lectured them on the need to pass health care reform in this session. The end result was a significant rise in Obama’s poll numbers. CNN
and Democracy Corps questioned voters before the president’s congressional address and then again immediately afterward. There is little doubt that Democrats are simply glad that the president is sounding like the man they put in the White House last November.
CNN found that three-quarters (77%) of those who watched the speech had a positive reaction to it overall, with 56% being very positive. Nearly as many (72%) believed that Obama clearly stated the goals for his health care plan in his speech. After the address, 70% believed that Barack Obama’s policies would move the country in the right direction as compared with 60% who felt that way before. Most important, the number favoring the president’s health care reform plan rose sharply to 67% from 53%.
The Democracy Corps used electronic dials to gauge the perceptions of 50 “independent and weak partisan” voters in Denver before, during, and immediately after President Obama’s speech. Those who participated in the Democracy Corps research were about evenly divided among those who initially supported and opposed the president’s health care reform plan and McCain and Obama voters. Among these swing voters, support for Obama’s plan rose 20 points (from 46% before the address to 66% after). Moreover, attitudes toward specific aspects of the plan improved sharply following the address.

Health Care Reform Description:Agree Pre-SpeechDisagree Pre-SpeechAgree Post-SpeechDisagree Post-SpeechChange
Will get health care costs under control 42% 46% 64% 36% +22
Allows you to keep your current insurance and doctor if you choose 54% 32% 80% 18% +26
Will increase competition and lower prices for health care 44% 42% 74% 24% +30
Will give individuals and families more choice and control 36% 58% 60% 36% +24
Government-run health care 60% 32% 46% 54% -14
Will increase the deficit and raise taxes 62% 26% 40% 44% -22
Will hurt seniors by cutting Medicare 40% 32% 20% 66% -20

But the biggest jump in Barack Obama’s poll ratings came in the Daily Kos weekly tracking survey.
In just one week, the president’s overall favorable to unfavorable margin improved by eight percentage points (favorable up 4 points and unfavorable down 4). Obama’s favorable marks week-to-week improved in virtually every demographic and political group except among Republicans. However, the biggest gains came within Democratic core groups including Millennials (young people born 1982-2003), Latinos, residents of the Northeast, and Democratic identifiers. This suggests that, after a period of drift during the summer, what President Obama said last week, especially in his health care reform address, reinforced his base.

Total electorate 52% 56% +4
Male 44% 50% +6
Female 60% 62% +2
18-29 74% 80% +6
30-44 42% 44% +2
45-59 58% 64% +6
60+ 40% 42% +2
Party ID
Democrat 77% 85% +8
Republican 4% 4%
Independent 57% 60% +3
Northeast 76% 83% +7
South 26% 28% +2
Midwest 59% 63% +4
West 56% 60% +4

Unfortunately, President Obama’s Democratic colleagues in Congress did not share in the week’s polling upswing. The Daily Kos survey indicates that the favorable ratings of Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and congressional Democrats overall were essentially unchanged during a week in which the president registered significant gains. Perhaps it is for this reason that GOP consultants are telling Republican candidates to attack congressional Democrats, rather than President Obama, in the 2010-midterm elections.
It seems clear that the public, even the Democratic base, is taking a wait and see attitude about inside-the-Beltway Democrats other than President Obama. The coming months will determine whether or not the Democratic majority in Congress is prepared to do the job that it was sent to Washington to do and, among other things, at long last enact meaningful health care reform. This week’s polling numbers suggest that would not only be good for America, but also for congressional Democrats. Let’s hope they’re paying attention to Obama’s message.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Its Time for Washington Dems to Break Groundhog Cycle

In the 1993 movie, Groundhog Day, self-centered TV weathercaster, Phil Connors (Bill Murray) is doomed to continuously repeat the events of his life. He finally ends the never-ending cycle and wins the love of his life when he finds the courage to break free of the personal limitations of his past. Like Phil Connors, many Washington pundits and politicians act as if they and the country are destined to keep on reliving the battle over health care from the Clinton era. But it’s not 1993 and it’s finally time to break the Groundhog Day pattern of American politics.
The United States has moved to a new political era driven by the emergence of America’s next civic generation, Millennials (born 1982-2003), and marked by a new pattern of partisan identification and changed attitudes. Strategies that may have been useful nearly two decades ago are not likely to be effective now. Failure to recognize these changes by adhering to old and worn out approaches, in fact, will be counterproductive.
One thing that has changed since the early 1990s is that the American electorate is no longer evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats. In 1994, according to the Pew Research Center, an equal number of voters identified as or leaned to the Democrats and Republicans (44% each). Now Pew shows an electorate in which half of the electorate, or slightly more call themselves or lean to the Democrats and only a third identify as or lean to the Republicans. Millennials identify as Democrats over Republicans by an even larger margin (56% vs. 30%).Moreover, the U.S. electorate is now more open to governmental activity and economic intervention, more positive toward government, and less driven by moralistic fears on social issues than it was on the eve of the Gingrich revolution in 1994.

Unfortunately, many inside the Beltway seem intent on reliving 1993 rather than moving to the new Millennial civic era. For Republicans and conservatives, who see resistance to change and derailing Obama administration initiatives as the way back to political power, this isn’t surprising. After all, failure to pass health care reform in the first two years of the Clinton administration contributed to the GOP sweep in the 1994-midterm elections. Republicans are hoping that, as in Groundhog Day, history will repeat itself. But for Democrats to act like it’s 1993 is truly surprising. The results of this behavior are already worrisome and could soon become disastrous.
Recent Gallup Poll data suggests Obama’s job approval levels among 18-29 year olds (primarily Millennials) has fallen from 71% to 60%. Given the solidly Democratic party identification and liberal political attitudes of Millennials, this decline most likely stems from disappointment that the president and congressional Democrats have not yet delivered on a campaign message built around change and reform. Certainly the decline is not based on distress that the president is pushing change too far or too fast.
This increased disappointment with the outcome of the first seven months of the Obama administration among Millennials (and other Democratically-oriented groups) is reflected in changes in the Daily Kos tracking poll’s generic congressional vote. Since June the Democratic lead over the Republicans has declined from a high of 14-percentage points to just 6. Almost none of this decline in the Democratic margin has come from an increased preference for the GOP. In fact, the overall percentage favoring the Republicans is actually down a point or two since May and June. Instead, virtually all of the change has come because of a decline in support for the Democrats and an increase in the percentage saying they are not sure. And, in turn, most of that is produced by increased indecision among Democratic identifiers and within demographic groups inclined toward the Democrats. In all, it appears that the biggest threat facing the Democrats is not from Republicans, but from disenchanted and disaffected voters within the groups that gave Barack Obama the presidency and Democrats a large congressional majority in the last two elections.

In the new civic era that America is entering, suggestions by conservatives that Barack Obama and the Democrats move to the right or appeal to seniors rather than the rising Millennial Generation are at best misguided and at worst dangerous. Instead, it’s time for Washington Democrats to leave Groundhog Day 1993 behind, start acting like Democrats, and redeem the promises that made them the majority party.
One way to do that is to pass meaningful healthcare reform legislation. That would be a fitting memorial to Edward M. Kennedy, the Democratic Lion of the Senate. It would also advance the fortunes of the party he so dearly loved.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Have Patience-Republicans Just Going through 5 Stages of Grief

In 1969, Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross published a groundbreaking book, On Death and Dying, suggesting that people facing death went through five emotional stages before they could accept their fate. While never proven by subsequent studies, the five stages of grief have entered the realm of conventional wisdom and are often cited to explain the behavior of groups, as well as individuals, facing a life-threatening crisis. The actions of Republicans, and their conservative supporters, in attempting to disrupt Town Hall discussions of President Obama’s health care reform proposal suggests that the concept is alive and kicking in politics as well.
According to Kubler-Ross, the first stage in dealing with impending doom is to deny it’s happening. We witnessed this behavior in the immediate aftermath of the Democrats’ overwhelming victory last November. Republicans reacted almost identically to the way Democrats did after Ronald Reagan’s victory in 1980. The election results were attributed to poor campaign tactics by the loser, or the failure to develop a winning message by the campaign’s media strategists, or a plot by reporters to ensure the victory of the winning candidate, if for no other reason than to give them something new to write about. In the classic words of death deniers throughout history, Republican leaders continued to insist well into January 2009 that they “felt fine” and the results had “nothing to do with me”--the Republican party and its message. The only thing that was about to die, we heard GOP leaders like Rush Limbaugh and Michael Steele assert, was the muddled attempt at moderation by Senator John McCain and the failure of their party to adhere to its most conservative principles.
The second stage of grief according to On Death and Dying is anger, and this summer the Republican Party and its minions have clearly moved beyond denial to anger. Enraged mobs of extraordinarily well informed “average” citizens have descended on Democratic Town Hall meetings to demand that their Representative not follow Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s party line and instead vote against specific provisions of health care legislation that would, for instance, incent the writing of living wills, or substitute the judgment of health insurers for that of objective government entities on what treatments would be allowed based on their cost effectiveness. Above all the evil of government involvement in the health care system is to be labeled for what it is—the work of the devil, who is clearly a socialist, through his agents in the U.S. Congress. The fact that many of those most vociferous in their opposition to government supported health care are carrying their sacred Medicare card in their wallet is only ironic if you ignore the degree to which anger and denial are related emotions. In fact, Kubler-Ross points out that people often oscillate between those stages before moving on. This makes the denial of Barack Obama’s Hawaiian birth by many of these same angry protesters understandable, if not any more credible.
So what can the country expect once the Republican Party moves on to the next stage of dealing with the demise of its former electoral dominance? According to Kubler-Ross, the third stage of grief is “bargaining.” Here the individual or group hopes that it can at least postpone or delay death by promising to reform or turn over a new leaf. There are already early signs in the writings of Peggy Noonan, President Reagan’s speechwriter, that this next stage is coming to the fore. She suggests that if only President Obama would rethink the broad scope of his proposals and join in true bipartisan negotiations, Republicans in Congress would support a bill that leaves most of today’s health care system in place but without the nasty practices of denying health coverage to those with pre-existing conditions or canceling people’s insurance at the first sign that they might actually need medical treatment. The country can expect to hear more such offers from Republicans this fall when Congress returns and the real bargaining over the scope of health care reform takes place. But the party’s past misdeeds in building a majority coalition based on the racist premise of its Southern Strategy or its failure to appeal to the civic beliefs and attitudes of the emerging Millennial Generation or its most recent decision to sacrifice its future among Hispanics by voting against the nomination of Justice Sonia Sotomayor, make any such offer a fool’s bargain. The demise of GOP dominance is inevitable and Democrats should take no part in postponing the inevitable.
If congressional Democrats have the courage to use their majority to pass health care legislation and then go to the voters with an economy on the mend, the 2010 elections should serve to move Republicans to the fourth stage of grief—depression. Suffering from a series of unexpected and unexplainable defeats, Republicans are likely to go off on a prolonged period of silence, punctuated by bouts of crying over just how unfair politics has become. Kubler-Ross suggests that it is important not to try and cheer up the person in this stage of grief, but to let the individual work his or her way through the inevitable depression on their own. That way, her book says, the dying can finally come to the final stage of grief—acceptance.
This stage represents the end of the struggle and a willingness to accept one’s fate. The Republican Party as we have known it since 1968 will die for lack of political support. It may not accept that fate until after President Obama’s re-election, by a landslide, in 2012 just as the Democratic Party’s New Deal liberals did not accept their fate until after Ronald Reagan’s complete demolition of Walter Mondale’s candidacy in 1984. Still the end is inevitable, as many of today’s leading thinkers in the GOP are beginning to realize.
But Republicans can take heart in what Democrats were able to do after reaching the clarity of mind that comes with accepting one’s fate. By recognizing the death of its old ideas and rethinking their approach to the electorate after their landslide defeat in 1984, the Democrats eventually found a new road to victory—tentatively in 1992 with Bill Clinton and then more confidently with Obama’s victory in 2008. At that rate the GOP only has to wait until 2020 to have its next real shot at winning the presidency. If Republicans want to get to that goal sooner, psychologists might suggest that they move quickly out if their “summer of anger” phase, don’t bargain or obstruct too much over health care or anything else when Congress returns, and get ready for a good cry in 2010. Even better, such a course of therapy will improve the rest of the country’s mental health as well.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Dem 2010 Prospects Better Than You Think

The 2010 midterm elections are still 15 months away and making political predictions this far out is risky business. History alone would point to the potential for Republican gains next year since the party that doesn’t control either the White House or Congress, almost invariably adds congressional seats in midterm elections. Only twice since 1900 has the president’s party made gains in the first midterm election of his administration—1934 and 2002. But, a continuation of economic optimism, linked to its significant advantages in demographics, party identification, and party image, may position the Democratic Party to overcome the difficulties that an incumbent majority normally confronts. If so, the Democrats could surprise a few D.C. pundits and, along the way, create a little history of their own.

The Daily Kos weekly tracking survey shows the Democrats with a 10-point margin on the so-called “generic Congressional ballot” question. The most recent NBC/WSJ poll puts the margin at seven percent. Meanwhile Stan Greenberg’s polling for NPR suggested Republicans actually had a slight edge, but that poll’s results were distorted by an oversampling of seniors (22%) as opposed to young Millennial voters (14%) when in fact the two age groups were represented equally (17%) in the electorate in 2008.

The significant changes that have occurred in the U.S. population since 2002 are often overlooked not only by survey researchers, but also by pundits attempting to make electoral predications. These demographic changes work to the advantage of the Democratic Party. The Millennial Generation (born 1982-2003) is becoming an even more important part of the electorate and will represent 20% of all eligible voters in 2010. America is also increasingly diverse, with non-whites making up a quarter of the 2008 electorate, about double the percentage of just two or three decades earlier.

These newcomers to the electorate are solidly Democratic. Millennials contributed 80% of Barack Obama’s 2008 popular vote, identify as Democrats by a greater than 2:1 margin, and are the first generation in at least four to contain more self-perceive liberals than conservatives. Upwards of 90% of African-Americans and more than two-thirds of Latinos and Asians opted for Obama over John McCain last year. There is nothing to indicate that the strong Democratic loyalties of any of these expanding groups are diminishing. In the latest Daily Kos generic ballot, Millennials prefer the Democrats by 4.5:1. African-Americans do so by 8.5:1, Latinos by more than 2.6:1, and Asians by 3:1.

In 2002, when the Republicans made midterm history, the two parties were tied in party identification (43% each in Pew Research Center surveys). Now, in large part due to these demographic changes, the Democrats are clearly the majority party, with about a 16-percentage point edge. Overall, a bit more than half of the electorate identifies with or leans to the Democrats while around a third are Republicans or lean to the GOP. The Daily Kos survey indicates that about 80% of both Democratic and Republican identifiers want to see the party they prefer win Congress in 2010. The Democratic Party’s edge in party ID gives it a built-in electoral advantage that fully accounts for its 10-point lead in the Daily Kos poll.

Nothing that has occurred so far this year has done much to improve the Republican brand GOP candidates will have to defend in 2010 either. In the recent NBC/WSJ survey, voters held positive over negative impressions of the Democratic Party by a 42% vs. 37% margin. By contrast, their attitudes toward the GOP were 28% positive as opposed to 41% negative. Things were even worse for the Republicans in the Daily Kos tracker, in which Republicans trailed their Democratic counterparts in favorable evaluations by margins of between 2 and 4 to 1.
• Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s positive approval numbers beat those of her Republican counterpart, John Boehner, 34% to 13%.
• Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s approval rating was 32% compared to only 18% for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
• Congressional Democrats positive number of 41% swamped the generic Congressional Republican positive approval number of 10%.
• And the Democratic Party’s approval rating of 45% was dramatically better than the overall Republican Party rating of 19%.

These weaker perceptions of the GOP could limit Republican gains in 2010, especially if they run in direct opposition to President Obama who enjoys a 62% favorable rating in the same poll.

In the end, however, nothing is likely to drive the outcome of the 2010 midterm elections more than voter feelings about the economy. A CBS poll indicates that since mid-July the percentage believing that the U.S. economy is getting better has increased from 21% to 32%; the percentage saying it was declining fell from 33% to 22%. As a result, the number believing that the country is now on the right track grew from 35% to 42%. A majority (51%, up three points) now approves of Obama’s handling of the economy and by a 56% to 25% margin voters believe that the President rather than congressional Republicans is likely to make the right economic decisions. A solid majority (57%) of Americans also believe that the economic stimulus package passed into law earlier this year has or will create a substantial number of new jobs and a clear plurality (44% in the NBC/WSJ survey) expects the economy to be better in a year than it is now, a number that is up from 38% in April.
Democratic Congressional prospects in 2010 should continue to improve along with the economy as long as Democrats stay united behind President Obama and his policies. If that happens, 2010 could look more like 1934 than 1994.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Millennials Think Globally and Act Locally

The phrase, “Think Globally, Act Locally” has often been used by environmentalists to sum up a strategy devoted to conserving the earth's scarce natural resources at the local level. More recently, business executives borrowed the idea to emphasize the need for building capabilities at the country or regional level even as they pursue global growth. But now the Millennial Generation, Americans born between 1982 and 2003, are giving the phrase an entirely new meaning as they pursue their efforts to change the world – one local community at a time.

In contrast to the generational stereotypes many people hold of them, Millennials are very much concerned about and connected to the world around them – more so, in fact, than many older Americans. Responding to questions on foreign policy in a recent Pew Research Center survey, only 9% of Millennials were unable to express an opinion on how President Obama is doing in working with our allies, while almost a quarter of senior citizens had no opinion on the same subject. On the knotty question of Israeli/Palestinian relations, all but 7% of Millennials could tell survey researchers what they thought of American foreign policy in this area. On the other hand, 26% of senior citizens could not (see table below).

In addition to its high level of concern with international matters, the Millennial Generation's ability to make virtual friends instantaneously on Facebook or Twitter with Iranian protesters provides a unique perspective on how to deal with America’s foreign policy challenges.

Perhaps most notable is how the Millennial Generation deals with the concept of "threats". A majority of Millennials do see Al Qaeda, and the nuclear programs of North Korea and Iran as "major threats" to the United States, but by rates 15 to 20 points less than other generations. Other more intractable but less direct security concerns, such as the drug trade in Mexico, China’s emergence as a world power, or conflicts in the Mideast ranging from Pakistan to Palestine, are not considered a major threat among a majority of Millennials. To be sure, some of these attitudes may reflect the inevitable naiveté of young people, but we believe the underlying beliefs of Millennials suggest an alternative explanation.

Millennials have been taught since at least high school that the best way to solve a societal problem is act upon it locally and directly. Tired of exalted rhetoric from Boomer leaders that rarely produced results and frustrated by their older Gen-X siblings lack of interest in pursuing any collective action to address broad social problems, Millennials have embraced individual initiative linked to community action. Eighty-five percent of college age Millennials consider voluntary community service an effective way to solve the nation’s problems. Virtually everyone in the generation (94%) believes it’s an effective way to deal with challenges in their local community. No wonder one of Barack Obama’s first legislative initiatives, the Kennedy National Service Act, was in response to the desire to serve of his most loyal constituency, the Millennial Generation.

And when it comes to public service, Millennials are putting their money where their mouth is, although lack of opportunity in the private sector also could be accelerating this public service trend. Teach for America, which places new graduates in low-income schools, saw a 42% increase in applications over 2008. Around 35,000 students are now competing for about 4,000 slots. U.S. undergraduates ranked Teach for America and the Peace Corps among their top 10 "ideal employers," ahead of the likes of Nike or General Electric.

Scotty Fay, a recent University of Massachusetts graduate, typifies the continuing belief of her generation in the importance of collective action to cope with a challenging world. “If we excel and we’re able to keep ourselves working, we’ll be OK, we hope, because we haven’t experienced anything different than that,” says Fay, who worked two jobs on top of her full-time course load, and is now getting ready for her Peace Corps assignment in Guinea.

First Lady Michelle Obama, in kicking off the administration’s “summer of service” initiative, made it clear that the administration sees this belief as key to America’s future. “This new Administration doesn’t view service as separate from our national priorities, or in addition to our national priorities – we see it as the key to achieving our national priorities.” Given the likelihood of continuing employment challenges for America’s newest workers, more and more Millennials are likely to gain their first work experiences performing some type of voluntary service.

This penchant for public service shapes the beliefs of Millennials on how the United States should deal with the problems it faces around the world. In last year's contest for the Democratic presidential nomination, Millennials believed Barack Obama was right and Hillary Clinton was wrong over whether to conduct direct talks with our enemies. And they thought Sarah Palin was completely off base when she declared in her acceptance speech at the convention that “the world is not a community and it doesn’t need an organizer.” In fact, Millennials believe that what the world needs most is thousands of community organizers, working on the ground to solve their own country’s problems, linked electronically, of course, to friends around the world.

This is a trend that, appropriately, resonates outside our borders as well. Grassroots activism, led largely by young Iranians, produced protests that may yet topple one of the most autocratic regimes in the world. Activism of this type across the Mideast could result in regime changes of far greater consequence than the military conquest strategy the United States employed in Iraq. Given the distinctions Millennials make between the seriousness of direct military threats, such as terrorism and nuclear proliferation, as opposed to squabbles over power or territory, America’s foreign policy is likely to shift towards a more multi-lateral, institution-building focus as this generation assumes our country’s leadership. This will occur even as Millennials continue to express support for our military by word and deed – when that becomes the only available option.

It may take a decade or two before we know how the Millennial Generation's belief in the need to “think globally, act locally” will impact our overall foreign policy. But in the interim, the United States will surely benefit from the generation's focus on rebuilding our country, as well as the world, one community at a time.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Democrats Should Act Like the Majority They Are

For the first time in decades, due largely to the emergence of the Millennial Generation (young Americans born 1982-2003), the Democratic Party holds a clear and decisive majority in party identification nationally. Whether the Obama administration and the Democratic Congressional leadership take advantage of this historic opportunity will be determined by their success in passing during this session of Congress the type of comprehensive health care reform legislation that Democratic identifiers overwhelmingly favor.
The last time Congress considered comprehensive health care reform in the early 1990s was during an era when neither party had a party identification majority and the margin between the two parties rarely exceeded four or five percentage points. But in 2009 we are in a different era, with completely different political realities.
A mid-July Washington Post-ABC News poll found the Democrats with a clear 53% vs. 38% party ID edge over the GOP, virtually unchanged since the president was inaugurated in January or elected last November. Yet this same poll showed a decline in the president's overall job performance mark and indicated that only a bare plurality approved rather than disapproved of his handling of health care (49% vs. 44%). To preserve their current partisan advantage, the President and Congress need to pass a health care reform bill that addresses the concerns of their Democratic supporters, not Republicans in or outside of Congress.

Democrats, especially young Millennials, who identified as Democrats over Republicans by nearly a 2:1 margin in a June Pew Research Center survey (56% vs. 30%), are significantly less likely than Republicans and older Americans to even have health insurance. Nearly nine in ten Republican identifiers, but only eight of ten Democrats are now insured. That number falls to less than two in three among Millennials (63%). In stark contrast, 96% of senior citizens (who, of course, already participate in a federal health care program) have health insurance.
Because they are less often insured, and perhaps because whatever insurance coverage they do have may not be as comprehensive, Democrats have greater difficulty meeting and paying for their health care needs than Republicans. As the following table indicates, half of all Democratic identifiers (and non-aligned independents) say they have trouble paying for the cost of a major illness and for health insurance. About four in ten are concerned with having to pay a larger share of employer-provided health insurance and for routine medical care and prescription drugs.

Is each of the following a "major" problem for you and your family?Dem/lean DemIndependent
Rep/lean Rep
Paying cost of major illness51%54%43%
Paying cost of health insurance46%52%36%
Employer making you pay larger share of health insurance38%36%30%
Paying for cost of routine medical care38%42%27%
Paying for cost of prescription drugs37%42%26%

As a result, it's hardly surprising that virtually all Democrats (91%) and 80% of Millennials, but barely half of Republican identifiers (54%) favor "changing the health care system in this country so that all Americans have health insurance that covers all medically necessary care" or that a majority of Democrats (51%) believes that the country is spending "too little" on health care while a plurality of Republicans (46%) believe we are spending "too much." Nor is it hard to understand why few Democrats, especially Millennials, are put off by the possibility of greater federal government health care activity. In a May Pew survey, 69% of Republicans, but only 28% of Democrats and 36% of Millennials, professed concern about the government becoming too involved in health care.
The same July Washington Post- ABC News survey that signaled trouble for Obama on the issue of health care indicated that a majority of all Americans (54%) favor the legislation. This includes three-quarters of Democrats and six in 10 independents, but fewer than a quarter of Republicans.
In spite of claims by Republicans such as South Carolina's Senator Jim DeMint that congressional failure to pass health care legislation could prove to be Obama's "Waterloo," the matter is really an almost entirely Democratic concern. As E.J. Dionne reminded today's congressional Democrats, they "are not living in the Republican congressional eras of 1995 or 2003…they have the strength on their own to win."
Democrats have that strength because the country has entered a new political era, driven by the emerging civic Millennial Generation, in which the Democratic Party is now clearly the majority party within the American electorate and is in position to retain that majority status for decades to come. Most of that Democratic electoral majority personally need meaningful health care reform and expect Congress to enact it. The next several weeks will tell us whether congressional Democrats will take advantage of that new reality or look backward to the old realities of the past. We will soon see if congressional Democrats have the ability and courage to choose wisely and perceptively. The stakes in that decision for the Obama presidency, the Democratic Party, and the nation couldn’t be higher.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Generational Health Care Debate

Millennials, young Americans under 28, provided President Barack Obama most of his popular vote margin over John Mc Cain in 2008. Now their belief in the need to involve the federal government in comprehensive health care reform may become the President's most powerful argument in persuading Congress to deliver on that campaign promise this year. But to do so the President will have to overcome some serious differences between members of older generations in both parties, and in both houses of Congress, on just how accomplish that task.

The Senate is almost equally divided between members of the Silent Generation, born between 1925 and 1945 and Baby Boomers born between 1946 and 1964. Recent elections have raised the percentage of Boomers in the lower house to almost three fourths of all members.Of course, partisan allegiance and local politics play an important role in determining a legislator's voting decisions. But the differing perspectives of these two "leadership generations" have already influenced each house's approach to the policy debates on a number of issues so far this year and are likely to do so again on health care this summer.

Democrats in the House of Representatives, for all of their ideological posturing, are actually led by members of the Silent generation, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi (1940), Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (1939), Democratic Whip James Clyburn (1940), Dean of the House John Dingell (1926), and committee chairmen such as John Conyers (1929), Pete Stark (1931), Ike Skelton (1931), Charles Rangel (1932), John Murtha (1932), James Oberstar (1934), Dave Obey (1938), Henry Waxman (1939) and Norm Dicks (1940). The parents of the "adaptive" Silent Generation protected, some would say smothered, members of this generation during the traumatic childhood events of their youth-the Great Depression and World War II. As a result members of the Silent generation are often risk averse as adults and tend to prefer the of bi-partisan compromises that John McCain, a Silent born in 1936, talked about so often during his campaign.

By contrast, almost all of the House Republican leadership is from the Baby Boomer Generation. Boomers are the latest incarnation of what William Strauss and Neil Howe, the originators of generational theory, call an "idealist" generation. Members of this generational archetype tend to believe deeply in their own personal values and seek to use the political process to implement their personal ideological convictions for the whole nation to follow. Because the Boomer generation has been divided about equally between the two ideological poles and parties(half of them voted for Obama, half for McCain in 2008), America has experienced political gridlock for the past four decades.

Boomers have spent a lifetime rebelling against the Silent Generation's belief in institutional allegiance and compromise and will find themselves once again having to accommodate the older generation's sensibilities if they actually want to pass legislation such as health care reform. Democratic Boomers will need to find common cause with the Silents in their party, while Republican Boomers are likely to emphasize their ideological differences from their Democratic counterparts. Republican Boomers will want to demonstrate their ideological commitment to lower taxes and a less active federal government. Moderate Democrats from the Blue Dog and New Democratic caucuses, who share some of these concerns with Republicans, are likely to be more willing to compromise on these issues with their Silent Generation leaders than liberal Boomers might want or be willing to.

In the Federalist Papers, James Madison said that the Senate would be a "necessary fence" against the "fickleness and passion" of members of the House of Representatives. Either George Washington or Thomas Jefferson was reputed to have called the Senate a "saucer" designed to "cool" House legislation. Whether the Senate was meant to be a fence or a saucer, in this Congress it often operates as a generational bulwark against the increasingly hot passions and partisan bulldogs who serve in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The Senate has already played this role during this session of Congress. In the debate on the President's Recovery Act, Silent Generation Senate leaders forced the House to accommodate some of the demands of the Senate's most moderate members. During the course of that debate, House Democrats were able to prevail in the name of party unity on their Senate counterparts to accept a "recission rule" in the budget resolution that would allow Democrats, if they so chose, to ignore the Republican minority and pass health care reform with only 51 votes. But even after that agreement, Silent generation Montana Senator Max Baucus (1941) has been determined to find a bi-partisan bill that his Republican counterpart and Silent, Charles Grassley (1933), can support. Meanwhile, Senator Chris Dodd (1944), thrust into the health care debate due to the illness of Senator Edward Kennedy, has played the very typical role of those born on the cusp between both generations--seeking to find a solution that leans more to his ideological beliefs, but one which still contains an element of compromise for the other side.

But how this inter-generational interplay between the two houses and the two parties will actually play out in the health care debate will depend on how much President Obama uses his instinctive knowledge of what Millennials want to convince the Congress to get something done. Born in 1961, on the cusp between the Baby Boomers and Generation X, the President's generational style is hard to pin down. Liberal Boomers appreciate his idealism and commitment to economic equality.On the other hand, like many Gen Xers, Obama has sought to distance himself from the divisive, ideological debates of the recent Boomer past. At the same time, Obama's political behavior does not square with the harsh and cynical approach of clear-cut Gen Xers like Sarah Palin. Whether it's because of his unique upbringing in Indonesia and Hawaii, removed from the debilitating debates of the 1960s; or whether it's because his chief speechwriter is a precocious Millennial; or because of his intellectual tendency to search for consensus, President Obama's political style consistently seems to capture the very traits that his loyal Millennial supporters most admire.

Millennials are not interested in letting ideological posturing stand in the way of "getting stuff done," as Obama likes to say, especially in an area as crucial as health care. Like the members of other generations, virtually all Millennials (90%) believe that it is time that health care is made more accessible and affordable for all Americans. However, only a third of Millennials, in contrast to about half of those in older generations, are concerned about the impact of greater governmental involvement in the health care system (36% vs. 47%). And, Millennials are far less likely than older generations to prefer once again deferring health care reform to avoid higher taxes or larger deficits.

The fundamental question that members of Congress from each generation, and each party, will need to answer during this summer's health care debate is just how much they want to accomplish as opposed to scoring political points or pursuing ideological agendas. It's a classic question to which members of the Silent Generation are likely to respond with offers of compromise, even while Boomers on both sides of the aisle insist on what they consider to be non-negotiable principles. For Millennials, however, the answer is clear--reform the nation's health care system now as the next step in delivering on the kind of "change we can believe in" that their leader, Barack Obama, promised and now asks Congress to deliver.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Reid/Pelosi should focus on Dems

Mike Hais's latest political polling blog:
As indicated in last week's posting on Daily Kos, the large majority (about 80%) of self-identified independents actually "lean" to one or the other of the two parties. Consequently, most independents (and by extension, the electorate) are far more partisan than a cursory overview of poll findings might suggest. Currently, the Democrats hold a solid and increasing lead over the Republicans among the majority of independents who lean toward a party. About six in ten "leaners" now tilt to the Democrats. Pew Research Center data for the past three months indicates that a majority of the electorate (51%) identifies with or leans to the Democratic Party. A third (34%) is Republican identifiers and leaners. Only 14% is completely unaffiliated or "pure independents." Rather than being the decisive center, non-committed voters actually comprise a small minority of the electorate.
The clear and persistent partisanship of Independent Republicans and Independent Democrats is also strikingly evident in their political opinions. The table below, containing data collected by Pew in May 2009, portrays favorable attitudes toward a number of political figures and the two parties.

* millennial makeover's diary :: ::

Strong Not Strong Independent Totally Indep. Not Strong Strong

Dems Dems Dems Indep. Rep. Rep. Rep.

Barack Obama 97% 94% 94% 78% 37% 58% 37%
Michelle Obama 95% 90% 87% 70% 61% 65% 59%
Joe Biden 80% 70% 65% 44% 22% 33% 30%
George W. Bush 7% 15% 15% 38% 56% 65% 83%
Dem. Party 94% 87% 79% 35% 27% 35% 13%
Rep. Party 11% 26% 34% 28% 62% 71% 88%

• Independent leaners hold strikingly partisan attitudes. Solid majorities of them have positive impressions of politicians from the party to which they lean and of that party itself. Only a minority of them express favorable opinions about the opposing party and its politicians. While the independent leaners may not be as firmly positive about "their" party as are strong identifiers, they do have a solid sense of partisan connection. They are clearly not uncommitted and easily malleable centrists.
• The non-leaning independents are indeed broadly nonpartisan in their attitudes. Fewer than half express positive opinions about any political figure other than the president and first lady or toward either party. But this is as much a matter of limited political knowledge and involvement as it is of conscious weighing of options or firmly divided opinion. This is evidenced by the fact that while almost all of the uncommitted independents were able to say whether or not they like Barack and Michelle Obama as people (or celebrities), a third were unable to rate the president's job performance in the same survey.

The Democratic Party has an historic opportunity to solidify a governing majority for the next two decades. But that will require its leaders, particularly those in Congress, to focus on the needs and attitudes of the key demographic constituencies that comprise a disproportionate share of those who think of themselves as Democrats—young people and minorities in particular—and not be seduced into chasing the chimera of "non-partisan" independent voters.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Young Iranians: Takes more than Tweets to Make a Revolution

Seventy percent of Iranians are under 30.

These young people have twice the presence in the population of that country as America's largest generation, Millennials (born 1982-2003), has in ours.

In the immediate aftermath of Iran's disputed presidential election, text messages became the tool for organizing post-election protests. Hundreds of thousands of tweets provided more, if not clearer, information about what was happening each day than traditional media. Opposition and government Facebook pages poured out dueling messages on the Internet. It suddenly seemed as if not only had American democratic values erupted on the barren landscape of a theocratic society, but also that young people's technological capabilities might produce a regime change that no one anticipated. Clay Shirky announced, "This is it. This is the big one. This is the first revolution that has been catapulted onto a global stage and transformed by social media." And the notion that this was a "Twitter Revolution" quickly became the meme for the entire series of post-election events.

But then the entrenched establishment fought back using the very same Internet-enabled technologies to isolate, spy on, and ultimately shut down the resistance. Thanks to new capabilities recently acquired from two European telecom companies-Nokia and Siemens-as part of their country's upgrade of its mobile networks, the Iranian government was able to monitor the flow of online data in and out of sites like Twitter and Facebook, from one central location. The Iranians deployed a technology called deep packet inspection, first created to put a firewall around President Clinton's emails in 1993, to deconstruct digitized packets of information flowing through the government's telecom monopoly that might contain what they considered to be seditious information before reconstructing and sending it on to destinations they were also able to track and monitor. The result was a 90% degradation in the speed of Internet communications in Iran at the height of the unrest, and a previously unseen capability to determine who the government's enemies were down to the individual IP address level.

Once again the world learned that technology does not arrive with a built-in set of values that makes it work either for good or evil. Even though Internet technology has many virtues, it is not inherently liberating or enslaving. Instead how it is used is determined by the values of those who access it. Libertarians celebrate the individual empowerment that the Internet makes possible. But even though Ron Paul supporters used the technology to take on the Republican establishment in 2008, the end result that year was the election of a group-oriented, civic-minded candidate, Barack Obama, whose campaign used the very same technology to guide millions of people to undertake a collective agenda of change that Libertarians certainly did not "believe in."

The difference between what libertarians wanted and what Obama achieved came from the generational attitudes and beliefs of Millennials, Obama's key supporters, not from the technology that generation was so adept at using.

One of the founders of generational theory, Neil Howe, points out that the under-30 population of Iran grew up during a religious awakening in the Islamic world that came later than America's "cultural revolution" of the 1960s. As a result, Iranian youth resembles Generation X, Americans now in their 30s and 40s. Like our own Gen X, these young Iranians are "pragmatic, individualistic, commercial, and anti-ideological (which is why they hate Ahmadinejad so much)."

Those values make them anti-establishment in the current crisis. We are fortunate that they feel deeply enough about the potential of democracy to risk their lives to "tear down that power structure," to paraphrase what President Ronald Reagan, Generation X's political hero, said in a different context. But now the central task of our government must be to translate that democratic impulse into a deeper belief in Millennial Generation values, such as the power of consensus, the peaceful resolution of differences and the need to find win-win solutions to our problems.

That is why the President Barack Obama's recent Cairo speech should be the bedrock on which America continues to engage large young Muslim populations throughout the world, including Iran:

"No matter where it takes hold, government of the people and by the people sets a single standard for all who hold power: you must maintain your power through consent, not coercion; you must respect the rights of minorities, and participate with a spirit of tolerance and compromise; you must place the interests of your people and the legitimate workings of the political process above your party. Without these ingredients, elections alone do not make true democracy.

This statement has the potential to become a governing creed for a new generation of young Muslims. If they come to have, as President Obama does, "an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn't steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose," then the power of 21st century technologies will be used to advance the cause of freedom in Iran, rather than suppressing it. But tweeting those words won't make it happen. Believing in them and acting upon them will.