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.