Monday, February 22, 2010

Democrats Rock, the Vote on Campus

More than twice as many 18-29 year olds voted for President Barack Obama as for John McCain in 2008, and one year later the party preferences of college students remain similarly lopsided in favor of the Democratic Party and its political point of view.

The most recent data from communication research company Frank N. Magid Associates' show an equal percentage of students, 18 and older, call themselves liberals or progressives (31%) as describe their political philosophy as moderate (30%). By contrast, only 20% describe themselves as conservative, while another 20% haven't learned enough in college yet to say just what their ideological orientation is. Survey research data from 2008 and 2009 actually showed self-described moderates as the most common philosophical designation by Millennials, born between 1982 and 2003, with liberalism in second place. But those studies included Millennials who were not on campus, which suggests either that college students are a more liberal bunch than non-students by nature or there has been further movement toward liberalism among Millennials during the first year of Obama's presidency.

Almost all students on campus today are members of the Millennial Generation and bring that generation's commitment to civic engagement and consensus decision making to the political process. Unlike many members of Generation X or Baby Boomers who preceded them, a majority of Millennials believes in using government to help address societal problems and economic inequality. These philosophic touchstones form the basis of their political identification and belief system.

Millennials were inclined to be Democrats before Obama ran for presidency and both his campaign and his presidency have solidified that tendency. Beginning in 2006 as Millennials made their presence known among 18-29 year old voters, partisan identification among this age group moved from a roughly 50/50 split to a clear preference for the Democratic Party. In 2008, Millennials voted more than 2:1 for Obama over McCain (66% vs. 32%) and by roughly the same percentage (63% vs. 34%) for Democratic congressional candidates. Magid's 2010 data shows this same level of Democratic identification persisting among Millennials who are attending college. Twice as many college students call themselves Democrats as Republicans (47% vs. 24%). Only 15% are independents, with a similar percentage unwilling to identify with any of those three choices.

These numbers suggest the Young Republicans have a lot of work to do just to break even, while Young Democrats should have a rockin' good time of it on college campuses across America.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Democrats Should Act Like the Majority They Are

As the first article in this series, pointed out, the two chief demographic components of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal coalition that enabled the Democratic Party to dominate American national politics from the early 1930s to the mid-1960s—the white South and the northern white working class—have been drifting away from the Democrats and toward the Republicans for the past four decades. But, America is a dynamic country with a growing, changing, and increasingly diverse population. And, the Democratic Party is in position to once again dominate U.S. politics around the same core values, but now with a far different voter coalition than the one assembled by FDR eight decades ago.
Recent Gallup and Pew polls indicate that the Democratic Party has a national party identification advantage of about ten percentage points over the Republicans.
The voter coalition that underpins the Democratic Party’s current party identification advantage—and which also elected Barack Obama President of the United States in 2008—reflects the America of today fully as much as FDR’s coalition reflected the America of its era. While some of the components of the emerging Democratic coalition were a part of the New Deal coalition, others are brand new. If the white South and white working class have left the Democrats, other groups, some of which were decades from birth and others of which comprised only a negligible portion of the American electorate during the previous era of Democratic dominance, have joined. The major components of the new 21st Century Democratic coalition are:
• Young voters. Political scientists have long maintained that political realignments result from the emergence of new large generations of young Americans. The coming of age of the GI Generation (born 1901-1924) produced the New Deal realignment in the 1930s. The emergence of the sharply divided Baby Boomer Generation (born 1946-1964) ended that Democratic era in 1968 leading to forty years during which the Republican Party won the presidency in seven of ten elections. Today it is the Millennial Generation (born 1982-2003) and, to a lesser extent, younger members of Generation X (born 1965-1981) that are bringing about major political change. In 2008, Millennials voted for Barack Obama over John McCain by a greater than 2:1 margin (66% vs. 32%). Millennials also preferred Democratic congressional candidates to Republicans by about the same ratio (63% vs. 34%). A narrower majority of Gen-Xers (52% vs. 46%) also voted for Obama. By contrast, the forever-divided Boomers split their votes almost evenly between Obama and McCain, while the Silent Generation (born 1925-1945) opted for the Republican nominee (53% vs. 45%). The Democratic loyalties of America’s youngest voters have persisted since Obama’s election: in a mid-November 2009 Pew survey, Millennials identified as Democrats over Republicans by 58% to 19%. Gen-Xers did so by 51% to 38%. And, unlike older generations, Millennials are not sharply divided by gender and race: most male and white Millennials say they are Democrats, as do an overwhelming majority of the female and minority group members of the cohort.
• African-Americans. Blacks became charter members of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal coalition after seven decades of solid loyalty to the party of Lincoln. Black support for the Democrats became virtually unanimous in 1964, when the GOP nominated Senator Barry Goldwater, who earlier that year had voted against a civil rights bill that opened public accommodations to people of all races, as its presidential nominee. In 2008, not surprisingly, virtually all blacks (95%) voted for Barack Obama. But this was not much higher than black support for white Democratic presidential candidates had been in every election since the mid-1960s. Pew also indicates that African-Americans identify as Democrats over Republicans by an overwhelming 78% to 9% margin.
• Hispanics. Except for scattered regional pockets in places like Tampa, along the Rio Grande border, and New Mexico, Latinos were a negligible component of the American population both when FDR assembled the New Deal coalition and during the forty years afterward when the Democratic Party dominated U.S. politics. That is no longer the case. Hispanics now comprise 15% of the American population, a percentage expected to double within forty years. Latinos are now an increasingly crucial component of the new Democratic coalition. While a majority of them have voted for Democratic presidential candidates in every election since 1972, more than two-thirds (67%) voted for Barack Obama in 2008. With one exception (Bill Clinton’s reelection in 1996), this was the largest percentage in any election since Latinos became a large enough component in the U.S. population to tabulate separately in presidential election exit polls. The support of Latinos for the Democratic Party is likely to be of long duration, a matter of increasing importance as the Latino share of the American electorate grows. According to Pew, more than six in ten Latinos (62%) identify as or lean to the Democrats; only 15% are Republicans.
• Women. Women gained the vote in 1920 and, for most of the time since then, there was virtually no difference in the partisanship of men and women. Most people married and most husbands and wives voted alike. However, as the divided Baby Boomer Generation became an increasing share of the electorate, a partisan “gender gap” developed in U.S. politics. Starting in 1980, the Democratic presidential vote of women was, on average, eight percentage points higher than that of men. The gap has only grown in recent elections as older, less divided, generations pass from the scene. Starting in 1996, a majority of women voted for Democratic presidential candidates while at least a plurality of men voted for Republicans. In 2008, Barack Obama enjoyed a 13-percentage point advantage among women (56% vs. 43%). Men divided their votes evenly between Obama and John McCain. This difference is reflected in party identification. Overall, according to Pew a clear majority of women are self-perceived Democrats (55% vs. 39% who claim to be Republican). By contrast, males are about evenly divided between the parties (41% Democrats and 38% Republicans). The narrow Democratic advantage among men is entirely a function of minority group males: a clear plurality of white males is Republican (44%, as compared to 38% who say they are Democrats). White women, by contrast, identify as Democrats over Republicans by ten percentage points (49% vs. 39%).
• The Northeast and West. American party coalitions have always contained a distinct regional component. Throughout most of U.S. history it was the Republican (or Whig) Northeast opposing the Democratic South. Today, as always, the South and Northeast continue to be pitted against one another, but the partisan leanings of each region have been reversed. The South has not given even a plurality of its presidential votes to a Democratic candidate since 1976 and white Southerners have not done so since at least 1964. By contrast, in 1984 the Northeast became the most Democratic region in presidential elections. It has given Democratic presidential candidates at least a plurality of its votes since 1992 and a majority since 1996. The West follows the Northeast in its Democratic loyalties. Since 1992 the West has given at least a plurality to Democratic candidates and in 2008 preferred Barack Obama against John McCain by 57% vs. 40%. The Northeast (56%) and West (47%) also contain the greatest percentages of Democratic party identifiers according to Pew.
• Highly educated Americans. In 1930, on the eve of the creation of the New Deal coalition, not even 5-percent of American adults were college graduates and an infinitesimal number had received any postgraduate education. By 1960, as that coalition entered its final years, the percentage of U.S. college graduates had crept up to nearly 8-percent. During the 1932-1968 era of Democratic dominance most of America’s relatively few college graduates voted for and identified as Republicans. As recently as 1964, Gallup showed that a plurality (38%) of college graduates identified as Republicans, well above the percentages of those with high school (22%) or grade school (20%) education who did so. But things have changed. Now more than a quarter of Americans are college graduates and the New York Times exit poll indicated that 45% of those who voted for president in 2008 were college graduates, with 17% having at least some postgraduate education. More and more of these college graduates are Democrats. The percentage of college grads voting for a Democratic presidential candidate has steadily increased in each election since 1988 (from 37% to 50% in 2008) and those with postgraduate training have become the most strongly Democratic educational component in the electorate save for the now tiny number with less than a high school education. In 2008 college postgraduates voted for Barack Obama over John McCain by 58% to 40% and have remained Obama’s strongest supporters during his presidency. ( In addition, a majority of college grads (51%) now identify with or lean to the Democratic Party in contrast to 37% who call themselves Republicans.
America is a much different nation now than it was 80 years ago when the New Deal coalition was first assembled. The Democratic Party has changed along with America and has put together a new voter coalition, one that is very different from the New Deal coalition, but also one with the potential to become the dominant force in U.S. politics just as FDR’s coalition did so many decades ago.
The groups within the emerging Democratic coalition have clear political values. Most crucially they all favor an activist government that moves forcefully to resolve economic and societal problems in a way that protects and advances middle class Americans. These core Democratic values energized and held together the groups that comprised FDR’s New Deal coalition. These same values will energize and bond the disparate groups that now comprise a new 21st Century Democratic coalition.
But while a new coalition that can underpin renewed Democratic dominance has come into place, Democratic success in using it is by no means guaranteed. To do that, Democrats will have to have both the vision and the courage to see things as they are now and as they will be in the years ahead, not as they once were. If DC Democratic leaders and Democratic candidates across the nation are timid and fail to inspire and mobilize the emerging Democratic coalition by appealing to core Democratic values, the Democratic Party will manage to lose elections even in solidly Democratic places like Massachusetts. Democrats have a choice. They can either use their new majority coalition or they will lose it.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Time to Reward and Reform Education in America

America has always recognized the link between education and economic success--from the mandate for free public education in the Northwest Ordinance through Lincoln's support for the Morrill Land Grant College Act to the GI Bill of Rights legislation after World War II. In each of these previous civic eras, governments at all levels have invested heavily in education based on the belief that these expenditures would return much more in the future earnings capacity of its citizenry than the short term costs incurred. Now new research indicates the best way to bring good jobs and rising wages to our newest civic generation, Millennials, is by breaking down the barriers to post-secondary educational success.

According to a recent study by Louis Jacobson and Christine Mokher, "Pathways to Boosting the Earnings of Low Income Students by Increasing their Educational Attainment," the key to future earnings potential is COMPLETION of whatever course of study is undertaken. "Course for course the returns to community colleges and four year college attendance are comparable. However students who complete a community college credential tend to have higher earnings than four-year college students who do not graduate." Those who earned an associate degree at a community college earned 27% more than those who failed to get a degree of any kind and those with a certificate, even if for only one year of post high school education, still earned on average 8% more a year than those who failed to complete their higher education studies.

The two major obstacles to postsecondary success identified in the study were the need to finance education and living expenses by working while attending school and the lack of adequate preparation in academic subjects such as math and science while in high school. Given the documented importance of completing a post-secondary field of study, the report's identification of these two principal barriers to students finishing what they start gives policy makers a clear path to improve both educational attainment and the acquisition of good jobs with decent salaries and benefits for Millennials.

Financing Post-secondary Education

The Jacobson and Mokher study found that in 2007-2008 just about every one of the lowest income students attending community colleges was in debt, with an average of $7,147 in unmet expenses after taking into account all the grants or scholarships they received. Student per class tuition rates are even higher at private one or two year "career colleges," which enroll only about 10% of the number of students that attend government subsidized community colleges. As a result, three-fourths of associate degree or certificate seekers end up working to help cover their educational and living expenses. The burden of needing to work is a major reason why only 26% of community college students get a degree or certificate within three years of starting their studies and only 38% get their degree within six years.

Meanwhile federal support for higher education has failed to keep up with rising costs so that more and more students find themselves financing their education with student loans of one type or another. In Indiana, for instance, 62 percent of those who do manage to graduate carry student loan debt averaging $23,264 per student. The loan burden in that state is even higher for graduates of for-profit colleges who leave school with an average debt burden of $32,650.

In addition to the steps Democrats have already taken to increase the maximum amount available from Pell Grants and the value of tax deductions for parents able to afford to pay their child's tuition, Congress should follow the President's lead in addressing this debilitating burden on students who are required to finance their education while attending school. One important step would be to increase support for community colleges along the lines advocated by NDN. Congress should also eliminate the current subsidy to banks that provide risk free private student loans guaranteed by the government and redirect the money saved to expanding the federal loan program that allows students to borrow directly, at lower costs, from the government. This Obama Administration initiative was part of the student loan reform bill the House passed last year, but it appears to be stymied in the Senate with sponsors hard to come by. Finally, whatever entity is eventually charged with protecting consumers from deceptive marketing of loans and other credit instruments as part of reforming our nation's financial regulatory structure, should also be given oversight of the student loan market and the power to set strong rules for fairer private student loan marketing and terms.

Fixing our nation's high schools

Among the brightest success stories of the Obama Administration are its educational reform policies under the leadership of Secretary of Education, Arnie Duncan. Its Race to the Top grant program designed to reward performance is already having transformative impact on educational policy in many states even as the program's first grants are awarded. Focused on providing more money to schools that are turning out students able and willing to learn, this program should be expanded in line with the administration's budget requests and supported by Democrats at all levels of government, from school districts to state legislatures. Now its time to bring the Gen X parents of Millennial students into the game as well and get them engaged in making sure their kids get the education they will need to succeed when they graduate from high school.

Already successful charter schools, such as UPrep in Detroit, have demonstrated that any child of any background can graduate from high school and get accepted into a post-secondary educational experience if provided with the right learning environment, one that sets expectations of success right from the start. Bringing parents into the process of establishing such learning environments, as California's recent "parent trigger" legislation does, represents the cutting edge of educational reform in this Millennial Era.

As Neil Howe, co-author of Generations, wrote in the most recent edition of School Administrator magazine, "when these Gen-X "security moms" and "committed dads" are fully roused, they can be even more attached, protective and interventionist than Boomer [parents] ever were. . .They will juggle schedules to monitor their kids' activities in person. . . [and] will quickly switch their kids into - or take them out of - any situation according to their assessment of their youngsters' interests." Congress could take a big step toward improving America's high schools by empowering these Gen-X "stealth-fighter parents" to take over failing schools as part of the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law. Howe writes that "Gen Xers believe their children's education should be a fair and open transaction with complete and accurate information and unconstrained consumer choice" and Congress should use its funding leverage to give them just what they are looking for.

Winning the hearts and minds of both Millennials and their parents is an achievable political goal for Democrats. Furthermore, as the latest research reveals, knocking down the barriers to obtaining a certificate or degree after high school is the key to economic success for both students and the country, making the idea good public policy as well as good politics. Making higher education more affordable and fixing our nation's high schools should be at the top of Democrats economic policy priorities now and throughout the decade ahead.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Millennials Need to Stand Up and be Counted

As the campaign to ensure a complete and accurate count of every American in this year's census gets off the ground, a new survey of American attitudes toward participating in the census shows that young Americans, members of the Millennial Generation, born 1982-2003, may prove least likely to stand up and be counted. The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found that roughly one-third of 18-29 year olds hadn't heard of the census, and even after having the process described to them, 17 percent were still unaware of just what the census involved. This lack of knowledge translated directly into this key demographic segment’s unwillingness to participate, with only 36 percent of 18-29 year olds indicating that they “definitely” would respond to the form when it arrives, compared to large majorities in all other age segments who said they would do so.

The Census Bureau has a plan to address this lack of knowledge, but it's not clear yet if its approach will successfully reach, let alone motivate, this generation. This month the Bureau launched the first ad about the census as part of an overall $340 million public awareness campaign, $133 million of which will be spent on television advertising.

The new ad features one of Hollywood's best-known environmentalists, Ed Begley, Jr. in another of his satirical roles portraying a clueless corporate executive. In the Census Bureau ads he plays a Hollywood director pitching the idea of taking a literal snapshot of everyone in American all at once, even as others in the spot point out that the Census Bureau already has a plan to "get the shot." All the actors in this humorous spot are white Baby Boomers, two generations older than Millennials and not exactly the demographic most needing to be educated about the census. Maybe even more serious, broadcast television is not the Millennials' favorite way to absorb information.

More promising is the allocation of much of the rest of the awareness campaign's budget for social networking and appearances at major crowd events like the Super Bowl and Daytona 500. In addition, information on the need to respond to the census will be translated into 27 different languages, which will help with the very multi-ethnic Millennial generation as well as Latinos and Asian of all ages. You can help the Census spread the word by linking to their Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites or adding a Census Countdown widget to your own page. Still, the campaign needs to go beyond awareness if it wants to convince Millennials to participate.

Those who know what the census is used for, and that participation is required by law, are much more likely to say they will definitely participate. But the survey found that only 15 percent of Millennials knew that the law requires their participation. Only about half knew that the final count will be used to allocate government money to their community and determine its level of representation in Congress. They also represented the smallest group to know that the census will not be used to locate illegal immigrants. Millennials are more than willing to participate in civic activities and follow social rules, but right now they are dangerously uninformed about why they need to be a part of the nation’s most important decennial civic undertaking.

Millennials continually share information with each other to reach a group consensus on what they should do next. Someone other than those with strictly Boomer sensibilities needs to engage the generation in a conversation about the census. If that happens, America will have gone a long way toward ensuring a complete and accurate snapshot of its increasingly diverse, and youthful, population.