Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Which Deficits Do Millennials Care About?

The nation’s capitol is abuzz with talk about deficits. The Republican co-chairman of the President’s Deficit Reduction Commission, Alan Simpson, a member of the aging Silent Generation (born 1925-1945), began the debate by lecturing his younger Baby Boomer (1946-1964) colleagues about the need for their generation, labeled by Simpson the “greediest generation,” to finally face up to their lifelong avoidance of responsibility and agree to painful reductions in their future retirement benefits and current tax preferences. The generation gap that has separated Boomers from their elders for decades appeared to be almost as wide today as it was in the 1960s.
The Commission’s confrontational conversation was all about money, devoid of any discussion about what kind of country America should become. By contrast, the Roosevelt Institute Campus Network,a think tank run by and for Millennials, released an equally important document, a Blueprint for the Millennial America.In stark contrast with the zero sum proposals being tossed around by older generations, the Blueprint’s focus was on America’s civic deficit-- the imbalance between what we need to do as a nation and the investments we are willing to make to retain our global leadership. The group launched its Think 2040 project, this past March, in order to “leverage our unique generational characteristics, transform our communities nationwide, and redefine the American dream,” in the words of its national director, Hilary Doe. Their vision, generated in a year-long discussion with over two thousand Millennials, focused on what type of country America’s youngest generation (born 1982-2003) wanted to inherit when it takes over the reins of power in 2040.
The participants envisioned an America “that continues to be a model for the world in terms of innovation, productivity, and strength… [and] a moral leader as well.” They wanted America to live by three core values: “a deeply held concern for equity, respect for the individual and society, and a belief in community empowerment and self-determination.” Together, these values, and the group’s vision, paint a picture that “uniquely represents the world Millennials aspire to create: more accessible, more equitable, more community-driven, more entrepreneurial, more inclusive, and better prepared to tackle the long-term challenges our country faces.”
Participants were appalled at the inequities of the country’s current educational system, “the foundation of our economy and democracy,” and placed its reform at the top of their list of priorities. They committed to changing the system’s unequal outcomes, but didn’t want American schools to “lose their essential creativity and civic function in an effort to meet federally mandated standards.” Rather, as part of their generation’s focus on acting locally to implement national goals, they favored “an eclectic mix of federal incentives and local power and creativity to revitalize American education.”
The Millennials who participated in Think 2040 approached America’s environmental problems with the same values that informed their broader vision. Because they believed that “environmental challenges fundamentally alter the texture of communities,” they proposed solutions that respected “the needs of America’s communities,” so that no one would be asked to “make sacrifices without fully considering the cost to communities across the United States.” To accomplish this goal, which clearly reflects the unique sensibilities of Millennials, the report prioritized the development and usage of renewable sources of energy above all other environmental solutions. The participants argued that “creating a thriving domestic market for renewable sources of energy, fostering a strong green-jobs sector, and achieving energy independence….was essential for the long-term health of the country’s environment and its economy,” as well as “maintaining national and global security and preserving biodiversity.”
Just as, after World War II, the previous civic generation, Tom Brokaw’s Greatest Generation, created “a system of global cooperation to promote human rights, poverty reduction, and conflict resolution,” these globally minded Millennials shared “an overwhelming belief that it is the moral duty of the United States to reduce global conflict by reinvigorating international institutions.” They pointed out that “the rise of genocide in the 20th century has led to a fundamentally different conception of America’s international responsibility,” to guide the country’s foreign policy. In their Millennial America, the United States would work “with its allies across the globe to promote sustainable development, capacity building, and community ownership, instead of invading and occupying enemy territory,” and use “defense, diplomacy, and development as equal pillars of U.S. foreign policy.”
At home, Think 2040 participants wanted “to build an American economy that supports and rewards creativity, ingenuity, and personal determination to succeed,” leading them to endorse banking reform, infrastructure investment, and turning the nation’s social safety net into a “trampoline.” Their government social safety trampoline would “lower barriers to entrepreneurship, enable workers to rebound in times of need, and combat intergenerational poverty by allowing children the opportunity to succeed regardless of their family challenges,” in order to produce an economy with greater upward mobility.
Exemplifying their generation’s penchant for combining high ideals with pragmatic solutions, the Blueprint’s action plan suggested Millennials “demand change, but act locally. Work to combat challenges, but do so from within the system. Create change, but not just through protest….What allows us, as communities, to overcome obstacles ... is collaborative action.” The report emphasized the need not only for high levels of civic engagement by the generation, but the need for reforms in the political system to reduce the role of money in elections creating “a more open, accountable, and democratic electoral system.”
Doe is confident of her generation’s ability to effect the changes the Blueprint advocates because “our shared experiences have made us socially empathetic, tolerant, informed, collaborative, engaged, innovative, entrepreneurial, effective problem solvers both capable and willing to work together to overcome the challenges that we face.” Unlike older generations that are ready to engage in pitch fork battles to protect their own perquisites and power, Millennials consistently look for win-win solutions to the challenges the country confronts. Perhaps, if more decision-makers in Washington listen to the voices of this generation so eloquently captured in the Blueprint, they will find a vision for the future that can point to a way out of the partisan gridlock that continues to poison U.S. politics as it has for decades.
Rather than judging the value of deficit reduction and other policy proposals based on the number of oxen they gore, we should judge each one by how much it contributes to building the kind of America we want our children and our children’s children to inherit. Based on that criterion, the Blueprint for the Millennial America sets a high bar for the rest of the country to jump over.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Will Ideology or Pragmatism Rule American Politics?

Now that the dust from the midterm elections has settled, America remains just as divided as before on what type of governing approach it favors. As the LA Times’ Gregory Rodriguez, points out, if the United States “was a cartoon character, it would be a cheerful fellow with his head in the clouds and his feet planted squarely on the ground.”

To win the support of the public, America’s next governing consensus must encompass the nation’s highest ideals, while presenting realistic solutions to today’s challenges. In the short run, the ideological orientation of each party’s congressional representation will push both parties toward their ideological poles. Flush with victory, top House Republicans and strategists said, they saw “little distinction between incumbent members and those who would be joining them as freshman…both benefited from the Tea Party activism that helped them trounce Democrats” and said that “the support deserved to be rewarded”. Congressional Democrats, especially in the U.S. House of Representatives, are also more ideologically uniform than previously. Virtually all of the members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (75 of 79) were reelected in 2010, as were a clear majority (40 of 68) of the centrist New Democrats. By contrast, a majority of the conservative Blue Dog Coalition (29 of 54) were either defeated or saw their open seats won by Republicans. Together, these changes meant that, for the first time since these organizations were formed in the 1990s, the Congressional Progressive Caucus was larger than the Blue Dogs and New Democrats combined.

The magnitude of the Republican victory was impressive, but constituted more of a continuation of the type of partisan political volatility the country experiences during periods of great generational change than a massive shift of America to the GOP and conservatism. A Pew survey taken just before the election indicated that the distribution of party identification within the electorate was little different in 2010 (49% Democratic to 39% Republican) than it was in either 2008 (51% to 36%) or 2006 (47% to 38%), two years in which Democrats won sweeping victories at the polls.

Nor did Election Day exit polls show a clear endorsement of GOP positions on key issues. Only half of the voters (48%) called for repeal of the Democratic healthcare reform law. About the same number (47%) wanted the law left as is or even expanded. Only four in ten voters (39%) favored extending the Bush-era tax cuts to all Americans, including those with incomes greater than $250,000. By contrast, a majority endorsed either the Obama administration’s position of extending the tax cuts to only those with incomes below that level (37%), or the even more liberal position of letting the tax cuts expire for everyone (15%).

Moreover, exit polls indicated that although the Democrats lost some ground among almost all demographics, the composition of the two party’s coalitions remained largely unchanged. The votes of Millennials (55% Democratic to 42% Republican), African-Americans (90% to 9%), and Hispanics (64% to 34%) were only slightly altered from what they had been in 2006 and 2008. The Northeast (53% to 45%), the West (49% to 48%), and the nation’s cities (56% to 41%) provided a firewall that helped the Democrats retain control of the Senate.

The GOP did strengthen its position within its core constituencies, winning solidly among men (56% Republican to 42% Democratic), as well as in the South, in rural areas, and among senior citizens, all of which voted Republican by about 1.5:1 margins. The Republicans were also able to split the women’s vote which they had lost in previous elections, primarily due to massive support from female senior citizens who voted 57% to 41% in favor of the GOP, even as younger women retained their Democratic allegiance. Geographically, Republican gains came predominantly in the Great Lakes watershed where the GOP won at least 25 new House seats, or about 40 percent of their pickups.

The Republicans also made major gains in America’s suburbs, where the greatest number of Americans of all ethnicities and generations, including Democratic-leaning Millennials, African-Americans, and Hispanics, now live. Obama narrowly won the suburbs, 50% to 48%. In 2010, the GOP carried them even more decisively, 55% to 42%. Democratic losses in the suburbs were particularly great among white voters who had not completed college and were among those who had been most hurt by the Great Recession. The party able to win over suburban voters with a message that is both ideologically and pragmatically appealing will gain the strategic high ground in the battle over the nation’s political direction in 2012 and beyond.

One of the reasons for this shift in the makeup of the 2010 electorate was a drop in the contribution from Millennials. Turnout among those 18 to 29 years of age was comparable to previous midterm elections: 23 percent of all Millennials eligible to vote did so, slightly more than in 2002 but a point less than the 24 percent turnout in the 2006 midterm elections. Those Millennials that did vote preferred Democratic candidates in almost all contested elections and approved of Barack Obama’s handling of his job as president by a 60% to 40% margin. In contrast to all other generations, Millennials remain overwhelmingly Democratic and liberal in their political orientation.

If the 2008 election was a victory for young Millennials, the 2010 midterms represented a triumph for senior citizens. A big part of the increase in votes for Republican candidates was inspired by the Tea Party movement’s older supporters. A solid plurality (40%) of 2010 voters claimed to be Tea Party supporters and nearly nine in ten (87%) of them voted for Republican house candidates. The GOP’s clear emphasis on ideological themes, built around concerns about the nature and scope of government, inspired its frightened and frustrated base to turn out in record numbers to prevent what it perceived to be a dangerous drift toward liberal hegemony.

In the end, however, most of those who voted in 2010 had little good to say about either party. Almost identical majorities among those who voted had an unfavorable opinion of the Democratic and Republican Parties. Reflecting the opinions of some of their Tea Party supporters, even one-fourth of Republican voters expressed a negative perception of the GOP

So, in spite of the internal structural forces impelling both the Democrats and Republicans toward ideological uniformity, the new ruling party will be the one that most effectively integrates their party’s ideology with the country’s demands for solutions that work. That party will need to appeal both to those who embrace the ideals of individual freedom but also understand the need for a pragmatic program of collective action, integrating national purpose with individual choice. Shaped by some of the most profound demographic changes in American history, the key to future success for both the Democrats and Republicans will lie in synthesizing these two strands of America’s political DNA. The party that most effectively accomplishes that goal will be the dominant political force in the Millennial Era for the next four decades.

Friday, October 22, 2010

America's a Different Country

With less than two weeks to go in the unpredictable 2010 elections, many pundits have been left scratching their heads and admitting that they really have no idea how this election is going to turn out. Nate Silver, today’s most careful analyst of election statistics and forecasting, examined a variety of indicators and concluded that there were more closely contested and hard-to-predict congressional races this election than ever before. The biggest reason for this uncertainty is that America’s electorate is changing as fast as the country’s demographic and generational characteristics are, challenging old assumptions about how politics works in America.

In 1965 the nation was 89% white and 11% black, about the same as it had been during the previous century. Since then, high levels of Asian and Latin immigration have produced an America today which is 66% white and 33% “people of color,” a tripling of the minority population in only four decades. Remarkably, 10% of Americans are of Mexican descent and about 5% of the electorate speaks primarily Spanish. For the first time in US history a president of mixed race, who considers himself to be African-American, resides in the White House.

The second big demographic change is the emergence of the largest, most diverse generation in American history, one which will dominate the political and cultural life of 21st century America as much as the Boomers did in the late 20th century. The Millennial Generation, born from 1982-2003, is sometimes condescendingly referred to as the “youth vote,” but it should be more accurately recognized as the biggest and most important new voting cohort in America. There are about 95 million Millennials, about half of whom are now of voting age. One out of four eligible voters in 2012 will come from this generation and more than one out of three voters will be Millennials in 2020.

Every two years the percentage of non-whites, along with Millennials, in the American electorate is increasing. Non-whites will grow from 33% of the population today to 50% by 2042. As these populations grow, a new political reality will take hold in areas altered by their increased participation, especially in the Southwest and coastal areas of the country. The power of these population shifts to upend conventional political wisdom was demonstrated by Barack Obama’s victories over heavily favored establishment candidates in both the Democratic primary and the general election in 2008.

These demographic transformations are changing the political loyalties and beliefs of the American electorate. Democrats now have their largest lead in national party identification since the early 1960s. In a recent Pew survey, only 15% of Americans claimed to be completely unaffiliated independent voters, while about half (48%) identify with the Democratic Party and 37% with the Republican Party. By contrast, in 1994, the last time in which a newly elected Democratic president faced a midterm election against an aroused GOP, the two parties were tied in party identification at 44% each. This Democratic advantage is due in large part to Millennials and Hispanics who identify as Democrats by a 2:1 margin over Republicans.

Survey data also shows that most Americans continue to favor using government to address their economic concerns and societal challenges. This summer, in a survey conducted for the progressive think tank, NDN, a clear majority (54% vs. 31%) of Americans favored a government that actively tries to solve societal and economic problems rather than one that takes a hands-off approach--numbers virtually unchanged since Barack Obama’s inauguration. More recently, only 29% of those surveyed this fall told Pew they wanted all of the Bush-era tax cuts to remain in place, while a majority (57%) preferred either that those on the wealthy should be allowed to expire or that all of the Bush tax cuts should end. Forty percent of adults told an Associated Press survey they didn’t think the new health care law went far enough, while only 20% felt the federal government shouldn’t be involved in healthcare at all. These pro-government attitudes are likely to grow as more and more Millennials enter the electorate. By a 60% to 36% margin the generation favors a bigger government providing more services over a smaller government providing fewer services.

Rather than being surprised every two years by the changing politics of a nation altered by a rapidly changing demography, pundits would be wiser to anticipate that American politics is going to keep changing and evolving every two years, and will never again look like the politics of the 20th century. In the shorter run, the operative question in this year’s midterm elections is the extent to which the major components of the 21st century American electorate make their presence felt at the polls in November. President Obama, who is concentrating his final campaigning efforts on college campuses and minority neighborhoods, clearly recognizes the challenge—but also the rare opportunity—presented by the 21st century electorate. His success in energizing these newest members of the Democratic Party’s base will determine the still uncertain outcome of the midterm elections. But the longer term direction of American politics will clearly continue to be driven by the demographic and generational changes now sweeping the country.

Monday, October 4, 2010

If Millennials vote, Dems Win

The Millennial Generation is positioned to be a decisive force this November. Recent surveys of Millennials conducted in the battleground states of Colorado and Florida for the New Policy Institute (NPI) by market research and consultation firm, Frank N. Magid Associates, provide a revealing portrait of the political loyalties and attitudes of young voters. In both states, a majority of Millennials continue to identify as Democrats, most call themselves liberal or progressive, and most hold favorable attitudes toward Barack Obama and the Democratic Party (and unfavorable attitudes toward the Republican Party and Tea Party movement).If Millennials vote as overwhelmingly Democratic this year as they appear likely to do, they could prove to be the crucial factor in an election that appears to be evenly divided according to the most recent polling.
The results of the NPI survey are corroborated nationally in an early September Pew Research Center survey. That poll gives the Democrats a greater than 2:1 (51% vs. 22%) party ID advantage over the GOP among Millennials. By contrast, the two parties are almost virtually tied in party ID among all older generations (43% Democrat vs. 40% Republican).

Just as important, Millennials hold solidly progressive positions on a range of key issues:
· A solid plurality of them (45%) favors the healthcare reform law passed by Congress and signed by the president in February. An additional 14 percent want to see how the new law works in practice before attempting to change or repeal it. Only 18 percent of Millennials favor repealing it outright. By contrast, older generations are almost evenly divided on this issue (43% supporting the healthcare reform legislation and 35% favoring immediate repeal of the new law).
· Two-thirds of Millennials (67%) oppose modifying the 14th Amendment to eliminate birthright citizenship for the children of undocumented immigrants. In contrast, a majority of those in older generations (51%) favor changing the Constitution for this purpose.
· A plurality of Millennials (34%) would prefer to let all of the Bush 2001 tax cuts to expire. An additional 26% favor letting the tax cuts expire for those earning more than $250 thousand per year, but remain in place for other Americans. Less than one-quarter (23%) believe that all of the tax cuts should be extended. On the other hand, among older Americans, only one-quarter (26%) favor ending of all the tax cuts, while a plurality (30%) want all of them to remain in force.

All of this bodes well for the long-term future of the Democratic Party and the progressive movement. Voting behavior research dating back to the 1950s demonstrates that once political identifications and attitudes are formed in early adulthood, they tend to solidify and remain constant for a lifetime. The Millennial Generation, along with other key components of the 21st Century Democratic Coalition, has the potential to underpin another era of Democratic and progressive dominance, particularly as the Millennial share of the electorate increases from the 17 percent that it was in 2008, to the 24 percent that it will be when President Obama runs for reelection in 2012, and the 36 percent in will comprise in 2020 when the youngest Millennials become eligible to vote.
But the key to Democratic victories in the short term requires Millennials voting in 2010 at a level proportionate to their contribution to the electorate in 2006 and 2008.
Recent polling suggests that is by no means certain. Part of the problem is structural: a June NDN survey indicated that only 60 percent of Millennials, as compared with 83 percent of older generations, were registered to vote.
However, a bigger concern is attitudinal: Millennials, like other components of the Democratic coalition, are not as inspired by or involved in politics as they were in both 2006 and 2008. The June NDN poll indicated that only 44 percent of Millennials in contrast to 64 percent of other generations said they were “absolutely certain” to vote this fall. The numbers were a bit better three months later in both Florida (48%) and Colorado (56%), but they were undoubtedly well below that of older voters in those states. Of greater concern, however, the June NDN survey indicates that only a third of Millennials (33%), as compared to about half of other Americans (47%), placed great importance on the outcome of the 2010 midterm elections. In both Colorado (31%) and Florida (32%), as in the nation overall, only a third of Millennials perceived the election to be very important.

The Obama administration and the Democratic Party clearly recognize the crucial importance of the Millennial Generation. The president has scheduled a series of rallies at college campuses across the country, most recently at the University of Wisconsin, to remind Millennials of all that is at stake this fall. The Democratic National Committee has earmarked $50 million to bring Millennials, and other key components of the 21st Century Democratic Coalition, to the polls. The operative question in the 2010 midterm election is whether these efforts will prove to be timely and effective enough to activate the Democratic majority this November.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Generational Economics

This week three top Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives-- Eric Cantor, Kevin McCarthy, and Paul Ryan-- will release their new book, Young Guns, outlining a vision for America's future that reflects their Generation X philosophy of individual autonomy and hostility to community or collective action. Originally, Young Guns was the name of a popular movie back in 1988 when Generation X's political idol, Ronald Reagan was in the White House, but the philosophy espoused by Cantor, McCarthy, and Ryan hardly reflects the beliefs and values of today's youngest and largest generation, Millennials (born 1982-2003). Millennials believe in trusting one another and sharing ideas in order to come up with the best results for the entire group. That's why the country is more likely to find economic ideas that call for community action and local initiative more attractive than those being pushed by House Republicans.

On Wednesday, September 15, NDN fellow Dan Carol, will host a roundtable discussion on how to use government to catalyze bottom-up innovation and economic growth at the local level. Joining him will be U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce John Fernandez to discuss his agency's "Jobs and Innovation Partnership" initiative to help build regional economic ecosystems where the private sector can flourish. These ideas, to be detailed in a paper scheduled for release the same day, offer Democrats the opportunity to seize both the generational and the policy initiative in the 2010 midterm election's economic debate.

The proposal's focus on nurturing local economic networks captures the insights of a new economic paradigm, based on complexity science, which suggests economies grow in the same way ecosystems do. Innovation is the key to this process as the system moves through constant cycles of experimentation and reconfiguration, or what economist Joseph Schumpeter called waves of "creative destruction." Complex ecosystems and modern economies continuously adapt and grow through a process of rewarding what works and discarding what doesn't. More trials, including more errors, produce better results and more innovative ideas. Unlike classical economics, which equates wealth with money, this new paradigm states that wealth is maximized when the largest number of people are generating ideas in a competitive, evolutionary environment.

Perhaps the most Millennial of all the insights generated by this new paradigm is the importance it places on establishing a new sense of trust in the way individuals deal with each other. In complex economies, such as that of the United States , the expectations and interpretations each person has about what all the other players want and expect creates an invisible web of human expectations that can only be managed in a Millennial atmosphere of trust and cooperation, not in the Gen X mode of everyone looking out only for themselves. Complexity economics argues that the classical economic paradigm enunciated in the 18th century by Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations, was wrong in suggesting, "wealth is created by the pursuit of narrow self-interest." Instead, Eric Beinhocker, whose book The Origin of Wealth: Evolution, Complexity and the Radical Remaking of Economics, is intentionally titled and written as an answer to Smith, argues, "Norms of unchecked selfishness kill the one thing that determines whether a society can generate (let alone fairly allocate) wealth and opportunity: trust. High-trust networks thrive; low-trust ones fail." While the Generation X Republican prescriptions for returning to the discredited laissez faire doctrines of the past rest on the argument that you can't trust government, Millennials know that the only answer to the question "Who do you trust?" is "each other."

Trust is built over time when people have a chance to work together toward a common goal. That is what the Jobs and Innovation Partnership initiative from EDA is designed to do at the regional level. Dan Carol's research paper will present several innovative ideas on how to use government's resources to develop and nurture these networks so that working together becomes easier and more effective. The key to all of these proposals is the emphasis they place on sharing ideas and using a more bottom-up approach to the challenge of restructuring America's economy.

Millennials, suffering the highest levels of unemployment of any generation, will welcome this approach. It reflects their values and beliefs and represents how they will lead the nation in the future. It's time for the rest of the country to embrace these ideas as well rather than returning to the Wild West economics of Generation X's childhood. Counter to the message of another popular 1980s movie, greed isn't good; trusting each other is the best way to breathe new life into the nation's economy.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Its Time for Something Completely Different

As the country’s political distemper grows, many commentators, reflecting their own generational biases, mistakenly assume that voters are looking for less government as the solution to the nation’s ills. But survey research data from Washington think tank, NDN, shows that a majority of Americans (54%), and particularly the country’s youngest generation, Millennials, born 1982-2003, (58%), actually favor a more active government, rather than one that “stays out of society and the economy.” As generational expert Neil Howe observed, “Dissatisfaction with Obama and the Democratic Congress is probably more fed by their failure to use government boldly and vigorously to face hard challenges than by their excessive boldness.” What Millennials are looking for in terms of public policy, to borrow John Cleese’s warning to his Monty Python audience, is something completely different than the tired approaches of either party that are grist for the current partisan gridlock in Washington.
Millennials are not interested in letting ideological posturing stand in the way of “getting stuff done,” as they like to say. Their generation’s idealism is always accompanied by a pragmatic impulse focused on finding solutions, not confrontation. As with like-minded civic generations before them, Millennials want to reinvigorate the nation’s institutions, giving government a much greater role in determining basic citizen responsibilities in areas as diverse as health care, education and environmental protection.
However, unlike America’s last civic generation, the GI Generation (born 1901-1924), Millennials do not want to place responsibility for achieving their desired results in a remote, opaque bureaucracy. They see government’s role more like that of their parents who set the rules but left room for negotiation on what the rewards would be for abiding by the rules and the consequences that would follow for not doing so. In this Millennialist approach, government provides information and resources to help individuals connect and learn from each other but let’s each person decide how best to discharge their civic obligations.
The healthcare reform legislation that was forged out of the white heat of the political debate in Congress came surprisingly close to this model, and not to the ideological demands that Boomers on both sides of the aisle brought to the debate. Liberals didn’t get their dream of a single payer system or even its “nose-under-the-tent” counterpart, the so-called public option. But conservatives were unable, even after Republican Scott Brown’s surprise election as a United States Senator from deep blue Massachusetts, to prevent Congress from mandating that every person in America buy health insurance in order to achieve the goal of universal access. By building a framework for universal coverage on the scaffolding of the existing private insurance system, the final legislative solution used liberal schemes of regulation and national mandates to create a new role for government, even as it kept government out of the business of actually providing health care.
The final shape of that reform reflects a new Millennialist approach to the making and implementation of public policy. This approach will result in setting new national standards in many aspects of our national life while, at the same time, allowing individuals to make their own choices about how to comply with those standards.
The recent adoption by a majority of states of national curriculum standards for what students must learn in core disciplines such as English, math and science is further evidence of this trend. The development of these standards, coordinated by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers, outlines “the knowledge and skills students should have within their K-12 education careers,” without dictating how schools should teach the material.
Meanwhile the Obama administration’s “Race to the Top” grant program, has sparked a firestorm of educational reform legislation in states competing for the money that weaken the hold administrators and teacher unions currently have over what goes on in the classroom. The demands of the parents of Millennials for bottom line results, reflected in such grass roots initiatives as the Parent Revolution in California and Connecticut,is providing the political support needed to take on the current educational monopoly, thereby opening the door to widespread experimentation about what works best at the local school level.
While there is no sign yet at the national level that a more Millennialist approach to addressing concerns over global warming and environmental degradation is in the offing, the inability of the Congress to agree on more bureaucratic approaches, such as cap-and-trade, suggest there is an opportunity for such ideas to take hold in the future. For instance, a campaign to reduce the carbon intensive nature of the nation’s infrastructure could include a government sponsored effort to display the carbon footprint of most consumer products and let individuals decide how to alter their personal purchasing decisions to produce the most environmentally favorable results. Similarly, the goal of reducing fuel consumption per family could be achieved by providing tax incentives for telecommuting or for trading in aging gas guzzlers for vehicles that exceed the newly strengthened fuel economy standards for passenger cars. These policies, and others like them, would leave it up to each individual to decide how much they wish to contribute to the nation’s environmental improvement. In line with behavioral economists in and outside of the administration, the strategy would be to “nudge” rather than command behavior in order to achieve the desired policy goal. Given the ever increasing environmental sensitivity of younger generations, the approach is likely to accomplish more in terms of actual carbon usage reduction than the ideologically-driven schemes proposed by Boomers in Congress.
The trajectory of public policy in a Millennial Era is becoming increasingly evident. The push for an increasing number of national standards and preferred behavior will no doubt cause libertarians to decry the evolving “nanny state” and argue strenuously against an increasingly intrusive government. But if liberals can give up their infatuation with bureaucratic solutions and keep their focus on using government to improve society without building new administrative burdens, the public, led by Millennials, will rally to their side. National consensus, coupled with localism and individual choice,will become the watchwords of the nation’s newest civic era.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Dems, Not Independents will decide Midterm elections

Like the constant buzz of the vuvuzelas during the World Cup, leading members of the inside-the-Beltway punditry have generated an ever louder chorus of warnings recently that "angry" independent voters will determine the outcome of the 2010 midterm elections and, in so doing, threaten the Democratic Party's current congressional majorities.

Actually, however, it is not what independent-or even Republican-voters do that will determine what happens in this November's elections. It is what Democrats do, or perhaps not do, that will be decisive. This is true for two reasons.

First, a significantly greater number of voters now identify with or lean to the Democratic Party than to the GOP. Second, only a relatively small number of politically uninvolved and disinterested voters are independents that are completely unattached to either of the parties.

As a result, the big election story in 2010 will be the extent to which the large plurality of Americans who call themselves Democrats shows up at the polls this fall, and not the voting preferences of unaffiliated independents or Republicans.

This is a quite different situation from 1994, the last time there was a so-called midterm "wave" election in which the GOP wrested control of Congress from the Democratic Party. That year, the two parties were dead even in party ID at 44% each.
But, America is a different country now than it was in the mid-1990s, with a far more ethnically diverse electorate and a new, strongly Democratic generation, the Millennials (born 1982-2003), coming of age. These emerging groups comprise the core of a new, potentially long-lasting majority Democratic coalition.

This year, in sharp contrast to 1994, the Democratic Party holds a party identification advantage over the Republicans. In a June national survey conducted for NDN by highly regarded market research firm, Frank N. Magid Associates, 47% of voting age Americans identified with or leaned to the Democratic Party, well above the 33% who identified with or leaned to the Republican Party and the 19% who claimed to be unaffiliated independents. Even among registered voters the Democratic advantage over the GOP was 11 percentage points (47% vs. 36% with unaffiliated independents dropping to 17%). These numbers were replicated in an early July Pew survey showing the Democrats with a 49% to 42% party ID lead over the Republicans among registered voters.

As is the case in virtually every U.S. election, almost all of those who identify with or lean to a party plan to vote for the candidates of that party this coming November. In the NDN poll, about 95% of both Democratic and Republican identifiers who have made a choice say they expect to vote this fall for the congressional candidate of the party with which they identify. Meanwhile, among the presumably decisive independents, almost two-thirds (61%) are as yet undecided in the race for Congress. The remainder is split almost evenly between the two parties, with 21% preferring the Republicans and 18% the Democrats.

The solid Democratic advantage in party ID, coupled with the strong support given by Democratic identifiers to the party's candidates, and the closely divided independent vote, translates into a clear lead for the Democrats over the Republicans among all Americans on the generic congressional ballot in the NDN survey (35% for the Democrats vs. 29% for the GOP with 34% undecided and 8% favoring another party or candidate).

There is, however, a large fly in the Democratic ointment. At least at this point, Democratic identifiers are significantly less likely to be registered to vote than are Republicans (90% vs. 84%). Democrats are also substantially less likely than Republicans to say they are certain to vote in November (76% vs. 67%). These concerns are particularly acute among Latinos and Millennials, both of which are key components of the Democratic coalition. As a result of these disparities, the Democratic lead over the GOP on the generic ballot drops to three points among registered voters (35% vs. 32%), and to a statistical tie of just two points among those who say they are certain to vote this fall (37% vs. 35%).

What must the Democratic Party do to overcome these barriers? One thing is to organize. The decision of the Democratic National Committee to spend $50 million in 2010 to increase the registration and turnout of "first time voters" (meaning, primarily, Millennials, African-Americans, Latinos, and single women) is a key step in constructing and strengthening the 21st century Democratic coalition for this year and the decades ahead.

The NDN survey portrays a country that is anything but center-right. A solid majority of Americans prefer a government that actively tries to solve the problems facing society and the economy (54%), rather than a government that stays out of society and the economy to the greatest extent possible (31%). Three-quarters of Democrats (76%), and just over half of independents (52%), favor an activist government, while 60% of Republicans want a laissez faire approach.

Similarly, a clear plurality of the electorate (49%) wants government to ensure that all Americans have at least a basic standard of living and level of income, even if it increases government spending. Only 34% supported the alternative approach of letting each person get along economically on their own, even if that means some people have a lot more than others. A solid majority of Democrats (69%), and half of independents, opt for governmental policies aimed at increasing economic equality, something that is opposed by two-thirds (65%) of Republicans.

Nothing would be more confusing and dispiriting for Democratic voters than for the Democratic Party to turn away from the political and economic approach they strongly favor, and which has been the hallmark of the party's success and identity since the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Generating enthusiasm for Democratic candidates in the 2010 midterm election requires highlighting, not downplaying or running away from, the striking legislative accomplishments of the Democratic congressional majority during the first two years of the Obama administration.

Democrats would also be well advised not to base their campaign on pursuing independent voters, angry or otherwise. For one thing, the much-vaunted independents are far less likely to be registered (72%) and certain to vote (52%) than are either Republican or Democratic identifiers. While aiming at unaffiliated and uninvolved voters may be a good idea for a party that has fewer, or even the same number, of identifiers as its opponent, it is not the best strategy for a party that holds a clear party identification lead within the electorate. Doing everything that it can to mobilize its own supporters makes far more sense, and is likely to be far more effective. In the end, what happens to the Democratic Party in 2010 and beyond is in its own hands, and will be determined primarily by the votes of those who identify with it, rather than being in the hands of the media or the other side of the political aisle.

A Regional Perspective on 2010 elections

Virtually all polling analyses that deal with the possible outcome of the 2010 midterm elections, make frequent use of the "generic congressional ballot," a survey question probing House voting intentions on a national basis. But, while there may be national trends, there are no national elections in the United States. In spite of this, pollsters rarely report their results geographically beneath the aggregate national level. That's why a recent posting by Tom Schaller at FiveThirtyEight is so interesting, refreshing, and important. While many reports based on the national generic ballot stress the similarities between the 2010 midterm elections and those of 1994 in which the Democratic Party lost large congressional majorities, Schaller's analysis points to key regional differences that may buffer the Democrats from the kind of devastation they suffered sixteen years ago.

By eerie coincidence Democrats hold precisely the same number of House seats (256 or 59% of the body's 435) in today's 111th Congress that they held in the 103rd Congress of 1994. But, that is where the similarity ends.

In the 103rd Congress the Democrats held essentially the same percentage of seats (60% or a point or two less) in each of the nation's four geographic regions-the Northeast, South, Midwest, and West. Now, the Democrats control the vast majority of House seats in the Northeast (82%) and West (63%). Within the former region, all of New England's 22 Representatives are Democrats as are 26 of New York's 29 (with one Empire State seat currently vacant). In the West, the Democrats are especially strong along the Pacific Coast, holding 33 of California's 52 seats, 4 of Oregon's 5, and 6 of Washington's 9.

By contrast, the Democrats hold 55% of Midwestern House seats, slightly less than the 58% they held in 1994. But, the big change has been in the South. Now, only 43% of Southern Representatives are Democrats, far less than in 1994 when 60% were. It was, in fact, the 1994 election that finally flipped the South's Congressional delegation from majority Democratic to majority Republican. In other words, as Schaller's analysis makes clear "the two Democratic coalitions [in 1994 and in 2010] are not the same geographically."

The alteration in the regional composition of the two party coalitions described by Schaller is a part of broader demographic and political changes that have been portrayed in detail by NDN's 21st Century America Project. Survey research conducted this year in connection with that project both reflects and explains why the regional strength of the two parties in Congress has been altered so significantly since 1994. As the following table indicates, both the Northeast and West contain the greatest number of voters who identify with or lean toward the Democratic Party followed closely by the Midwest. By contrast, the South contains the fewest, and among white Southerners a clear plurality identifies with or leans toward the GOP.

Total Electorate Northeast Midwest West South Southern Whites
Democrat 47% 49% 48% 49% 44% 35%
Independent 20% 20% 22% 18% 19% 21%
Republican 33% 31% 30% 33% 37% 45%

Ratio of
Democrat to
Republican 1.4:1 1.6:1 1.6:1 1.5:1 1.2:1 0.8:1
These changes may place the Democratic Party in better position to avoid the massive losses of 1994-and thereby retain their House majority. Schaller projects two possible scenarios for the November midterm elections. The first he labels a "regular wave" in which the Democrats would lose about 36 House seats, a bit above the average losses for the president's party in the midterm election of his first term. The second Schaller calls a "big wave" in which the Democrats would lose about 61 House seats. While their losses would be serious in either scenario, in a "regular wave" Democrats would retain control of the House. In the latter, they would lose it.

According to Schaller, Democratic losses would not be distributed evenly across the country. In a "regular wave," he says, a disproportionately large share of Democratic losses (64%) would likely occur in the two regions where the party is already weakest-the South and Midwest. (That, by the way, would leave the Democrats with only a third of Southern House seats, continuing a trend that has been ongoing for the past five decades). However, in a "big wave," while a majority of Democratic losses would still be in the South and Midwest (58%), more of the incremental losses would come in the Northeast (26%) and West (16%). With three months to go before the election, there is no reason to believe that the midterm elections will necessarily result in a wave of any size, but Schaller's analysis does suggest the best place to look for any early signs of a tsunami that would cost the Democrats their House majority are in the contested districts of the Northeast and West.

Of course, its solid party identification lead nationally and its regional strength in the Northeast and West only provides the Democratic Party with an opportunity to avoid a repeat of the disaster of 1994. There is no guarantee that it will do so. As the election of Republican Scott Brown to the U.S. Senate earlier this year in Massachusetts, the bluest of all Northeastern states demonstrates, the Democrats can lose almost anywhere if they run a poor campaign and/or candidate. The Democrats lost that special election in Massachusetts not because the state had suddenly become a GOP stronghold or because Massachusetts Democrats turned against Barack Obama, the Democratic Party, or the policies that they favor. That "impossible to lose" election was lost because Democrats failed to mobilize their majority strength in Massachusetts.

If Democrats are wise, what happened in Massachusetts will serve as a warning and not a prophecy of things to come. To ensure the former, Democrats should reject advice, some well-intentioned and some not, to focus their 2010 campaign on appeals to "angry" independents or "disaffected" moderates and focus instead on activating their own sizable base of identifiers, especially in regions where that base has the potential to be dominant. In 1994, when each of the two parties had exactly the same percentage of identifiers, the Democratic Party could not successfully do that. In 2010, it can-- and must-- if it hopes to retain its majority status in the House.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Make Kalamazoo's Promise America's Promise

A recent NDN survey found that 37 percent of Millennials rated the cost of a college education as a critical issue facing America. It ranked behind only the economy and education, in a virtual tie with the national debt and federal spending, on the list of issues about which Millennials are concerned. While the Obama administration's "Race to the Top" initiative has ignited a firestorm of K-12 educational reforms in states across the country, no comparable program exists to deal with the increasing costs and stagnant graduation rates of the nation's colleges and universities. To his credit, President Barack Obama led this year's successful efforts by Democrats to federalize the student loan program and expand the size and availability of Pell Grants in order to lower the burden of paying for college. But, that is only a short-term fix to the challenge of doubling the number of students who graduate from college by 2020--a pledge leaders of community colleges made at the administration's urging. To achieve that goal, America needs to develop a new, Millennial Era consensus that every young American should complete his or her postsecondary education and graduate debt free. One community, Kalamazoo, Michigan has already made that promise a reality.

Kalamazoo recognized that, along with inadequate preparation in high school for the academic requirements of college, the burden of paying for college through the current patchwork system of student loans, grants and scholarships, and state and federal government subsidies is a major reason why U.S. college graduation rates have been stagnant for the last thirty years. Currently, more than a quarter of the freshmen in America's four year colleges fail to return for their second year and the percentage is twice that for those enrolled in two-year colleges. For every ten students who start high school, only five enroll in a postsecondary educational institution, and fewer than three earn a bachelor's degree, even after ten years. Less than one-quarter of Hispanics who start college leave with a bachelor's degree and almost two-thirds receive no credential at all. Even though a record 70 percent of all Millennials who graduated from high school enrolled in college in 2009, the need for postsecondary education reforms to ensure that more of them graduate is clear.

College tuition rates have grown at 3.3 times the consumer price index since 1980.The increased cost is having a direct impact on which colleges students are able to attend. Forty-three percent of incoming freshmen in the first year of the Great Recession cited the ability to get financial aid as very important or essential in their choice of a college, the highest level ever recorded. In 2009, 70 percent of high schools reported an increase in the number of students who abandoned their "dream school" in favor of a college they could afford. Eighty-five percent of those who applied for aid said they wouldn't be able to pay for college without receiving it. As a result, for the 2008-09 school year, the federal government guaranteed or made $65.2 billion in student loans, an increase of 18.6 percent from the year before.

The unwillingness of today's older generations to subsidize the higher education of younger generations has had a particularly pernicious impact on young Americans who see college education as a way of improving their future economic circumstances. In 2007-08, just about every student from a low income family attending a community college was in debt, with an average of $7,147 in unmet expenses, even after taking into account any grants or scholarships they received. As a result, three-fourths of those seeking an associate degree or certificate were forced to work, leaving less time for study. In 2009, only 38 percent of community college students earned a degree within six years of enrolling. The country and its economy cannot afford to let this situation continue.One experiment in how to address the problem started in 2005, in Kalamazoo. There, a small group of donors (who remain anonymous to this day) created the Kalamazoo Promise, which offered any graduate of the city's public schools a four year scholarship covering 100 percent of tuition and mandatory fees at any of Michigan's public colleges or universities, provided those students maintained a 2.0 grade point average in their college courses and made regular progress toward a degree. Scholarship levels varied based only on the number of grades or years in Kalamazoo schools the student had attended, not on a determination of need or merit.

The idea began as an economic development strategy. The city manager suggested the imposition of an income tax on those who worked within the city to balance Kalamazoo's books. In an attempt to increase the city's tax base without raising its taxes, community leaders, asked residents of the area surrounding the city what would persuade them to move back inside the city's boundaries. Not surprisingly, the parents of Millennials expressed the greatest interest in living in a place that would provide a good public education for their children--all the way through college. Local philanthropists translated that desire into a simple program that offered full, four-year college scholarships to the city's high school graduates, with no requirement to repay the money or reside in Kalamazoo after graduating from college. They bet the bargain would be enough to attract families back to the city and halt the annual ten-percent decline in the schools' population. Five years and $12 million later, the bet has paid off handsomely.

Since the program was announced in November 2005, Kalamazoo has experienced a 17.6 percent increase in student enrollment and the construction of three new schools for the first time in 37 years. Dropout rates have been cut in half. Ninety percent of female African-American high school graduates have gone onto college. The school district's success was noticed by President Obama, who chose to deliver the first high school commencement speech of his presidency at Kalamazoo Central High. Calling the school a model for success in the 21st century, Obama told the senior class he was there "because I think America has a lot to learn from Kalamazoo Central about what makes a successful school in this new century." He's right.

Money to pay for four years of college is available to each recipient for up to ten years after graduation, so it will take more time before the full effect of the Kalamazoo Promise on college graduation rates can be determined, but the program's initial success has led communities across the country to search for sources of philanthropic revenue in order to make their own educational bargain with their residents. The Kalamazoo Promise created an expectation that every public school student in the city would have an opportunity to receive a postsecondary education. More than 80 percent of those who chose to enroll in a university are still attending college. The cultural shift created by the community's commitment to the Kalamazoo Promise has also created a mini-Race to the Top with surrounding school districts, which are passing bond issues and improving their schools to compete more effectively with Kalamazoo's schools.

Now it is time for the nation as a whole to make the same promise that Kalamazoo did to all young Americans. The country should completely reform the current system of federal and state subsidies of higher education with one goal in mind. In the 21st century, every Millennial-and their children--should complete their postsecondary education and graduate debt free. Kalamazoo's promise needs to become America's promise.

America’s Economy Needs to Restructure in Order to Recover

The news that the growth of America's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) slowed in the second quarter to an anemic 2.7 percent, from its barely adequate first quarter performance of 3.7 percent, helps make the case for building what President Obama terms a "New Foundation" for the country's economy. The president should use NDN's analysis of the root causes of our current economic difficulties to explain to the American people why this restructuring is needed and how all of his legislative accomplishments-not just the auto company interventions he rightly touted in Detroit last Friday-- are putting in place a New Foundation for a 21st century economy, built on much more solid ground than the flawed and failed economics of the era America has just left.

The continuing high unemployment rate this far into the Great Recession should demonstrate to all but the most stubborn partisans that expecting the contours of our economy to suddenly snap back into the shape that they were in before the financial meltdown of September, 2008 is wishful thinking of the worst kind. It ignores the fundamental weaknesses of the consumer-driven economy of the last decade and leads to policy prescriptions that fail to deal with the root causes of our economic malaise. Besides, that economy, built on the sands of using the value of one's home as a personal ATM, led to a lost decade in real income growth for middle class Americans, so no one should be hoping it comes back anytime soon.

The last time the country experienced the prolonged economic pain it is experiencing now was during the Great Depression. Thanks to the decisive interventions of President Obama's economic team and the Federal Reserve the country is fortunately not experiencing anything quite that painful this time around. But the economic downturns of the 1930s and of this decade have more than just the ironic adjective "Great" in common.

Both occurred as a new, civic-oriented generation was coming of age. In the 1930s it was the GI Generation, what many now call America's Greatest Generation. Today it is the Millennial Generation, a cohort many expect to be our next great generation. The unity and size of both generations gave first President Franklin Roosevelt and then President Obama the margin of electoral victory and mandate for change that underpinned political support for long-term, structural changes in the economy. In both cases, the dire circumstances in which ordinary Americans found themselves provided the impetus for the creation of major new social programs-Social Security in Roosevelt's first term and health care reform in Obama's.

But many current observers fail to realize how similar the controversies surrounding these changes also are. Just as Republicans today, and some moderate Democrats, seek to impose a new round of austerity on the nation's economy by attempting to stop the funding for such basic programs as extended unemployment insurance, FDR, during his first term, dodged and ducked an onslaught of advice to scale back the New Deal from both the opposition and from many within his own party. The debate continued right through the 1936 election, when his Republican opponent, Alf Landon, campaigned on a platform of repealing Social Security, arguing, as those seeking to repeal health care reform do today, that it represented an unwarranted "socialist" intrusion into individual paychecks by an out-of-control federal government.

But during the entire debate, Roosevelt stuck to his guns and insisted on the need to fundamentally overturn the laissez faire economic policies of the Roaring Twenties. As Pulitzer Prize winning historian, David M. Kennedy wrote in his book Freedom from Fear:

The New Deal's premier objective, at least until 1938, and in Roosevelt's mind probably for a long time thereafter, was not the economic recovery tout court but structural reform for the long run. In the last analysis, reform, not simply recovery, was the New Deal's highest ambition and lasting legacy.

And just as President Obama's health care and financial regulatory reform efforts are not the second coming of socialism that opponents tried to make them out to be, Roosevelt's structural solutions avoided the heavy-handed notion of government control that so many in his party favored and so many Republicans accused them of being. The FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation) created a feeling of security among depositors, not a government bank. The SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) gave stockholders new information upon which to base their investment decisions, but didn't restrict their investment opportunities. The FHA (Federal Housing Administration) provided more safety to lenders and new mortgage terms for home buyers, but didn't attempt to have government build the houses people needed. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and the Fair Labor Standards Act set new, fairer rules for both employers and workers to follow, but didn't impose the kind of price controls and work rules that were part of the earlier, ill-fated National Industrial Recovery Act. As Kennedy correctly observes:

To be sure, Roosevelt sought to enlarge the national state as the instrument of the security and stability that he hoped to impart to American life. But legend to the contrary, much of the security that the New Deal threaded into the fabric of American society was often stitched with a remarkably delicate hand, not simply imposed by the fist of the imperious state.

It's also important to remember that, with the exception of the FDIC, none of these long-lasting, deep changes in the rules and structures by which the American economy operated were enacted in the initial year of Roosevelt's first term. Social Security, for example, didn't pass until 1935, after the 1934 midterm elections. By that chronological measurement, President Obama's New Foundation is actually being built ahead of schedule.

Nor did any of Roosevelt's structural reforms restore the country to full employment immediately. When FDR uttered his famous line "I see one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished" in his 1937 inaugural speech, he was speaking about the progress the country had made in his first term and warning his audience not to become complacent with what had been accomplished to that point. Just as President Obama must walk a fine line between noting the positive impact his initial efforts to stop the economic bleeding have had without suggesting there is nothing more that can or should be done, so too did FDR want the country to understand that, as he put it in the same address, "Such symptoms of prosperity may become portents of disaster!"

To avoid that result this time, President Obama needs to make it clear that much more needs to be done to restructure the economy, and that a stock market recovery without a recovery in middle class incomes is not the goal of his administration. Among other things, the president must emphasize that until all American schools have won the "Race to the Top," until our economy is built on a lower carbon infrastructure, until every American worker has the skills they need to compete in the global economy for jobs with good wages and good benefits, and until America's tax structure rewards work and innovation and not financial manipulation, the New Foundation for the nation's economy will not be complete.

The restructuring of our economy is and will be painful. America's tolerance for change will be as sorely tested as it was during the Great Depression. President Obama's leadership skills will be put to the same stern test that FDR had to pass.

But Democrats should welcome the opportunity that the 2010 midterm elections present to argue for the need to undertake a fundamental restructuring of the nation's economy and to brag about the steps they have already taken to produce that transformation. Rather than ducking or attempting to explain away the economic difficulties the nation faces, it's time to build a strong foundation of political support for the economic New Foundation the President seeks to put in place. As NDN's recent survey research shows, a majority coalition already exists for just such an economic and political program. It's time to make sure the voices of America's 21st century constituencies are heard in November.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

What Wave?

The Democratic victory in the special election in Pennsylvania 12 might not be the upset that many in Washington believe it to be. That’s because, as we have been saying in this space for the past year, 2010 is not 1994 and the chances of a Republican wave building off shore are far lower now than they were then. The country's demographics have shifted dramatically in the intervening years; the Republican brand is much more tarnished than it was in the 90s; and Democratic governing successes are gradually being recognized by the electorate.
The United States is a much different country demographically than it was in 1994. A decade and a half ago, over three quarters of Americans were white. That number has dropped to just over 60% now and is on the way to falling below 50% by the midcentury. In particular, the percentage of Latinos in the U.S. population has nearly doubled (from about 9% to 16%) over the same period. In addition, half of a new generation—Millennials (born 1982-2003), the largest and most diverse generation in American history—has joined the electorate.
All of these changes have worked to the advantage of the Democratic Party and are should continue to do so in the future. In NDN’s February survey of the 21st century American electorate, Millennials identified as Democrats over Republicans by a 2:1 margin (42% vs. 21%) and non-Caucasians did so by over 4:1 (57% vs. 14%). Women also strongly identified as Democrats (44% vs. 24% Republicans). By the way, the other half of the Millennial Generation, all those now under 18, already live in a world where whites are in the minority, promising an even larger Democratic edge in the future.
At least in part as a result of these major demographic changes, the Democratic Party now holds a clear lead among voters in party identification, something it did not have in 1994. In the most recent Pew national survey released earlier this week, the Democrats enjoy a nine-percentage edge over the Republicans in party ID (45% vs. 36%).In 1994, the two parties were tied at 44% each and in 1995, the year after the GOP won control of Congress, more Americans identified with or leaned to the Republican Party than the Democrats (46% vs. 43%).
Moreover, while it is true that attitudes toward the Democratic Party have declined during 2010, contrary to 1994 the Republican Party is not seen as a viable alternative by most voters. In 1994 favorable ratings of the Democratic Party fell in Pew’s surveys from 61% when Bill Clinton was elected president in 1992 to 50% by the time of the midterm election. In that same time period, positive perceptions of the Republican Party increased dramatically from 46% to 67%. While Pew’s March, 2010 survey showed Democrats with only a 40% favorable rating, down from 57% in the fall of 2008, positive attitudes toward the GOP also declined since President Barack Obama’s election from 40% to 37%, still leaving the Democrats with a slight advantage.
These demographic changes and attitudinal configurations have put the Democratic Party in a stronger position now than in 1994 to hold off a possible Republican wave. Furthermore, as they have enacted major portions of the Obama agenda, Congressional Democrats have improved their standing in comparison to Republicans on the generic ballot since earlier this year. All of the public surveys conducted during the past week show the Democrats with at least a modest lead. Over the last few months there has been a net shift of six-points toward the Democratic Party.


An examination of a few key findings from some recent polls shows why that shift has occurred.
First, while voters do not yet believe that America has returned yet to prosperity, there is a clear perception of progress. In the Quinnipiac survey, the number believing that the nation’s economy is getting better rose from 19% in April 2009 and 28% last December to 32% now. The belief that the economy is worsening is down from 32% to 24% over the same period. President Obama is getting some of the credit for the perceived improvement in the economy. His approval score for handling the economy is up from 39% in March 2010 to 44% currently. More specifically, the percentage approving of President Obama’s performance in creating jobs has risen from a low of 34% last January to 40% in May.
Second, after a year of rancor, voters are increasingly positive about the Democratic health care reform plan that passed Congress and was signed by the president in March. According to a recent CBS News poll, approval of the plan rose from only 32% in early March to 43% in May.
As a result, the president’s approval rating for handling health care in the Quinnipiac poll has risen from a low of 35% in January and February to 45% now.
As proof that nothing succeeds like success, the perception of an improving economy and the increasingly positive reactions to the newly enacted health care reform law have led to the most favorable job approval scores for both the president and congressional Democrats this year. For most of 2010, in the Quinnipiac poll, a slightly greater percentage of voters disapproved than approved of the way President Obama was handling his job. But in May, for the first time since early February the president’s approval score was in positive ground (48% approve vs. 43% disapprove). Over the same time frame, the job performance approval of congressional Democrats has gone up from 28% to 34%. By contrast, the approval score for congressional Republicans is down from a high of 34% in March to only 26% in May.
As a result,the forecast of another Democratic election disaster like that of 1994 seems premature and unlikely in today’s changed demographic and political environment. Those expecting a wave may well be left standing on the shore vainly waiting for a high tide that will never come.

Monday, May 17, 2010

21st Century Electorate's Heart is in the Suburbs

Even as the nation conducts its critically important decennial census, a demographic picture of the rapidly changing population of the United States is emerging. It underlines how suburban living has become the dominant experience for all key groups in America’s 21st Century Electorate.
While suburban living was once seen as the almost exclusive preserve of the white upper-middle class, a majority of all major American racial and ethnic groups now live in suburbia, according to the newest report on the state of metropolitan America from the Brookings Institute. Slightly more than half of African-Americans now live in large metropolitan suburbs, as do 59% of Hispanics, almost 62% of Asian-Americans, and 78% of whites. As a result the country is closer than ever to achieving a goal that many thought would never be achieved—city/suburban racial/ethnic integration. This is particularly so in the faster growing metropolitan areas of the South and West.

The trend is likely to continue for the foreseeable future. A majority of Millennials live in the suburbs and 43% of them, a portion higher than for any other generation, describe suburbs as their “ideal place to live.”

The nation’s one hundred largest metropolitan areas have grown twice as fast as the rest of the country in the last decade. That growth was heavily concentrated in lower density suburbs, which grew at three times the rate of cities or inner ring suburbs. At the same time, one third of the nation’s overall population growth was due to immigration. As a result about one-quarter of all children in the United States have at least one immigrant parent. In 2008, non whites became a majority of Americans less than eighteen years old, a demographic milestone that underlines just how fast and how dramatically the country is changing. Any political party that wants to build a lasting electoral majority must align its policy prescriptions with these new demographic realities to attract the votes of a younger, more ethnically diverse population, most of which now lives in the suburbs.

Economic opportunity continues to be the major driver in determining where people want to live and work. Five of the six fastest growing metropolitan areas in the last decade were also among the top six in job growth according to data from the Census and the Bureau of Labor Statistics analyzed by the Praxis Strategy Group. The same five metropolitan areas--Phoenix, Riverside (CA), Dallas, Houston and Washington, D.C-- also ranked high in the diversity of their population, differing only in the degree of educational attainment their residents have achieved. With America experiencing the first decade since the 1930s in which inflation adjusted median income declined and job creation slowed to levels not seen in decades, this movement to where the jobs are is hardly surprising. Yet this crucial factor is often overlooked by urban planners who argue that cultural amenities and sport complexes are the key to attracting new residents. In fact, metropolitan areas that focus on job creation for Millennials (young Americans born 1982-2003) and minorities have the best chance of gaining population in the next decade.

Clearly providing higher quality public education experiences is a key part of any such economic strategy. The arrival of stealth fighter parents at local school district meetings across the country only underlines how passionate young families are about the quality of education their children receive and their unwillingness to let Boomer ideological debates delay the changes needed to properly prepare their children for a higher educational experience that increases the odds of economic success. The traditional separation between municipal partisan politics and non-partisan school policy making is increasingly outdated when so much of a city’s economic success depends on the quality of the education its residents receive. In this environment, the educational policies of the Obama administration that focus on results and outcomes and not on process or previous practices should serve as a template for elected officials at every level to follow.

Safe neighborhoods of single family dwellings with a surrounding patch of land continue to attract families of every background to the nation’s suburbs. Metropolitan areas that provide such an environment to all of their residents are the furthest along in achieving a more integrated society. Los Angeles, for instance, which is often decried by non-residents as simply an aggregation of suburbs with no central core, has a suburban population whose demographic profile almost exactly matches the city’s population. The fact that most of its housing reflects the tract developments of the 50s and 60s, and that former Los Angeles police chief William Bratton used his COMPSTAT crime fighting techniques to bring the city’s crime rates down to levels not seen in five decades, are two key reasons for this polyglot profile.

Rather than fighting this desire on the part of America’s 21st Century Electorate to live comfortably in the suburbs, politicians of all stripes should find ways to embrace it and advocate policies that reflect our new economic realities. For instance, rather than insisting on higher density housing and light rail systems as the only answer to the nation’s appetite for foreign oil, the federal government should adopt tax incentives that encourage telecommuting. If all Americans worked from home, as many Millennials prefer to do, just two days a week, it would cut that portion of our nation’s gas consumption by more than a third. The FCC’s recently announced broadband policy will help put in place the infrastructure required to make such a lifestyle possible and even more productive.

Three out of four commuting trips involve a single individual driving their car to work and this isn’t likely to change with the increased growth in suburban living. But putting as much emphasis on making our nation’s highways “smart” as in creating a smart electrical grid would make it possible for the existing highway system to shorten commuting time and reduce the quantity of fuel used in such trips. Recent developments in mobile technology makes this a practical, near term solution if state and local governments are prepared to invest in upgrading an infrastructure that is already designed and deployed to connect people’s homes to their workplace.

Aligning the message at the heart of a party’s programs with the values and behaviors of America’s 21st Century Electorate is the best way to guarantee victory this year and for years to come. As Simon Rosenberg has stated, Democrats need to “embrace the coalition” based on the country’s new demographic realities that Barack Obama used so effectively in 2008. That embrace requires not only focusing the party’s efforts on the growing demographic groups that now make up a majority of Americans, but also rethinking many of the policies it advocates to make them more friendly to the suburban lifestyle that so many members of the coalition desire. As he points out, “crossing the chasm” from the old coalition to the new will “be hard, but it is in the best interests of the country and the best interests of the Democratic Party.”

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Email is so over

In the 1980s a powerful new communication tool invaded corporate life. It undermined hierarchy, expanded communication channels and enabled huge gains in productivity. The technology was email and its arrival aroused great concerns about security and authority in C suites everywhere. Older leaders refused to use the technology, or at best, told their secretaries to treat it like regular mail, handing it to them printed on paper in their daily inbox.

Younger workers, from the Baby Boom Generation, judged the skill of their bosses based upon their willingness to communicate in email. Boomers also used the technology to create peer networks where they exchanged information about job opportunities and plotted how best to make over organizations they found hide bound and hopelessly out of touch with modern technology. Today, Boomers are in charge, email is a ubiquitous part of corporate life, even following workers home on their smart phones, and no one questions its effectiveness and efficiency.

No one that is except Millennials, born between 1982 and 2003, who are now entering the workforce in numbers greater than even the Baby Boom Generation did three and four decades ago. The comfort and facility of Millennials in the use of Internet communication technologies has led many to call people of their age“digital natives,” ready to text or tweet each moment of their young lives. Turning the libertarian, individual autonomy values of the Internet’s creators upside down, Millennials have used social networks to bring their friends, and the rest of the world, closer in communities bound together by common interests, not geography. Having transformed educational and entertainment institutions by insisting on the primacy of peer-to-peer communications, the first wave of Millennials is now entering the workforce and bringing their communication technology revolution with them.

For Millennials, email is a slow, old-fashioned way of communicating, lacking the immediacy and transparency of Instant Messaging (IM). Facebook provides a much more robust way to organize Millennial’s daily dialogue and life (which are the same thing for this generation), than MS Outlook even when its on a Blackberry. Facebook also has the weakest functionality of any email system in the market, which hasn’t stopped it from becoming the de facto contact management system for most Millennials. The generation uses social networks to explore ideas on how to solve any problem presented to them with all of their friends and can’t imagine limiting those questions to only those working in the same company, any more than they can abide China attempting to censor Google searches.

So what has been the reaction of most corporate CIOs to this phenomenon? Much of it resembles the response to email by corporate executives thirty years ago. Citing security risks and the need to protect corporate intellectual property, the use of social networks is routinely restricted or prohibited out right. Older bosses sneer at anyone on Facebook, suggesting it is a drain on productivity and a threat to personal privacy. IMing is permitted, so long as it is done within corporate guidelines, but its inability to convey Microsoft Office attachments makes it less likely to be used in decision-making discussions. Meanwhile, the potential gains in creativity and innovation that would come from having each employee incorporate the ideas of hundreds of their friends in actively solving the company’s problems are ignored. Cut off from the constant chatter of texts and homemade video, corporate hierarchies are as clueless about what this generation is thinking as Boomer bosses were decades ago.

But this kind of outmoded behavior will also fade away. Over the next decade, all of the Millennial generation will come of age. Members of the generation will represent one out of every three adult Americans by 2020. Corporations that wish to survive, let alone succeed, will have to align their governance practices and technology architectures to accommodate the way this emerging generation works.

In a decade or so, CIO’s will look back at this time of transition and smile at the antiquated way business was transacted before mobile computing and social networks became commonplace. For those old enough to remember, it will seem very similar to the way business was transformed by another, now obsolete, technology, email. Millennials and their Internet based communication technologies will have disrupted corporate life, devolving power to the edges of the organization and creating a more group-oriented, transparent culture in tune with the generation’s beliefs. As a result, companies will be much more successful than they are today and the country’s economy will be a lot better than it is now.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Millennials Will Lead an LA Renaissance

Surprisingly, despite the real challenges Los Angeles faces today, the city is out in front of many of its urban competitors in transforming its capacity to provide a safe place to raise and properly educate children, exactly the criteria Millennials use in deciding where to settle down and start a family. It is the kind of challenge that cities around the country must meet if they wish to thrive in the coming decade.

LA’s biggest win in this respect derives from the political courage of former Mayor James Hahn. It was Hahn who appointed Bill Bratton as police chief, who then deployed his COMPSTAT process for continuously reducing crime. During his tenure as the city’s Police Commissioner under both Mayor Hahn and his successor, Antonio Villaraigosa, Bratton achieved the same improvement in LA as he did previously in New York,– in a city with many of the same societal problems but about one-fourth the police resources and a much larger area to patrol. Even as unemployment soared in 2009 during the Great Recession to 12.3 percent in Los Angeles County, the city saw a 17 percent drop in homicides, an 8 percent reduction in property crime and a 10 percent drop in violent crime. This is a first great step in restoring Los Angeles, once the destination for families, back to its historic promise. Today, Angelinos feel safer than they have in decades.

COMPSTAT is above all a vehicle for changing bureaucratic cultures. In his initial dialogue with the brass of the New York Police Department (NYPD) Bratton told his management team that he planned on holding them accountable for the crime reductions he had promised Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

Citing the FBI’s national crime reports, they responded by telling Bratton that since crime “is largely a societal problem which is beyond the control of the police,” it was completely unfair to hold them accountable for reducing it. Since the police department was not responsible for the city’s economic vitality, its housing stock, its school system, and certainly not its racial and ethnic tensions, all of which were the root causes of crime, the managers felt it was unreasonable to expect them to actually reduce crime.

When Bratton asked them what they could be held accountable for, the leadership replied that they were prepared to accept responsibility for the “perception of crime in New York City” and that their existing tactics of high profile drug busts, neighborhood sweeps, and the like were effective ways to manage that perception. Bratton adamantly refused to accept this definition of accountability from his team and went about creating a system that placed accountability for crime reduction on the NYPD’s leadership, something that also worked its way down through the ranks of every precinct in the city and into the fabric of the department’s culture.

This fully captures the type of cultural change that every part of any city’s bureaucracy must undergo to become a Millennial city.

During Mayor Hahn’s tenure in Los Angeles, for example, he expanded the COMPSTAT process to all departments in order to hold General Managers accountable for their performance under a program called “CITISTATS.” Some departments, such as Street Services, Sanitation, and Street Lighting, are still using the lessons learned in that experience to continuously improve the cost and quality of their services.

But Los Angeles’s recovery has often been blocked by the City Council which has proven reluctant to cede its traditional right to intervene in department operations and to direct resources to specific projects or programs in their Councilmanic districts regardless of the overall city’s needs. When Villaraigosa ascended to the Mayor’s office he removed the potential irritant to his relationship with the Council by disbanding CITISTATS. That decision has deprived Los Angeles of key insights that could have been used to help deal with its current budget challenges.

It also removed one of the more promising vehicles for Neighborhood Councils to hold city bureaucrats accountable for the services they deliver. The Councils, although far from perfect, remain one of the city’s best hopes for fulfilling Millennials’ desire for direct, locally-oriented involvement.

In contrast, Mayor Villaraigosa’s determination to hold the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) accountable for the performance of its students has begun to pay dividends. Recently the board voted 6-1 to adopt a policy mandating competitive bids eventually be issued for the management of all 250 “demonstrably failing schools” as defined by federal education law. The parent revolution that spurred this new approach would not have been successful without the support of LAUSD board members that the Mayor had helped to elect.

Including parents armed with new information on student performance in the process of reforming LAUSD’s schools promises to produce schools that deliver superior results at lower costs and to create a new, decentralized, parent-controlled, educational decision-making system that will be especially attractive to Millennials and their parents.

Now that the Great Recession has brought single family housing back to affordable levels in many parts of Los Angeles, the building blocks of safer streets and better schools give the metropolitan area an opportunity to establish an environment that can attract large numbers of Millennials just as they enter young adulthood. To take advantage of this opportunity, however, all members of the city’s leadership will need to learn one more Millennial lesson.

Unlike the Baby Boomers running the Los Angeles City Hall today, Millennials aren’t interested in confrontation and debilitating debates focused on making sure one side wins and the other loses. They want what business people term “win-win” solutions that take into account everyone’s needs and produce outcomes that benefit the group or community as a whole. Los Angeles, a city built on the expectations of the last civic GI Generation that came to LA in the 1940s, must realign itself to the tastes of the emerging next civic generation, the Millennials.

Finding such solutions, given the many challenges LA faces, will not be easy. LA continues to be run by Boomer politicians, like those in Congress, who know how to play up divisive issues, but haven’t demonstrated an ability to get results.

But if today’s leaders in cities like Los Angeles aren’t up to the task, it won’t be long before a new generation of leaders who have grown up believing in such an approach will emerge to take their place. As Ryan Munoz, a politically active high school senior put it, “With all the technology at our disposal, our approach is different. We can be less partisan, less confrontational and work better together.”

Rachel Lester, who at 15 years old just won election as the youngest member of any Los Angeles Neighborhood Council by campaigning with her Facebook friends, captured the potential power of the generation. “When a few teenagers do something, a lot of teenagers do something.” When cities develop leaders as great as America’s newest civic generation, the Millennials, those cities will once again take their rightful place in the pantheon of America’s most desired places to live. Los Angeles would be an ideal place to start that movement.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

honoring millennial's service

One year ago today President Obama signed the Kennedy Serve America Act fulfilling one of his most important campaign promises to the Millennial Generation (born 1982-2003). The legislation represented the biggest expansion of national service since FDR's Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s.

Among other provisions, the bill
• established programs to involve middle and high school students in community service, including its innovative Summer of Service programs;
• expanded AmeriCorps openings over 8 years, allowing for up to 250,000 AmeriCorps volunteers by fiscal year 2017;
• expanded the National Civilian Community Corps’ mission to include projects on energy conservation, environmental stewardship or conservation, infrastructure improvement, urban and rural development, or disaster preparedness needs; and
• established new volunteer Corps to engage Millennial’s enthusiasm for such efforts including the Education Corps to improve schools, the Healthy Futures Corps to serve unmet health needs within communities, the Clean Energy Corps to work on energy projects, the Opportunity Corps to work with the economically disadvantaged, and the Veterans Corps to work with veterans and their families.

In return for participating in these service initiatives, the legislation raised the value of the full-time national service educational award that goes to participants in the Corporation for National Community Service’s programs to the maximum amount of a Federal Pell Grant. This will enable those who volunteer, to return to school after serving their country, just as members of the GI generation did after WWII.

In just one year the spirit of the legislation has inspired countless new initiatives among Millennials, America’s most civic-minded generation. Now Millennial led initiatives, such as myImpact.org and jumo.com are building social network sites to link their generational cohort's desire to improve the world with opportunities for doing so.
One effort that deserves special mention is the recently concluded “Beyond the Welcome Home” Veteran’s Summit hosted by one of the leading Millennial service organizations, Mobilize.org, in Carson, California. More than five dozen veterans of the Iraqi or Afghanistan wars, representing Millennial veterans from all branches of the armed services gathered for three days to identify the major problems facing returning veterans and develop service solutions to address their issues. Joined by civilian Millennials and interested non-profits, the group used the latest in interactive technologies to prioritize the issues they wanted to address.

The four most important issues facing returning veterans that the group identified did not sound very different than those facing veterans returning from earlier wars:

1. Reintegrating veterans into civilian life so they can productively interact with civilians and society again.
2. A lack of knowledge about programs and benefits post-separation for the armed forces that could help veterans with their return to civilian life.
3. Suicide prevention to deal with feelings of lack of self-worth post-deployment and post-military that many veterans experience.
4. Delays in receiving the health care and other benefits that they are entitled to due to poor communication between the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

But the solutions that received the most support from the participants had a distinctly Millennial flavor. Many emphasized the group solidarity that Millennials feel so intensely. As one participant put it, “The way to deal with these issues is with veterans taking care of each other, just as we did in Iraq.” Or as another participant said, “We need to do things ourselves, not have DoD do it. We always do better ourselves.”

Millennial’s determination to overhaul the institutions their elders built or, failing that, to start new ones was also evident in the suggestions offered at the conference. “We should use the established Veteran Service Organizations, but if they don’t work, we should create new ones.” One popular way to start new institutions was to create a “Facebook for Vets” site that could link all the sites Millennial vets are using into a single place to get all the information they need.

Nor were the participants daunted by the challenge of taking on two of the federal government’s biggest bureaucracies—DoD and the VA—through their generation’s penchant for political engagement. Two comments capture the larger sentiment of the group. “We need to become active and aware of political issues that involve veterans and encourage our fellow Millennials to vote for legislators who support veterans’ issues.” “By sharing information and becoming advocates we can get DoD and VA to respond.”

Of the approximately 2 million service men and women who have served our country so far in Iraq and Afghanistan, more than 60%, almost 1.26 million, are members of the Millennial Generation, so these sentiments are certain to find their way into this year’s political campaigns. Unlike the shunned and often reviled veterans of the Vietnam War, Millennials are returning to a society that respects their service. According to NDN’s latest survey on America’s 21st Century electorate, 64% of Millennials, as well as 78% of older generations, have a positive view of the nation’s military. But more than one in five veterans between the ages of 18 and 24 can’t find work when they return home.

The country’s appreciation needs to be translated into programs for veterans that are worthy of the honor this generation has brought to our country. Three years ago, Mobilize.org established its Democracy 2.0 declaration
which states that it is time “to act. . . to upgrade America’s unfinished project of democracy.” The organization has taken an important step along that path by hosting the summit and providing $25,000 to support the best ideas that flowed from the conference. But as the nation observes National Volunteer Week, each of us should take a moment to commit to doing whatever is needed to honor the most important volunteers this country has—the members of the United States Armed Forces.

One way to do so would be to connect to any of the groups that earned support from Mobilize.org for the work they were doing with Millennial veterans at the Summit, or to some of the other groups dedicated to helping America’s next great generation contribute as much in their civilian life as they have already done in the military. This list is a great place to start honoring our Millennial veteran’s service:

Athena Bridge

The Mission Continues

Veteran’s Green Jobs

Team Rubicon


Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America