Every 80 years, the Supreme Court has decisively entered a sharply divided political process to provide its own answer to the fundamental question of American politics: what is the scope and purpose of government? Each time, it has attempted to reinforce the generational and party alignments of a previous era in the face of challenges from the beliefs and partisan preferences of an emerging civic-oriented generation like today’s Millennials (born 1982-2003). But this time, as the eighty year cycle came full circle, the US Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the individual mandate in the 2010 Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) under the taxation powers of the Congress surprised everyone.
As in the past, the generational and partisan composition of this Supreme Court reflects an earlier era. Five of the justices, including a majority of its conservative bloc (Roberts, Thomas, and Alioto) are Boomers (born 1946-1964). The rest are members of the even older Silent Generation (born 1925-1945). A majority are Republicans. Yet in this case, Chief Justice Roberts bucked history and his generation’s preference for ideological confrontation in order to preserve the institutional reputation of the Supreme Court.
Perhaps the Court understood the historical and generational trends any ruling to overturn the Affordable Care Act would have had to fight against. Two-thirds of Millennials wanted the Affordable Care Act either to be expanded (44%) or left as is (23%). By contrast, clear pluralities of Boomers (44%) and Silents (46%) wanted it repealed. Millennials, however, represent the wave of the future. They now comprise one-fourth of all eligible voters; by 2020 more than one out of three adult Americans will be Millennials. And that Millennial-dominated future is now likely to arrive much sooner as a result of the court’s decision.
Because this large cohort is bringing a new “civic ethos” to American democracy, the Court’s decision is likely to have far reaching effects on the future relationship between government and its citizens. Millennials believe that social rules are important but that everyone should have the freedom to choose how to abide by them. They see government as a parent, setting the boundaries of behavior but not dictating it. Two key elements of the Court’s decision today reinforce this approach. One upholds the right of the federal government to tax behavior of which it does not approve (in this instance, not buying health insurance). The second denies Congress the right to dictate to the states what they must do with regard to Medicaid. The Millennial civic ethos will use democratic processes to determine national priorities and rules for permissible behavior by both individuals and states, even as it provides incentives for greater individual and local initiative.
With the Court’s affirmation of the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, the country is likely to see this framework used to resolve many of the other policy challenges the country faces. June 28, 2012, will be remembered as the day the Millennial Era arrived in the nation’s legal principles as it did in its electoral politics four years ago.
Eighty percent of Americans buy their first house between the ages of 18-34. While the Millennial Generation’s (born 1982-2003) delayed entry into all aspects of young adulthood has sometimes been characterized as a “failure to launch,” the generation’s preference for single tract, suburban housing should become the fuel to ignite the nation’s next housing boom as Millennials fully occupy this crucial age bracket over the next few years.
According to a study by Frank N. Magid Associates, 43 percent of Millennials describe suburbs as their “ideal place to live,” compared to just 31 percent of older generations. Even though big cities are often thought of as the place where young people prefer to live and work, only 17 percent of Millennials say they want to settle in one. This was the same percentage of members of this generation that expressed a preference for living in either rural or small town America. Nor are Millennials particularly anxious to spend their lives as renters. A full 64 percent of Millennials surveyed, said it was “very important” to have an opportunity to own their own home.
That hasn’t stopped a number of commentators from arguing that Millennials ought to prefer renting a loft apartment to buying a house and that they would be better off doing so. For example, sociologist Katherine Newman, is “hoping that the Millennial Generation doesn't set its sights on homeownership as a benchmark of economic stability, because it's going to be out of reach for so many of them that it will just be a recipe for frustration."
But survey research suggests it may be her hopes that will be dashed as the Millennial Generation matures. Eighty-four percent of 18-34 year olds who are currently renting say that they intend to buy a home even if they can’t currently afford to do so. As Neal Coleman, a married Millennial in his mid-twenties, put it, "You're freer when you own your own home, your own land. You're not beholden to a renter's contract, or lease. My feeling is that homeownership is an investment in being able to control your surroundings, to build a life for you and your family."
Glenn E. Crenlin from the Runstad Center for Real Estate Studies at the University of Washington believes that “what we're looking at in terms of the Millennial Generation is likely only a delay in homeownership of three to five years, not a long-term trend away from homeownership itself." He cites census data from the American Community Survey that shows a significant increase in homeownership among Millennials as compared to Baby Boomers when they were at the same age that Millennials are now. “While 900,000 households in the Millennial Generation [now] own their own home, only 500,000 Baby Boomer households owned their own homes at the same point in their lives.”
This data suggests the key to a resounding revival of America’s housing market may be the availability of affordable homes in neighborhoods with amenities that would appeal to Millennials and their young families. As always, safe streets and good schools are key components of such an environment. But so too are short commutes to work and nearby shops featuring the local products that appeal to younger customers.
Such neighborhoods already exist in many close-in suburbs whose housing stock is in need of some renovation, or “gentrification,” from energetic owners committed to improving their local community. These attributes describe Millennials precisely. Their willingness to invest sweat equity in rehabilitating their first home should be rewarded in the financing process either by counting its value toward a down payment or using it to wipe out some of the outstanding student debt with which many of the members of this generation are burdened. Alternatively, homes could be offered to Millennials as rentals with an option to buy and with the cost of any renovations performed by the renter deducted from the down payment required to make the conversion from rental to ownership.
Recently, National Association of Realtors President Moe Veissi announced that "Realtors are committed to ensuring that the dream of homeownership can become a reality for generations of Americans to come." To start making that dream come true for Millennials, realtors and those who finance home purchases need to create innovative new offerings tailored to the needs and wants of Millennials. Policies and programs that will enable America’s most populous generation to own a piece of the American Dream offer the best hope for igniting the home construction boom critical to boosting country’s still sagging economy.
Full disclosure: Michael D. Hais retired in 2006 as Vice-President of Entertainment Research from Frank N. Magid Associates after a 22 year career with Magid and continues to do occasional work for the firm.
This Post Originally Appeared in the National Journal
In 1964, Jack Weinberger, a leader of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement that kicked off a decade of student protests, famously proclaimed that his age cohort should “never trust anyone over 30.” A recent survey by communications research and consulting firm Frank N. Magid Associates suggests that a gap just as deep exists today between younger and older generations. While the gap may not be as visible as in the 1960s, it still has the potential to be every bit as divisive.
Magid asked a national sample of 3,150 Americans, ages 16 to 66, if they were “least likely to get along with someone of the opposite sex, a different racial background, or a different generation (much older or younger).”
Overall, 53 percent say that they are least likely to get along with someone of a different generation. By contrast, only about a third believed that they would have the most difficulty interacting with someone of a different race, and one in five mentioned a person of the opposite sex as least likely to get along with.
While Magid’s question focused on interpersonal relationships, there is already evidence that the generational divisions it uncovered will be of increasingly broad societal importance in the years ahead.
In the 2008 presidential election, for example, millennials supported Barack Obama over John McCain by greater than 2-to-1 (66 percent to 32 percent), while the next two older cohorts (Generation X and boomers) divided their votes about evenly between the two candidates; a majority of senior citizens supported McCain.
According to the latest polls, millennials support Obama by about the same 2-to-1 margin as in 2008, while Gen-X’ers and boomers are evenly split. Seniors prefer the Republican candidate by an even greater margin than they did four years ago.
Indeed, Pew’s latest American Values Survey attributes much of the increasing polarization of U.S. politics to the “strong generational characteristics of the millennial generation compared with” older generations. This makes it likely that the same large generational split will occur again this November.
But the political differences are only one example of a large-scale division in attitudes and behavior between millennials and their elders. From the country’s houses of worship to its major-league ballparks and from its homes to its workplaces, millennials have a very different outlook on society than older Americans.
So far this generational division has not had the acrimony of the generation gap from the 1960s. In large part that’s because millennials, unlike the boomers of 50 years ago, are not rebellious by nature. If anything, millennials are unfailingly polite. Their parents, whom they actually like, have taught them to seek win-win solutions to controversial issues.
However, as demographer Joel Kotkin indicates, many current public policies work to the benefit of older generations at the expense of younger ones. Kotkin points out that U.S. politicians of both the right and left promote “governmental policies [that] continue to favor boomers and seniors over the young.”
In Great Britain, young people have formed an organization, the Intergenerational Foundation, to publicize and begin to redress their grievances. The IF website features postings such as “Intergenerational Practice vs. Intergenerational Justice” and “Sharing the cake—an Intergenerational Dilemma” that clearly express the organization’s concerns.
Perhaps American millennials will not form groups that are so explicitly focused on their own cohort or take to the streets as boomers did five decades ago. But that does not mean that they will do nothing.
Unlike many European countries with small youth populations, millennials have the numbers to produce more equitable public policies. At 95 million, millennials are the largest American generation ever.
By 2020 they will comprise more than one in three eligible voters. Sooner or later, those numbers, and the unity of belief that the millennial generation has so far brought to politics, will allow the generation to reshape the United States, first as voters and then as the nation’s leaders.
The way in which boomers and seniors react to the growing presence of millennials, and the younger generation’s distinctive beliefs, will determine how difficult the transition from the old to the new America will be.
Full disclosure: Michael D. Hais retired in 2006 as vice president of entertainment research from Frank N. Magid Associates after a 22-year career with Magid and continues to do occasional work for the firm.
America’s destiny as a pluralistic democracy took a new and unprecedented turn last month. First, early in May, USA Today asked Americans what name they thought would be appropriate for the country’s newest generation now moving into grade school classrooms with its unique behavior and perspectives. Plurals is the name suggested by communications research and consulting firm, Frank N. Magid Associates, with only the Apple product related notion of an iGeneration getting more votes.
Plurals will be different from Millenials. For one thing they will be the first generation in America that will be majority “minority”, as evidenced by the recent U.S. Census Bureau announcement that more babies born in America in the 12 months between July 2010 and July 2011, were non-white than white. The event occurred about eight years earlier than demographers had predicted it would just a few years ago. The 21st Century pluralistic American society that had often been talked about has arrived. But the question remains whether or not the country’s institutions, and its leadership, will be up to the challenge such a polyglot democracy presents.
The Census Bureau predicts that by 2042 the entire population will be less than 50% Caucasian and America will literally be a pluralistic society.
This prediction is based upon the current trends for births among different minority groups compared to whites. Racial and ethnic minorities accounted for 91.75% of the nation’s population growth in this century, with Hispanics comprising a majority of this increase. Rather than immigration flows, which are dropping, this growth will be driven largely by higher rates of fertility among non-whites. Based upon the American Community Survey results in 2010, Hispanics have a fertility rate of 2.4 live births per woman compared to only 1.8 among whites. The only other ethnic group to be having babies at a rate greater than what is needed to replace its current numbers is African-Americans with a 2.1 fertility rate.
This difference is likely to persist and the gap could easily become wider because of the differences in the age of each population. Twenty-five percent of Hispanic women are in the prime child bearing ages of 20-34, compared to only 19% of non-Hispanic whites. (For both African-Americans and Asians, the percentage is twenty-two). The increasing diversity of both of America’s youngest generations is also reflected in the average age of each population. The average age of America’s white population is 42.3, a full five years older than the overall age of the country’s population. The average age of Hispanics is almost fifteen years younger, 27.6, with the other two population groups closer to the average age of the entire population—blacks at 32.9 and Asians at 35.9.
Magid’s research indicated that a majority of Americans were “hopeful and proud” of the country’s increasing diversity, but it was the younger generations, most markedly Plurals, who were more likely to say they were “pleased and energized” by this development. Many older Americans, particularly Baby Boomers and senior citizens, are resisting the changes this dramatic shift is bringing to American society. Already states, such as Arizona, with populations that have the widest disparity between the racial and ethnic makeup of their oldest and youngest generations have experienced bitter political battles over issues such as immigration and education that reflect these divides. The good news is that both Plurals and members of the Millennial generation, born 1982-2003, are positive about this inevitable trend toward a pluralistic society, reflecting their comfort with the diversity in the social circles in which they have grown up.
But that doesn’t mean that Plurals look forward to the nation’s future with equanimity. Most Plurals have been raised by parents from the often cynical and consistently skeptical Generation X. This may explain why Magid found a much greater degree of pessimism about living out the American Dream among them than among their older Millennial Generation siblings, a generation that, despite their current challenges, was brought up in the prosperous Reagan-Clinton era and remains characteristically optimistic. The attitudes of Plurals may also reflect the polarized, bitter politics that have characterized the period of Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt (FUD) that has dominated the news during their young life.
Whatever the reason, the pessimism of the Plurals must be answered by the nation’s leaders in ways which improve prospects for the nation’s future. One way for this to happen quickly would be for those currently holding power to begin to turn the reins of leadership over to those generations more in tune with the nation’s demographic future. If Plurals’ Xer parents and their Millennial siblings are given the opportunity to shape America’s destiny sooner rather than later, the country just might deliver on the promise of the American Dream for its newest generation.
In his most recent “Cook Report,” one of Washington’s most respected prognosticators, tries to pull off a sleight of hand worthy of a con man on a NY street corner trying to get his mark to play a game of Three Card Monte.
First, Cook shows his readers the target card by correctly pointing out how important the Millennial Generation’s vote will be to President Barack Obama this year. In November 2008, voters between the ages of 18 and 26 comprised about 17% of the electorate and voted by a greater than a 2:1 margin for Barack Obama (66% for Obama and 32% for John McCain). With older generations dividing their votes almost evenly between the two candidates, Millennials accounted for about 80% of Obama’s national popular vote margin over McCain, turning what would have been a narrow win into a decisive seven-point victory.
This year, members of the Millennial Generation, representing all voters 30 and under, will make up an even larger share of the eligible voter population, about 24%. But, Cook says, as he moves the cards around on the table, they aren’t likely to vote for Obama by the same margin. He bases this prediction on the conventional wisdom, that “When an incumbent is running, the election is usually a referendum on that person rather than a choice between two people.” He hopes you won’t pay attention to the word “usually” in that sentence, However, as we point out in our book, Millennial Momentum, 2012 is more likely to be one in which the country makes a choice between two radically different visions of its future that will be offered by the two candidates. In decisive elections of this type, which occur about every eighty years, the normal “rules” are not likely to apply.
Having enticed his readers into thinking about the 2012 election as a referendum on the president, Cook conveniently cites approval ratings for Obama among Millennials that are months out of date. A March 18 survey by Gallup, the firm Cook usually relies upon, showed that 55 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds approved of Obama’s performance as president, up from 44 percent in early December. While not a 2:1 margin, these numbers are hardly a signal of a close election among Millennial voters.
Cook also fails to mention another set of data that shows Obama beating all of his potential GOP rivals by the same 2:1 margin that Millennials gave him in 2008. In a November, 2011 Pew survey, for example, voters under thirty preferred Obama over Mitt Romney, the likely Republican nominee, by a 61% to 37% margin. Given that there will be 16 million more Millennials eligible to vote in 2012 compared to 2008, and Millennials’ continued partisan unity, America’s largest generation could give Obama an even larger number of votes over his rival in this year’s election, even if the president’s margin of victory among these voters is slightly less than it was in 2008.
But Cook wants those looking at his constantly shifting cards to focus on a completely different, much less representative piece of prognostication. He cites the outcome of two focus groups in Ohio and North Carolina conducted by Resurgent Republic, a polling firm “headed by veteran Republican strategist Ed Gillespie and longtime pollster Whit Ayres.” Resurgent Republic talked to a group of Millennial voters in each of those two states whose independent status was determined by each participant being “undecided on the generic presidential ballot test.”
Continuing his efforts at political sleight of hand, Cook conveniently fails to mention that such voters are least likely to vote or to be aware of current political candidates and issues. Instead, he tries to entice his readers to lose track of the target card (usually the Queen of Hearts), by suggesting they pay attention to this quote from Gillespie, “If these groups are representative of this demographic at large, it will be a tall task to counter their disillusionment.” The word “if” is Cook’s final attempt at misleading his mark. The participants in the focus groups were deliberately selected on a characteristic that makes them very unrepresentative of Millennials overall, among whom no more than 5 percent were completely undecided in the presidential race according to the most recent Pew survey.
Cook also introduces some side chatter around the game by talking about his own anecdotal impressions of the lack of enthusiasm and interest in politics on the campuses he has visited. Never once does he mention that this phenomenon may be more due to the nature of the GOP primary than any lack of support for President Obama. According to CIRCLE’s analysis of young voters, through Super Tuesday, the vote totals for Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, and Ron Paul combined was less than half the Millennial votes Barack Obama had received at this point in the primary campaign of 2008.
Cook concludes his completely misleading piece with one nod to the Obama campaign’s policeman standing on the corner about to break up the game. “It’s safe to assume that the president, the White House, and his campaign are looking for ways to deal with this problem [of Millennial voters].” Obama is sure to engage Millennials by talking about the help his administration has provided them with the cost of attending college, his increased funding of more national service opportunities, and the more than two and a half million Millennials who now have health insurance through their parent’s policy thanks to ObamaCare. Already the campaign is gearing up online and offline organizational efforts to bring Millennials to the polls in November that exceed the technological sophistication of its very successful efforts in 2008.
Other than the state of the economy, the most pivotal factor in determining the outcome of the 2012 general election is likely to be the extent to which America’s youngest voters repeat their 2008 electoral performance in 2012. If Millennials vote in numbers proportionate to their presence among eligible voters, their continued support of the president should allow him to overcome any attrition he might suffer among older voters. But if large numbers of Millennials do not vote, the president’s reelection chances will be sharply reduced. That’s one fact that no one should think the Obama campaign will lose sight of despite Cook’s attempts at prestigious feats of political prestidigitation designed to distract the unwitting reader.
Millennials (born 1982-2003) were crucial to Barack Obama’s 2008 election. Other than the state of the economy, the most pivotal factor in determining the outcome of the 2012 general election is likely to be whether or not America’s youngest voters repeat their 2008 electoral performance in 2012.
In November 2008, Millennials comprised about 17% of the electorate and voted overwhelmingly for Barack Obama over John McCain (66% to 32%). With older generations dividing their votes almost evenly between the two candidates, Millennials accounted for about 80% of Obama’s national popular vote margin over McCain, turning what would have been a narrow win into a decisive seven-point victory.
So far, the data suggests Millennials are poised to support Barack Obama at the same level this year that they did four years ago. In a recent Pew survey, Millennials preferred Obama over Mitt Romney, the likely Republican nominee, by a 62% to 36% margin. But this year, Millennials make up 24% of those eligible to vote. Coupled with its partisan unity in comparison with older voters, the sheer size of the Millennial Generation, America’s largest ever, could make its impact even more decisive in 2012 than in 2008.
Whether Millennials have that kind of impact depends on what the two parties do to attract their votes. For Republicans, the best approach is to connect with Millennials before they are solidly in the Democratic camp for the next three or four decades. A few Millennial Republicans such as John McCain’s daughter, Meghan, and Kristen Soltis, a GOP pollster, have argued that their party should moderate its stance on social issues and immigration in order to have greater appeal to their highly tolerant and diverse generation. So far, however, the GOP presidential field has attracted relatively little Millennial support; through Super Tuesday the Republican frontrunners (Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, and Ron Paul) combined had received less than half the Millennial votes that Barack Obama did in 2008. Perhaps the lack of Millennial interest in the GOP candidates explains why Republicans in at least half of the states are more focused on limiting Millennial voting turnout than in actively courting the generation’s support
For Democrats, the concern is not so much the partisanship of Millennials, but their engagement. One way to reinforce Millennials’ Democratic leanings is to remind them of their stake in the election by emphasizing the Millennial-friendly policies the Obama administration has pursued. Help with the cost of attending college, funding more national service opportunities, and permitting young people to remain on their parent’s health insurance until age 26 are all initiatives the Obama team could raise with Millennials. Already that campaign is gearing up online and offline organizational efforts to bring Millennials to the polls in November that exceed the technological sophistication of its very successful efforts in 2008.
If Millennials vote in numbers proportionate to their presence among eligible voters, their continued support of the president should allow him to overcome any attrition he suffers among older voters. But if large numbers of Millennials do not vote, the president’s reelection chances will be sharply reduced. Whichever alternative occurs will very likely determine whether Barack Obama or his eventual Republican opponent is inaugurated as president on January 20, 2013.
Professor Jean Twenge is continuing her long war against America’s young people. Now it’s with an article in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology with the imposing title, “Generational Differences in Young Adults’ Life Goals, Concern for Others, and Civic Orientation.” The article uses data from a number of surveys (some meaningful and others not) to once again claim that the Millennial Generation (born 1982-2003) is a “me” generation largely comprised of self-centered, narcissistic people, focused largely on their own concerns rather than the “we” or societally-focused, problem solving generation that we and well-respected analysts such as Neil Howe, one of the originators of generational studies, believe it to be. The problem with Twenge’s current writing, as with much of her other work, is that it is faulty both in method and interpretation making it almost impossible to trust or believe. There are three major flaws in the article.
Survey Methodology. In an important section of the report, labeled Study 1B, Professor Twenge and her colleagues take what they regard as the “novel” approach of using data collected using a non-qualitative or non-random sample, a “purposive” sample, to “validate” the “life goal” items in the longitudinal Monitoring the Future (MtF) and American Freshman (AF) surveys that are key to their analysis. Leaving aside the question of why the AF study, that has surveyed a nationally representative sample of college freshman since 1966, and the MtF study, that has conducted a similar survey of high school seniors since 1976, require “validation” by Professor Twenge and her co-authors, their drawing of important conclusions about Millennial attitudes and generational differences using data drawn in a purposive sample is a major methodological concern.
Purposive samples are non-quantitative samples, meaning that their results cannot be generalized to a larger population, but that is precisely what Twenge and her colleagues did. They questioned 182 San Diego State University introductory psychology students who participated in the survey for class credit. In addition to responding to the questions used in the MtF and AF surveyed, the students replied to other series of questions designed to measure the things in which Twenge is most interested: the “aspirations,” “self-esteem,” and “narcissism” of young people. According to Twenge this method allowed her to demonstrate a link between the “aspirations,” “self-esteem,” and “narcissism” measures and those asked in the MtF and AF surveys. And not surprisingly, as always, Twenge found Millennials to be self-centered narcissists who were far more interested in themselves than in any others or society over all.
The problem is that, at most, this data applies only to those 182 San Diego college students. It cannot be generalized to Millennials across America and it cannot be used to distinguish Millennials from other generations who were never asked the questions measuring “self-esteem” or “narcissism” in any of the longitudinal MtF and AF surveys. To continue the San Diego reference, it is as if interviewers went to Petco Park in San Diego and asked fans if Tony Gwynn, arguably the best player in Padres history, was a better player than Willie Mays and, upon hearing that he was then generalized the results to baseball fans across the country. A sample of Giants fans in Pac Bell Park would, however, almost certainly disagree.
Data interpretation: Minimizing the importance of behavioral in contrast to attitudinal measures in reflecting core values. One of us (Hais) had a four-decade long career in survey research, including more than 20 years with Frank N. Magid Associates, the world’s premier broadcast research and consulting firm. We fully recognize that, far more often than not, that stated attitudes reflect and perhaps guide behavior. But, occasionally they do not and, in those circumstances, the behavior of people is almost always a better indicator of their core beliefs than how they answer survey questions. One such instance involved Howard Cosell, the late color commentator on ABC Monday Night Football. Surveys repeatedly indicated that viewers perceived Cosell as a poor performer who was opinionated and obnoxious. Based on this it may have looked as if Cosell was a liability who should have been replaced. Instead, fans flocked Monday Night Football. Perhaps fans liked the game more than they disliked Cosell or perhaps, in the language of the time, people tuned in to see a man “they loved to hate.” Whatever the reason, it was the behavior of football fans rather than their stated attitudes that better reflected their core feelings.
What was true of football fans in the 1970s and 1980s is true of Millennials now: their behavior is a better indicator of their core values than their attitudes as indicated by a survey questionnaire. Nowhere is this more clear than in dealing with one of Professor Twenge’s major charges against Millennials—that they are not as concerned with helping their communities as is often claimed and, more important, as were the members of older generations when they were the age of Millennials today. For example, in the AF survey the average percentage of first year college students said it was important to “participate in a community action program” declined from 31% among young Boomers to 26% among Gen-X’ers and to 25% among Millennials. The average percentage who claimed it was important to “participate in an organization like the Peace Corps or AmericCorps/VISTA” dropped from 19% among Boomers to 11% among Millennials. (The question was not asked to Gen-X’ers). Similarly, the average percentage who said it was important to “participate in programs to clean up the environment” fell from 33% among Boomers to 24% among X’ers and to 21% among Millennials. However, when the question was re-worded in 2011 to a more action-oriented approach to the environment that would be more appealing to Millennials, 40.8% felt it was an “essential or very important” behavior.
Putting aside for the moment the fact that there were other attitudinal measures that would lead to different conclusions than those drawn by Twenge, there are additional behavioral indicators that point to greater community involvement by Millennials than other generations. The AF survey data, for example, shows a clear increase in the percentage of college freshmen who “did volunteer work in high school” from 74% among X’ers to 83% among Millennials. When confronted with this evidence that contradicts her preconceptions, Twenge attempts to explain it away by suggesting that the primary reason for this increase is that community service participation is a high school requirement and useful on college applications.
And, yet, in larger number than older generations, Millennial community service continues even after the “coercion” high school has disappeared. In the AF study, the percentage who “expected to volunteer in college” rose from 22% for X’ers to 26% for Millennials, an attitude reflected in actual behavior by the Corporation for National and Community Service, which reported a 20% increase in college student volunteering between 2002 and 2005 as ever greater numbers of Millennials arrived on campuses.
Millennial participation in that most basic of American rights and civic actions—voting—is also greater than for previous generations of young people. According to census data reported by CIRCLE, an organization that researches and influences youthful political participation, 49% of those 18-24 and 51% of those 18-29 voted in the 2008 presidential election. With one exception, this was the highest youth participation in any presidential election since 1972, when Democratic candidate, George McGovern targeted and won young people (if little else). It was well above the numbers in 1996 (36% for 18-24 year olds and 40% for 18-29 year olds) when the “youth vote” was entirely Gen-X.
Twenge does acknowledge the high Millennial turnout in 2008, but the tries to explain it away by making an analytical mistake that few freshman political science students would. She points to a decline in youth voting in the 2010 midterm elections, suggesting that may be Millennials really aren’t that into voting after all. But, turnout falls sharply in midterm elections across all generations. Making an apples to apples comparison, CIRCLE data indicates that, down as it was, even in 2010 youthful voting participation was higher than it was higher than in other 21st century midterms and that the youth share of the electorate was greater than in any year since 1994.
In voting behavior as in community service, actual behavior trumps attitudes everytime. Data Interpretation: Extrinsic Values are no less valid, meaningful, or morally correct than Intrinsic Values. For quite some time Professor Twenge has posited that Millennials are more driven by extrinsic or external values and other generations to a greater extent by intrinsic or internal values. We and generational theory actually agree with her in this regard. Some generational archetypes including civic generations such as Millennials and the GI or Greatest Generation are shaped to a greater extent by their group affiliations and their positions in the larger society. Others, like the idealist Boomers, are driven primarily by their internal beliefs. This difference is clearly reflected in Figure 1 of Professor Twenge’s article which shows that since the first AF survey of Boomers in 1966 there has been a steady decline in the number placing importance on a clearly intrinsic value—“developing a meaningful philosophy of life.” By contrast, over the same period there has been an equally steady increase in the professed importance of several more clearly extrinsic values—the importance of money/being well-off financially and of being a leader. Over the past three or four decades there have been similar, if sometimes less stark changes, in most of the intrinsic and extrinsic values probed in the AF and MtF surveys. Where we differ from Twenge is in placing moral value on these values or goals. None are, in and of themselves, good or bad, right or wrong. The implication that the core values of one generation are “better” than those of another may, in the end, be the greatest flaw in Professor Twenge’s writing.
In coming decades, the nation will need the cooperation of all of its generations to deal with and emerge from what we have labeled a deep and sustained period of Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt. Attempting to sympathize with and bridge rather than exacerbate generational differences is in the best interests of all of us as individuals and members of the American community.
The Millennial Generation (born 1982-2003) is the cohort most in favor of using the federal government to promote economic stability and equality since the GI Generation of the 1930s and 1940s. The attitudes of Millennials were heavily shaped by the protected and group-oriented way in which they were reared and their experience of feeling the full brunt of the Great Recession as they emerged into adulthood.
As a result, the biggest political story of the first half of the 21st century may well be the extent to which the largest American generation ever retains its economic liberalism and thereby shapes the direction of public policy in coming decades. If history is any guide, much of that story’s plot will be written during the next four or five years.
Millennials deserve America’s sympathies for the disproportionate impact the Great Recession has had on their generation. According to a recent Pew Research Center survey, a clear plurality (41%) of Americans think that young, rather than middle-aged (29%) or older (24%) adults are having the toughest time in today’s economy. And they are right. Last year, the unemployment rate for 18-24 year olds (16.3%) and 25-29 year olds (10.3%) was well above that of those 35-64 (7%). Even among those 18-24 year olds fortunate enough to find full-time employment, real median weekly earnings were down by six percent over the previous four years. Not surprisingly, the weak economy has had a profound impact on the personal lives of Millennials. Nearly half (49%) say they have taken a job (often part time) just to pay the bills. A third (35%) have returned to school, something that may pay benefits in the long term, but is at the expense of current earnings. About a quarter have taken an unpaid job and/or moved back in with their parents (24% each). About one in five have postponed having a baby (22%) and/or getting married (20%). Less than a third (31%) say that they earn or have enough money to lead the kind of life they want.
Their experiences with the Great Recession have only reinforced Millennials’ support for economically activist government. Last November, when Pew asked whether Americans preferred a larger government that provided more services or a smaller government that provided fewer services, Millennials opted for a bigger government over a smaller one by a large 54% to 35% margin. By contrast, 54% of Boomers (born 1946-1964) and 59% of Silents (born 1925-1945) favor a smaller government. .
In addition, a majority of (55% to 41%) Millennials favored a greater level of federal spending to help the economy recover from the recession rather than reducing the federal budget deficit. Millennials also continue to support governmental efforts to lessen economic inequality; 63% agreed that government should guarantee every citizen enough to eat and a place to sleep. Consistent with their overall attitudes toward the size of government, the two oldest generations—Boomers and Silents—favored reduced spending and a more limited government role in promoting economic equality.
The tendency of people to retain their political viewpoints and preferences throughout their lives suggests that once they are set, Millennial Generation attitudes toward government’s proper role in the economy will persist for decades. This conclusion was recently confirmed by economists Paola Giuliano and Antonio Spilimbergo. In a longitudinal analysis of survey data collected annually since 1972, they found that experiencing an economic recession during one’s “formative” years (18-25 years old) led Americans to favor “leftist” governmental policies that would “help poor people” and lessen “income inequality.” These attitudes were not influenced by experiencing a recession either before or after the formative years and remained in place even when controlled for demographic variables such as sex, race, and social class. However, the same data suggested that the deeper and more sustained the recession, the lower the level of confidence survey respondents had in governmental institutions such as Congress and the presidency.
The success of governmental action in dealing with the Great Depression in the 1930s and World War II in the 1940s put the GI or Greatest Generation on the path of lifelong support for governmental activism. After the nation’s victory over the Axis and the economic boom that followed, positive perceptions of government and political efficacy were virtually universal among Americans. Today, although America has begun to shake off the worst aspects of the Great Recession, unemployment remains stubbornly high and growth rates remain below the level needed to make dramatic dents in unemployment rates, especially among Millennials.
So far Millennial beliefs in activist, egalitarian government policies have not been shaken by the slow pace of the recovery or what some may perceive as an inadequate federal response. The extent to which those attitudes persist in future decades, when Millennials will represent over one out of every three adult Americans, could depend on how well the government deals with the economic challenges the nation faces in the years just ahead.
The debate over legislation to stop online piracy revealed not only the threat that a new generation of consumers presents to the entertainment industry’s traditional business model but the equally shaky future of the way Congress currently conducts its business. The high tech, Internet-based companies that Hollywood most fears used their clout with the most coveted customers, young Millennials, to stop an attempt to rush to pass the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the House and its Senate twin, Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA).
The success of the Wikipedia-led Internet blackout demonstrated the way Congress goes about its business is as susceptible as the entertainment industry’s business model is to disruption from the energy and attitudes of a new, digitally native generation, Millennials (born 1982-2003). The film and television industry’s foundation, built on the notion that content will triumph ṻber alles, was shown to be just as prone to destruction by the Napster virus as its cousin in the recording industry was a decade ago. It turns out that consumers like companies, such as Google, Facebook, and Amazon, more than they like the companies who produce and package the content and insist on being paid for it.
But the fact that many in Congress suddenly abandoned their support of SOPA or PIPA in the face of this consumer revolt also sent a clear warning to those pushing the bills, using traditional methods of high--priced lobbying and closed-door decision making, that their way of doing business is equally in jeopardy. Wikipedia’s blackout Facebook page was liked or shared around 1.2 million times. A petition organized by Google in opposition gained over seven million signatures. When Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) announced on Facebook that he was withdrawing his support for PIPA, his action generated 4,700 likes. Between midnight and 4 PM on the Wednesday of the “blackout bomb”, Twitter recorded over 2.4 million tweets on the subject. The Internet community’s insistence on a more open decision making process forced the Congress to ultimately abandon their confrontational, large-contributor approach to the problem. If Congress actually learned the larger lesson from this experience and adopted a process that incorporates the Millennial Generation’s desire for win-win solutions derived from bottom up participation designed to forge a consensus, they might finally reverse the continuing decline in popularity with their customers—the American electorate.
Today, all national surveys show approval of Congress at historically low levels. ) Since the Republic was conceived, communication technologies have evolved to reduce the time and distance that separate Congress from the public, but most of Congress’s procedures and practices have remained trapped in a time warp of its own traditions. Creating a new connection between citizens and their representatives by using Millennials’ favorite technologies to build a more transparent, open and participatory legislative process is the essential first step in reversing this decline in Congress’s credibility.
This alternative approach to the legislative process was actually utilized by Democratic Senator Ron Wyden from Oregon and Republican U.S. Representative Darrell Issa in drafting their alternative to SOPA/PIPA. The two lawmakers published a draft of their approach last year on the web at www.KeepTheWebOpen.com and asked for comments from interested parties. Based on the suggestions of those who visited the site, they proposed a bi-partisan alternative--the Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade Act, or OPEN Act--that uses a scalpel instead of a sledgehammer to address the problem. It empowers the U.S. International Trade Commission to cut off the money supply of the several dozen foreign piracy sites that do most of the damage to content creators.
Although Internet companies and online activists liked both the process and the outcome, organizations such as the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) continued to insist that the danger presented by these sites to their business model is so great that they can’t wait for the niceties of legalities and due process that the Wyden/Issa solution would involve. The fact that the entertainment industry’s solution is perceived to be so threatening to the freedom of users of the Internet that it united civil libertarians on the left and Libertarians on the right in opposition to SOPA/PIPA has not dissuaded those wedded to the old ways of doing business in Congress that they need to change their tactics. Their stubbornness is reminiscent of the attempt by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) to halt the proliferation of peer-to-peer music sharing sites by suing its teenage customers, before RIAA finally gave up and acquiesced in a new business model for the industry built around Apple’s iPod.
It’s time for Congressional leaders to use the learning experience of the SOPA/PIPA debate to throw off their generational blinders and find a way to concede power gracefully to a new generation with new ideas. To restore its credibility, Congress will have to use new tools to fully involve Millennials and older generations in the decision-making process. It should make a new bargain with the American people, built on an increased level of citizen participation in the process of governing, rather than upon the current trade of access and constituency service in return for campaign contributions.
Only when Congress embraces this new way of doing business will the legitimacy of the country’s legislative process begin to be restored and Congress’s approval ratings start to rise again. Until then the electoral fate of Senators and U.S. Representatives will be as uncertain and as subject to disruption as the future of the entertainment moguls they sought to please by backing SOPA/PIPA.
Ron Paul's strong showing in Iowa's GOP caucuses creates a dilemma for the Republican Party, which has always treated him like a crazy uncle it would prefer to hide in the attic. Now Paul and his dedicated band of Libertarian followers can't be ignored without jeopardizing the GOP's chances in November. By finishing among the top tier of candidates in Iowa's secret ballot, non-binding, presidential preference vote, Paul has made himself a force to be reckoned with, not just in future primaries but at the GOP's national convention. Moreover, it positions him to influence the actions of the party's eventual presidential nominee or even to bolt the GOP and run on his own in the fall.
Paul's brand of libertarianism appeals to one part of America's political DNA that favors limited government as an abstract philosophy. This ideology leads him to take positions on some social policies, such as removing criminal penalties for using marijuana that attracts younger voters, but also alienates the more conservative, Evangelical base of the GOP. To deal with that problem, his Iowa campaign ran ads emphasizing his opposition to abortion, ignoring the philosophical inconsistency inherent in such a use of government power. Another of his campaign pledges, to "bring the troops home," is more consistent with libertarian beliefs in shrinking all aspects of government. It also drew support from younger caucus goers. However, when they are taken to the extreme of downplaying the threat of a nuclear Iran, his isolationist views further alienate Paul from the mainstream of pro-defense Republicans and assures his future as a second tier challenger. Because of the highly homogeneous composition of those who attended the Iowa Republican caucuses, Paul could safely ignore the second strain of America's political DNA, one that strongly favors specific governmental programs to ameliorate the economic vicissitudes of daily life. As a result, Paul's radical but hardly new ideas were able to attract the support of a significant portion of a segment of voters who already represent a minority of the total American electorate.
While some pundits argue that Paul's showing in Iowa will have little impact on future GOP primaries and caucuses, Paul's emergence from the attic represents much more of a threat than it did four years ago to the Republican Party than they realize. For the second presidential campaign season in a row, Paul has demonstrated an ability to use new media to connect his unconventional message to those searching for something different in ways that will have an impact in contests to come. Unlike 2008, Paul seems to have learned to leverage his online support to raise money and generate loyal ground troops to carry his message to a wider audience. And, like the stubborn old man that he seems to be, Paul appears to be more than willing to use his new found support to pound home his ideas through the nominating convention and beyond.
However, it is in the larger national arena where the fundamental flaws of his candidacy will ultimately be exposed. While Paul was able to deflect criticisms during the Iowa campaign of racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic comments that appeared during the 1980s and 1990s in newsletters bearing his name by asserting he didn't write or approve of them then, the denials won't hold up to the type of media scrutiny his campaign will now have to endure.
His ability to continue to attract members of the Millennial Generation (born 1982-2003) will also be limited by these statements, since, as young Republicans like Megan McCain and pollster Kristen Soltis argue, even the one-third of Millennials who are Republicans are intolerant of intolerance. In the course of 2012, Paul will eventually come to be seen as the flawed messenger that he is. Those who are firmly devoted to the uncompromisingly libertarian philosophy of Ayn Rand will likely have to look elsewhere for their spear carrier.
Despite this problem, Paul's success in Iowa highlights a major problem that will nevertheless confront the Republican Party this year. In 2012, there will be a standard bearer for the Libertarian Party, former New Mexico Governor and former Republican Gary Johnson, who carries none of Paul's baggage. If Paul's cult can be convinced to transfer its allegiance to a different person without sacrificing their commitment to the ideological cause, perhaps through an endorsement by Paul, the worst case scenario for the Republican Party's general election chances will become a reality.
A spring 2011 Pew survey suggests that pure libertarianism represents the beliefs of about 10% of the overall electorate, and around one-fifth of Republican identifiers. With a potential nominee like Mitt Romney whose ideological consistency is suspect, the chances for a Republican split as great as that between Northern and Southern Democrats in 1860, which enabled the election of the first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, becomes a real possibility. The ability of the Republican Party to contain such a split will be limited by the social issue and national security beliefs of most Republican identifiers and convention delegates.
The level of fear, uncertainty and doubt that now permeates the nation, most visibly in the Tea Party and Occupy movements, has emerged in American politics about every eighty years since the country's founding. Each time it has led to tremendous upheavals in the relative standings of the two parties. Sometimes it has even enabled the founding of new parties and led to the demise of others that seemed to be a permanent part of the country's political landscape. In such times, the allegiance of any voter or constituency cannot be taken for granted. Current polling indicates that preferences for Barack Obama over any of his Republican challenges remains strongest among some of the newer parts of the Democratic coalition, such as Millennials and Hispanics, even as more traditional members of that coalition, such as the white working class, search for an alternative to the president.
Among Republicans, the three-way split at the top of the GOP field in Iowa between candidates representing the business-oriented, Evangelical, and libertarian wings of the party suggests this same desire for something both different and purer. This could make it difficult for the Republicans to build the broader coalition that is always required to win a presidential election. The sudden prominence after the voting in Iowa of the party's irascible uncle in the attic makes the task of achieving this type of Republican Party unity both more personal and more problematic than at any time since 1964.