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.