The headline of a December 15 press release from the Harvard Institute of Politics trumpeted, "More Millennials Predict Obama Will Lose Bid for Re-election Than Win, Harvard Poll Finds." The article elaborated that among all the 18-29-year-olds, opinion on this question is actually quite evenly divided into almost equal thirds: 36% believe that the president will lose in 2012; 30% think he will win; and 32% are not sure. Not surprisingly, conservative media and politicians jumped on the story with particular vigor and glee.
The headline was certainly provocative, but it hardly told the complete story about the Harvard poll's results, to say nothing of Millennial political attitudes and preferences, entering 2012. The problem is that asking Millennials which candidate they expect to win an election may measure their awareness of the conventional wisdom that says President Obama is in deep trouble and that next year's election is the Republicans to lose, but it says very little about how Millennials are actually going to vote in 2012. When Harvard asked that question directly, things look different. Obama leads among Millennials by double digits against all likely Republican opponents: 11 points versus Mitt Romney and 16 points versus both Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry.
The current state of Millennial Generation (born 1982-2003) political opinions and behavior is, in fact, reflected far more completely and precisely by a November Pew Research survey:
"In the last four national elections generational differences have mattered more than they have in decades. According to exit polls, younger people have voted substantially more Democratic than other age groups since 2004, while older voters have cast more ballots for Republican candidates in each election since 2006. The latest national polls suggest this pattern may well continue in 2012... One of the largest factors driving the current generation gap is the arrival of diverse and Democratic-oriented Millennials... This group holds liberal attitudes on most social and governmental issues."
In the Pew research, Millennials prefer Barack Obama over Mitt Romney (61% vs. 37%) by about the same 2:1 margin that they voted for him against John McCain in 2008 (66% vs. 32%). Even white Millennials, a cohort that has received considerable attention from commentators in recent months for their modest drift toward the GOP, are evenly divided in the 2012 voting preferences (49% each for Obama and Romney). The president's margin among Millennials is even greater against other potential Republican nominees than it is against Romney.
Moreover, Millennials tended toward the Democrats before Barack Obama achieved national prominence. Millennials identify as Democrats over Republicans by 50% to 35%. Majorities of Millennials also hold favorable attitudes toward the Democratic Party (51%) and unfavorable attitudes toward the GOP (53%). In the policy arena, by 56% to 35%, Millennials prefer a bigger government that provides more services to a smaller government that provides fewer services. This broad belief in governmental approaches in dealing with economic and societal issues is reflected in the almost 2:1 preference of Millennials for the expansion rather than the repeal of the 2010 health care reform legislation (44% to 27%) and for increased spending to help economic recovery rather than reducing the budget deficit (55% to 41%).
Millennials also hold opinions on a range of social issues that incline the generation toward the Democratic Party and Barack Obama. A majority of Millennials (59%) support the legalization of gay marriage, while only 28% of them agree that America has gone too far in pushing for equal rights. Probably because it is the most diverse in U.S. history (about 40% are nonwhite and one in five have an immigrant parent) virtually all Millennials (81%) favor providing a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
Of course, the Millennial Generation's continued clear support for Barack Obama and the Democratic Party is not a sure thing. Both the president and his party must convince Millennials that they can effectively use the government to fix the problems confronting their generation and the nation. But electoral politics is a two-way street. To win Millennial support, the Republican Party has to persuade Millennials that it and its potential presidential nominees are a viable alternative. So far, there is little in the Pew research (or any other poll) to suggest that they have done much to accomplish that undertaking. If anything, the GOP's push to the right on both economic and social issues makes that increasingly unlikely.
In the end, the Democrats' biggest Millennial concern is not likely to be the generation's partisanship or opinions on issues, but its political engagement. The Pew survey indicates that only 69% of Millennials claim to care a good deal about who wins the presidency in 2012. This compares with over 80% among older generations. At the same time, a recent Gallup Poll indicates that the contentious struggle for the Republican presidential nomination and the performance of the party's leadership in Congress may have taken a toll on the Republican Party and sharply narrowed the "enthusiasm gap" between the Democrats and GOP.
As a result, the participation of Millennials is perhaps even more crucial in 2012 than it was four years earlier. In 2008, the generation comprised about 17% of the electorate and accounted for about 80% of Barack Obama's national popular vote majority. In 2012, as increasing numbers of Millennials reach voting age, they have the potential to comprise about a quarter of the electorate. If Millennials vote in numbers proportionate to their potential, their continued support of the president, as indicated by Pew, will likely allow him to overcome any losses he suffers among older voters. If large numbers of Millennials do not vote or are prevented from doing so by efforts in states across the country to limit their turnout, the president's reelection chances will be sharply reduced.
The answers to those questions, not any current judgments on which candidate is likely to win, will very likely determine whether Barack Obama or his eventual Republican opponent is inaugurated as president on January 20, 2013.
America is about to enter a presidential campaign that promises to be filled with divisive rhetoric and sharp differences over which direction the nominees want to take the country. This will be the fourth time in American history that the country has been sharply divided over the question of what the size and scope of government should be. Each time the issue was propelled by vast differences in beliefs between generations that caused the country to experience long periods of Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt (FUD), before ultimately resolving the issue in accord with the ideas and beliefs of a new generation.
Every eighty years America engages in this rancorous, sometimes violent, debate about our civic ethos. The first occurred during and after the Revolutionary War and resulted in the most fundamental documents of our democracy: the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.
The second took place during the Civil War. The 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments codified the outcome of that debate --- this time in favor of the federal government asserting its power over state laws when it came to fundamental questions of personal liberty and civil rights. It took the Civil War and a massive increase in Washington’s power to accomplish the end of slavery, although it would be another century until the rights of freedom and equality were fully extended to African-Americans.
And in the 1930s, the economic deprivations experienced by most Americans from the excesses of the Industrial Revolution, and the collapse of corporate capitalism, led to support for a “New Deal” for the forgotten man that placed the responsibility for economic growth and opportunity squarely on the federal government. The government demanded by the GI Generation (born 1901-1924) greatly surpassed the conventional views of earlier generations.
In each case, the resolution of these debates depended on the emergence of a rising, young civic-oriented generation that thought the nation’s dominant political belief system should contain a strong role for government, overturning the more conservative and limited-government views of the older generations then in power.
Now, as previously, the highly charged ideological arguments on both sides of the issue generate great agitation and anger among older generations, especially Baby Boomers, who have driven our political life towards ever wider polarization. As a result, the resolution of today’s debate over the nation’s civic ethos is not likely to come from older Americans who seem incapable of and unwilling to compromise their deeply held values and beliefs.
This time around, the largest generation in American history, Millennials, (born 1982- 2003), that will comprise more than one in three adult Americans by the end of this decade, are destined to play a decisive role in finding a consensus answer to this critical question. If the United States is to emerge from this most recent period of FUD, it will have to look to the newest civic-oriented generation, Millennials, for both the behavior and the ideas that will bridge the current ideological divide and spur the country into making the changes necessary to succeed in the future.
Millennials believe that collective action, most often at the local level, is the best way to solve national problems. Using social media, Millennials are organizing groups like the Roosevelt Institute’s Campus Network, to present a very different vision of America’s future. In this Millennialist future, the idea of top down solutions developed by experts in closed discussions will give way to bottom up, action-oriented movements. This will topple institutions as dramatically as Napster upended the recording industry, or the Arab Spring changed the Middle East. Just as their parents set the rules within which Millennials were free to exercise their creative energies when they were growing up, the new generation will continue to look to the federal government to set national goals or guidelines, as has long been the view of Boomer progressives. However, the way in which these guidelines are implemented will not be determined in remote and opaque bureaucracies, but by individuals in local communities across the country. In this way, Millennials will embrace progressive values, but with approaches that may be welcomed by many conservatives.
In the midst of the country’s current period of FUD, it is easy to despair that the nation will be unable to resolve its divisions and come to consensus about a new civic ethos. But throughout its history, when America has been equally fearful of the future, a new civic generation has risen to foster the necessary transition. In the end, this emerging generation served both itself and the country well. Now it is the Millennial Generation’s turn to serve the nation and move America to a less fearful and less divided future.
The recent release of survey data by the Pew Research Center indicating that the party identification of Millennials had narrowed from 60% Democratic vs. 32% Republican in 2008 to 52% Democratic vs. 39% Republican in 2011 produced a flurry of articles by political observers.
USA Today maintained that “in 2012, youth voters may prove elusive for Obama.” Michael Barone posting in the conservative Washington Examiner under a misleading headline that “Under Obama, Millennials move into the GOP column,” could barely contain his excitement at the news that a majority of white Millennials identify as Republicans (52% vs. 41% Democratic). A careful examination of the Pew data indicates that even in 2008 a larger percentage of white Millennials identified outright as Republicans than Democrats. Most of the movement that has occurred since then was among those who leaned to the Democratic Party and had weaker ties to it to begin with.
Nevertheless, given the importance of the Millennial Generation to President Obama’s victories, beginning with the Iowa caucuses all the way through the general election, the data certainly highlighted a source of potential danger to his re-election and to Democratic hopes for regaining their position as the majority party in American politics. Such speculation however ignores some other hard facts about Millennials and why they are likely to continue to be a key part of the Democratic coalition.
Millennials are the most ethnically and religiously diverse generation in U.S. history. Forty percent of all Millennials are “nonwhite” i.e., African-American, Asian, and, especially, Hispanic. These groups will represent an even greater percentage of those Millennials turning 18 in the next decade. Virtually all of the Millennials’ movement away from the Democrats and toward the Republicans in the Pew research has occurred among white Millennials, who, in spite of their increasing Republican proclivities, still more strongly identify as Democrats to a narrow but statistically greater extent than older whites. Nonwhite Millennials continue to overwhelmingly identify as Democrats over Republicans (71% to 17%).
Millennials are also half as likely as older generations to be white Evangelicals or Catholics and a quarter less likely to be white Mainline Protestants, groups that in recent years have trended toward the GOP. While the “Teavangelicals” gathering this weekend in Texas at the invitation of Rick Perry, its governor and possible GOP presidential candidate, may represent an important part of the Republican activist base, they don’t represent Millennials. Members of America’s young adult generation are twice as likely to be Hispanic Catholics or unaffiliated with any faith and a third more likely to be non-Christians—Jews and increasingly Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists—groups that tilt toward the Democratic Party. Any political movement that attempts to use Christian doctrine as the core of its appeal is sure to turn away most Millennial voters.
There are a range of other factors that seem likely to limit a wholesale movement of Millennials to the Republican Party, so long as it adheres to its current belief system. For one thing, Millennials clearly endorse an economically activist government. A March 2011 Pew survey indicated that by 54% to 39% Millennials favored a bigger government that provides more services rather than a smaller government that provides fewer services. Moreover, most Millennials are confident that governmental activism is useful in ameliorating societal problems. A majority of them (52%) believe that government often does a better job than people give it credit for. These beliefs suggest that for many Millennials the major complaint about President Obama and his party is not that they favor “big government,” but that they haven’t used government as often and effectively as Millennials would like.
In addition, one in five Millennials has an immigrant parent. Not surprisingly then, large majorities of Millennials believe that immigrants strengthen the country (69%) and support a legal pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants (82%).
Most Millennials (including white members of the cohort) are also strikingly tolerant on social issues. About two-thirds believe that homosexuality should be accepted by society (69%) and support the legalization of gay marriage (64%).
Such attitudes make most Millennials uncomfortable with the anti-immigrant and religiously conservative views that so many Republicans, particularly Tea Partiers, espouse. As a result, some young Republicans such as Meagan McCain, the Senator’s daughter and Margaret Hoover, the 31st president’s great granddaughter, have called on their party to moderate its stance on social issues in order to attract Millennial voters.
Finally, most Millennials do not approve of the GOP’s current highly ideological approach to politics. The Millennial Generation is made up of pragmatic idealists who search for win-win solutions to the problems facing the nation.
As a result, in a Pew survey conducted during the recent dispute over raising the nation’s debt ceiling, a large majority of Millennials (71% to 57% for older generations) preferred a balanced approach that would have combined spending cuts and tax increases to deal with the federal deficit. Two-thirds of the generation (65%) called on Washington politicians to compromise with those holding different views in order to prevent federal government default rather than sticking with their principles (28%). Not surprisingly, after viewing the summer’s events in the Capitol, a large majority of Millennials (60% vs. 27%) believed that the Republican rather than the Democratic Party was most likely to take “extreme” positions on issues.
For all of these reasons, most Millennials simply don’t like the Republican Party very much. In March, Pew research indicated that a majority of all Millennials (56%) held unfavorable attitudes toward the GOP and favorable attitudes toward the Democratic Party (57%).
Of course, none of this is etched in stone. The Democratic Party still has to convince Millennials that it can effectively use government to solve the problems confronting their generation and the nation if it is to retain the cohort’s loyalty. But the GOP is in the much more difficult position of having to change almost its entire imagery and approach to politics and government in order to win over skeptical members of the Millennial Generation. GOP attacks on Pell Grant funding and attempts to restrict student’s ability to vote suggest many Republican office holders haven’t gotten the message about the importance of this new generation of voters. The big question for Republicans is whether their ideological Boomer leadership will ever be willing to alter their ideological principles to accommodate Millennial attitudes and beliefs.
As we point out in our book, Millennial Momentum: How a New Generation is Remaking America (to be published in September), Millennials will comprise a quarter of the voting age population in 2012 and more than one out of every three adult Americans by 2020. In politics, as with just about everything else, which way Millennials decide to go, will determine the country’s future. Right now, that future is up for grabs.
Morley Winograd and Michael D. Hais are fellows of NDN and the New Policy Institute and co-authors of Millennial Momentum: How a New Generation is Remaking America to be published this fall and Millennial Makeover: MySpace, YouTube, and the Future of American Politics.
During his Twitter-fed Town Hall, President Obama admitted that the housing market has proven one of the “most stubborn” pieces of the economic recovery puzzle to try and fix. The President --- as well the Congress and the building industry --- should consider a new path to a solution for housing by tapping the potential of the very generation whose votes brought Barack Obama into the White House in the first place.
The Millennial Generation (born 1982-2003) represents not just the largest generation in American history but the largest potential market for both existing and new housing in the United States. There are over 95 million Millennials and over the next five years the first quarter of this cohort will enter their thirties, an age when people are most likely to buy their first home.
Despite what is often written about this generation, it is very much interested in owning a home. Sixty-four percent of Millennials say it is very important for them to have an opportunity to own their own home; twenty percent named it as one of their most important priorities in life, right behind being a good parent and having a successful marriage.
And, contrary to the usual claims of “new urbanists” (themselves largely members of the older X and Boomer Generations) most Millennials want to live in the suburbs where the current housing crisis is most acute. 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, most of whom still yearn for the smaller towns and rural settings of an earlier America.
Most Millennials already live in suburbs and enjoyed growing up in suburban settings surrounded by family and friends that supported them. A certain portion, of course, enjoy living an urban life while young, but most tell researchers that they want to raise the families many are about to start in the same suburban settings they grew up in.
Furthermore, Americans between the ages of 25 and 34, both Millennials and those on the “cusp” of the generational change from X to Millennial, represent a greater proportion of the overall population in the South and West than elsewhere. These are the very regions that suffered the most from the collapse of housing prices that stemmed from the mortgage financing scandals of the last few years. Unleashing this potential demand for suburban housing in these hard-hit areas would bring two huge benefits. It would stabilize prices for existing homes while at the same time boosting the prospects for new housing construction.
The challenge is how to enable the Millennial Generation to achieve its desire to own homes without reigniting the speculation and unsustainable financial leverage that triggered the Great Recession. Clearly, in the immediate future at least, the current excess of supply in the housing market should mitigate the risk of too much demand chasing too few houses. As much as they are criticized by the financial industry and its Republican allies, the recently enacted financial regulatory reforms, might also provide an additional bulwark against allowing the market to misbehave a second time.
But the biggest factor may be the lessons learned from experience. Millennials have borne much of the brunt of the Great Recession and tend to be keenly aware about the importance of living within your means Wanting a suburban home does not mean, that Millennials want McMansions; like earlier generations, especially their GI Generation great grandparents, they are likely to be cautious and frugal home-buyers. However, this frugality and caution does not translate into a meek acceptance or desire for a future as apartment renters, as some suggest will be the case.
In the short run, Millennials will not be able to engineer a turnaround all by themselves; most Millennials can’t afford much beyond the next month’s rent, let alone the down payment on a mortgage. Many are still living with their parents to avoid having to pay rent and the cost of a college education at the same time.
To address this part of the challenge, the federal government needs to do what it did to revive the moribund housing market in the 1930’s. The New Deal created today’s commonly accepted 30 year mortgages with a 20 percent down payment by making them a financial instrument that the newly formed Federal Housing Administration would insure. Before that landmark legislation, home mortgages were rarely offered for more than half of the home’s value and normally had to be repaid in no more than five years.
As a result that era’s civic generation (the GI or Greatest Generation) was able to afford single family homes with a surrounding tract of land ; an offer returning World War II veterans seized with alacrity. These houses now make up much of the country’s inner suburb housing stock. Today’s housing crisis requires a similarly radical reinvention of the basic home mortgage to be offered to those buying their first home. Under this proposal the length of the mortgage could be extended up to as many as 50 years, reflecting the increased life expectancies --- and longer working careers --- that most Millennials can expect to enjoy. Since no market for such debt instruments currently exists, it would be up to the federal government to create one through the process of reinsurance, just as it did in 1934.
To further encourage home buying by Millennials, the federal government should also provide incentives to financial institutions to swap out the principle of the Millennials’ student loan in exchange for a new loan, whose principle would be collateralized by the value of the real estate the former student would be acquiring. The student loan would be paid off as part of the mortgage, making Millennials better able to afford a home and freeing up additional discretionary spending that current worries over student debt curtail. Today’s lower housing prices today might make this package both attractive to investors and financially viable.
Many economists today argue against the whole notion of encouraging home ownership by anyone, let alone young Millennials. Some point out that when looked upon strictly as an investment choice, the value of a home rarely appreciates faster than the overall stock market. This type of analysis, which forms the basis for arguing against any federal policy that would further encourage home ownership, ignores the proven benefits to the nation that derive from home owners committed to the success of their local community. Voting participation rates among home owners, for instance, traditionally run higher than rates among renters, and neighborhoods of owners tend to be more stable places to raise children. More important still is what homeownership means to the nature of a property-owning Republic. Survey after survey shows that home ownership remains a central part of the American Dream and a central aspiration, particularly for immigrants and young people. A policy that works against this ideal presents a political risk that any politician should be wary of taking.
To restore this part of the American Dream, and to lift the worry of millions of Americans whose house is worth less than what they owe on their mortgage, the Obama administration must take bold steps to restore a vibrant residential housing market. President Obama, who built his winning margin in 2008 through an unprecedented mobilization of Millennial voters, is the ideal person to combine a plan for economic recovery efforts with meeting the aspirational goals of most Millennials to own their own home.
To save the housing market, and extend the recovery beyond the financial elites, America will need a new wave of home buyers. If the President works to tap this resource, he can begin to turn around the “stubborn problem” of the housing market and restore the middle class economy. If he does so, the whole country will soon be tweeting his success.
Morley Winograd and Michael D. Hais are fellows of NDN and the New Policy Institute and co-authors of Millennial Momentum: How a New Generation is Remaking America to be published in September and Millennial Makeover: MySpace, YouTube, and the Future of American Politics.
If last year's biggest political story was the tea-party-inspired "shellacking" that Republicans gave Democrats in the midterm elections, this year's, at least so far, is that the actions of two formerly obscure Wisconsin Republicans - Gov. Scott Walker and Rep. Paul Ryan - are now putting the Democratic Party in a position to give the GOP a "shellacking" of its own in 2012.
After literally and symbolically turning his back on "Fighting Bob" La Follette, Wisconsin's historically most renowned political figure, at his inauguration, Walker attempted to solve his state's budget problems by stripping state employees of most of their collective-bargaining rights. Ryan's proposal to reduce the federal deficit by turning Medicare into a voucher program similarly struck at the heart of a program Democrats hold sacred. Both actions have proved to be an overreach that rallied a dispirited Democratic base, upset nonaffiliated voters and even turned a fair number of Republican senior citizens in upstate New York against their party.
What Walker, Ryan and their Republican allies have forgotten is that American political philosophy and opinion are neither left nor right but both at the same time. Democrats also cannot afford to indulge in schadenfreude over their GOP opponents' current miseries and fail to heed the same lesson. America is neither center-right, as conservatives claim, nor center-left, as liberals might wish.
President Barack Obama's frequent remarks on the two strands in America's DNA, as well as his recent policy decisions, make it clear he understands this uniquely American phenomenon. On the one hand, he has said, we believe in limited government coupled with individual freedom and responsibility. On the other, we endorse the idea of community and joint action, working through government, that helps individuals by providing them with a measure of economic security and equal opportunity.
Using Gallup Poll data collected during the 1964 campaign between Lyndon B. Johnson and Barry Goldwater, public opinion researchers Lloyd A. Free and Hadley Cantril first empirically documented the existence of those two tendencies in the nation's political psyche. They found that a majority of Americans were both "ideological conservatives" (50 percent) and "operational (or programmatic) liberals" (65 percent). The public believed in small government and individual initiative, while at the same time endorsing an array of specific federal programs ranging from "compulsory medical insurance for the elderly" to public housing and aid to education.
Using questions from Pew Research Center surveys conducted in 1987, 1994, 2002 and 2009 that offered facsimiles of those used by Free and Cantril, we were able to demonstrate that these attitudes persist to this day. Across the four surveys, ideological conservatives outnumbered ideological liberals by a ratio of 3.5-to-1. By contrast, operational or programmatic liberals outnumbered operational conservatives by 2.2-to-1. In 1987 (the penultimate year of the Reagan administration) and 1994 (the year of the Gingrich revolution), conservative beliefs, particularly on the ideological scale, were at their peak. In 2002 (a year after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks) and in 2009 (the year following the start of the Great Recession), attitudes moved in a liberal direction, especially on the operational scale. But in every survey, there were always more ideological conservatives than ideological liberals and more operational liberals than operational conservatives.
Nowhere is this dichotomy more evident than in the debate over how to reduce the federal deficit. In a March 2011 Pew survey, a majority (53 percent) of respondents agreed that reducing the deficit should be a top priority this year (although slightly larger numbers placed a premium on dealing with unemployment and inflation than on deficit reduction). When asked, "What should be done to lower the deficit?" most preferred a generic reduction of domestic (61 percent) and defense (49 percent) spending. On the other hand, less than a third (30 percent) specifically favored changes to Social Security and Medicare, and only 20 percent endorsed a complete reliance on major program cuts rather than a combination of spending cuts and tax increases (64 percent).
The decisions by the two Wisconsin Republicans have now become ideological litmus tests for every Republican presidential candidate, even as evidence continues to accumulate that those policies are deeply unpopular. As Newt Gingrich has said, this makes it ever more likely that the 2012 presidential election will join others in our history in which a new, long-lasting and widely accepted balance is struck between the nation's competing ideological and operational or programmatic beliefs.
The Democrats would, of course, prefer that the coming campaign be waged primarily on the programmatic side of the divide, while the GOP would like the focus to be centered on small government ideology. But to properly reflect the complexity of American political opinion, each party will have to leave its comfort zone and successfully speak to the other side of the equation. This means that Democrats, as Bill Clinton recently admonished and Barack Obama seems to recognize, will have to figure out a way to deal forthrightly with public concerns about the deficit, while still protecting programs such as Medicare and Pell Grants for college students, in which they - and the American public - believe so strongly. At the same time, Republicans will have to avoid what Gingrich accurately called "radical right-wing social engineering" and consider the possibility of increasing taxes, while maintaining their core small government and individual liberty values.
The party that develops the most effective synthesis of the nation's dueling beliefs in limited government and individual freedom as well as its support for collective action through specific governmental programs is the one that will dominate both American electoral politics and policymaking in the decades ahead.
On January 20, 2009, a record number of nearly two million people personally witnessed the inauguration of Barack Obama as the forty-fourth president of the United States. Many, if not most of them, were in their teens and twenties. Members of the Millennial Generation (born 1982-2003) had come to Washington to celebrate Obama's election-a victory their participation had clearly made possible. Last night, on May 1, 2011, thousands of Millennials once again gathered in instant "flash mobs" in front of the White House, and in other urban centers, to celebrate the death of the person whose murderous actions forever shaped their lives. In authorizing the successful operation to take out bin Laden, President Obama redeemed the faith the generation had placed in his leadership.
The attacks of September 11, 2001 occurred when most Millennials were in school and it remains the moment most remember as the day they realized the dangers of the world around them. Safety and security concerns became a permanent part of their lives. Their parents created "play dates" as a way to make sure they were never out of sight of an adult as they grew up and demanded more and more legislated protections for their safety. Cell phones became a safety tool to assure continuous knowledge of their children's whereabouts, "in case, God forbid, something should happen to them."
But this generation, like the previous civic-minded GI Generation that it is most similar to, did not shirk from the challenges this new world of "homeland security" presented. Volunteer service became the norm of the Millennials' school day. Interest in how their government worked and who was leading it soared. Millennials, who experienced 9/11 while in high school, became energized, involved voters when they graduated. And the valor of those who volunteered for military service was indelibly inscribed in American history books as a result of yesterday's operation.
One of those activists, Matt Segal, President of OurTime, a national Millennial membership organization, described the central place the man, whose killing all Americans celebrated, has held in the generation's imagination. "We've grown up with Osama bin Laden as the defining villain, the central antagonist of our generation." While the youthfulness of the spontaneous celebrations last night surprised some observers, every Millennial has lived with the looming presence of bin Laden as a continuing reminder that the work of the generation in fixing the world had not yet achieved its first goal in much the same way that their GI Generation great-grandparents must have felt about Hitler nearly seven decades ago.
Segal also made it clear why his generation was so ready to celebrate the news of bin Laden's death. "Our generation finally gets to see what progress looks like, what it feels like when American persistence actually leads to results." Rather than being a surprise, the generation's late night partying to shouts of "USA!" and exuberant flag waving, should be a signal to Americans of all ages that this generation has just begun the task of remaking the country in its image. With bin Laden out of the way, it's time to let Millennials lead the way in tackling all the challenges that continue to confront America's civic consciousness.
Morley Winograd and Michael D. Hais are co-authors of "Millennial Momentum: How a New Generation is Remaking America" to be published this fall by Rutgers University Press and fellows at NDN and the New Policy Institute.
Just as sure as April showers bring May flowers, this month brings the annual ritual of television "upfront" ad buying to New York City. This is a chance for the networks to show off their fall line-ups and biggest stars to advertisers. With Charlie Sheen and Donald Trump thankfully out of the picture, at least temporarily, many advertisers will be searching for the best strategy to reach Millennials (born 1982-2003), a generation that is becoming as much of an economic force as it is a political one. Unfortunately, the importance of America's youngest politically and economically active generation, seems to have been missed by many power brokers in another important East Coast city, Washington, D.C.
In a recent research report, media agency OMD calculated that Millennials have 11% more buying power than the Baby Boomers did when they were between 15 and 29 in the 1960s and 1970s. "There is no mainstream marketer who is not targeting this group right now," says Laura Nathanson, executive VP for ad sales at ABC Family. Media research and consulting firm, Frank N. Magid Associates, whose Generational Strategies initiative first brought the generation to the attention of the broadcast and cable industries, estimates that Millennials make up 27% of the total U.S. population and more than half of TV's key adults-18-to-49 sales demographic.
All of this didn't stop CNN from announcing the results of a survey (about cultural issues on which most Millennials hold distinctively liberal positions), with a sample in which only 10% of respondents were under 35 instead of the proper proportion of closer to 30%, and then describing the findings as being based on "all adults." Thousands of Millennials quickly signed a petition from OurTime, a group dedicated to "standing up for all of us under 30", asking CNN to "commission a new poll - one that surveys a diverse sample of all Americans who have a constitutional right to be represented in our democracy!"
Glenn Beck demonstrated slightly more understanding of the country's demographics when he announced that he will initiate a new project to "target the youth" after he's no longer appears regularly on Fox News. Unfortunately, Beck then went onto describe Millennials as "frustrated, used and misguided," three things the generation is definitely not, but which may well describe its reaction to Beck and similar-minded Boomers. According to a recent survey of more than 3000, 18-29 year olds conducted by Harvard's Institute of Politics, almost four in ten Millennials consider themselves liberals and a clear plurality identify as Democrats; only one in ten are supporters of the Tea Party movement.
But even as President Obama got cool creds for conducting a town hall with Facebook's founder, Mark Zuckerberg, an estimated ten thousand young people rallied in Washington under the banner of the Energy Action Coalition's "PowerShift 2011" to demand the administration do more about climate change and the need for a clean energy economy. Their pointed slogan, "With you or without you," was clear enough to cause the President to alter his schedule and meet with the leaders of the rally in the Roosevelt Room of the White House.
While a clear majority of Millennials (55%) still support Obama (more than any other generation), the IOP survey shows that jobs and the economy remain far and away the issue of greatest concern for this generation. Fifty-seven percent listed it as their highest priority. More than half of those who have not graduated from college consider their financial situation to be either fairly or very bad; 23% of those under 25 were unemployed in 2010. Even among college grads, unemployment averaged nearly 10% last year. In this case, the personal clearly has the potential to be political.
Although Millennials remain optimistic about their future economic circumstances, Republican attempts to cut funding for Pell Grants and other educational opportunities, coupled with the continuing failure of the recovery to generate jobs that will enable many Millennials to pay off their historically high student debt, suggests that the generation's personal path to prosperity will continue to be strewn with obstacles thrown up by short-sighted members of older generations.
To get the nation's attention focused on their economic plight, on April 27th, young people donned their best job interview clothes and visited their local Congressional office, carrying briefcases affixed with bold block letter signs saying simply, "I need a job." The goal of these "Briefcase Brigades" was to dramatize the economic plight of young people and prod Congress into investing some of its time on creating jobs for America's youngest generation of adults. Given the fact that one out of four eligible voters in 2012 will be a Millennial, it is hard to understand why they would need to take such dramatic steps to gain attention to their economic plight.
Perhaps Millennials should simply encourage members of Congress, as they return from their Easter recess, to take a shuttle flight to New York later this month. That might cause more people in the capital to understand the importance of putting the needs of Millennials upfront in their policy deliberations. If politicians become as enlightened as media moguls are about the emerging generation, America will have a much better chance of winning the sweepstakes for our country's future.
Morley Winograd and Michael D. Hais are fellows of NDN and the New Policy Institute and co-authors of "Millennial Makeover: MySpace, YouTube, and the Future of American Politics" and the upcoming "Millennial Momentum: How a New Generation is Remaking America.
By elevating the debate about deficits to the issue of the contrasting visions between the two political parties, President Obama not only took the high ground in the debates that will follow but focused the discussion on the real question at stake, which is what "civic ethos" the country wants to follow in this century.
In our forthcoming book, Millennial Momentum: How a New Generation is Remaking America, we point out that the civic ethos the president described -- synthesizing both individual responsibility and support for the entire community -- is much more likely to attract support from younger and minority voters who will be the key to the president's reelection effort. His speech, therefore, was both good policy and good politics.
America's engagement in Libya has provoked a spasm of commentary from seasoned hands in the foreign policy establishment and pundits of all political stripes complaining that President Obama's decision to join in the United Nations' sanctioned, multi-lateral effort to protect civilians from Muammar Gaddafi was either confused, wrong-headed, or naïve, or all of the above.
But the decision was none of those things. It was simply another example of the president making a policy decision in ways that instinctively reflect the beliefs and behaviors of his most loyal supporters, the Millennial generation, born between 1982 and 2003. The last time a generation like the Millennials (a type labeled "civic" by generational theorists) came of age it was the GI or Greatest Generation in the 1930s and 1940s. That generation moved America from international isolation to activism and this newest generation's influence on foreign policy is likely to be equally profound.
Millennials have been taught since they were toddlers that the best way to solve a societal problem is to act upon it directly, and as a part of a larger group. That is exactly what President Obama has done with America demurring to take a permanent lead in the joint effort in order not to offend the sensibilities of NATO allies and Arabs alike.
Foreign policy practitioners and analysts traditionally tend to think about the world in terms of relationships between nation-states and their political regimes. By contrast, Millennials are more apt to believe that causes requiring global solutions, such as climate change or human rights abuses, are of equal, if not greater, importance. For example, the percentage of Millennials who favor U.S. military intervention to spread democracy are almost exactly the reverse of the number supporting armed American action to stop genocide. Only 12 percent of Millennials favor military intervention to promote democracy, while 45 percent are opposed. By contrast, 42 percent of Millennials support using U.S. armed forces to halt genocide, while only 14 percent do not. (http://www.iop.harvard.edu/var/ezp_site/storage/fckeditor/file/100307_IOP_Spring_2010_Topline.pdf)
Obama's decision to intervene in Libya only when the murderous Gaddafi threatened to hunt down "without mercy" his own "people hiding in their closets" was not a matter of waiting too long or a reflection of the president's inability to make a decision. He was simply acting when the threat of genocide was real, and not when events in Libya, or in any other Mideast country for that matter, were about uprisings demanding a more democratic style of government.
The Obama administration has been in favor of expanding human rights in Arab countries since the President's Cairo speech in 2009, but has never embraced the strategy advocated by neo-conservatives, who are now cheering America's enforcement of a no-fly zone so long as it leads to regime change and the spread of democracy in the Maghreb.
"All people yearn for certain things," the President said almost two years ago. "The ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn't steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose. These are not just American ideas; they are human rights." (http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/newbeginning/transcripts)
By focusing on the issue of civil liberties, and not on implementing American- style political and governmental institutions, Obama pointed the way toward a cause that young people everywhere could, and eventually did, embrace. And unlike many of the critics of his current policies, he has been steadfast in both identifying the ideals America seeks to advance and in finding pragmatic ways to make progress toward them.
The approach contains the same mix of idealism and pragmatism, with a heavy emphasis on finding a consensus solution that works for everyone in the group, that members of the youngest politically active generation of Americans use in addressing any of life's challenges. By a three-to-one margin, Millennials believe that the United States should take the opinion of other countries into account when making foreign policy decisions. By a nearly two-to-one ratio, Millennials believe that the best way to protect America's national security is through building strong alliances with other countries rather than by relying primarily on our military strength (54% vs. 29%). (http://ndn.org/sites/default/files/paper/21st%20Century%20America%20Project%20March%202010%20PPT%20Presentation.pdf) The deferential, almost to the point of being invisible, way that the President exercised his leadership in forming a coalition to halt Gaddafi's plans for genocide are perfectly aligned with these generational beliefs.
Women play a much more prominent role in decision-making among Millennials and some have pointed to the role women played in arguing for and announcing the decision to intervene militarily in Libya as well. But the President's decisions over the last few months have also reinforced the fundamental beliefs of Millennials at a much more substantive level. They believe that America's foreign policy should be grounded in multilateralism and reflect our most deeply held values. If present day critics of Barack Obama could stop talking long enough to see through their own generational biases in favor of confrontation and conflict, they might begin to detect a change in U.S. foreign policy that will be as significant as the one that occurred 80 years ago.
Morley Winograd and Michael D. Hais are fellows of NDN and the New Policy Institute and co-authors of "Millennial Makeover: MySpace, YouTube, and the Future of American Politics" and the upcoming "Millennial Momentum: How a New Generation is Remaking America."
The use of a legislative maneuver last night by Republicans in the Wisconsin Senate to advance Governor Scott Walker's efforts to strip state employees of their collective bargaining rights may have caught Democrats by surprise, but the ultimate result of the actions of Walker and his GOP allies may have been to awaken a sleeping giant.
For the first time in decades, driven by the emergence of the Millennial Generation, the nation's youngest politically active generation (born 1982-2003), the public is as positive about labor unions as it is about business corporations. Pew research findings show that, in the private sector, Millennials side with unions over business in disputes by 51% to 37% and, in the public sector, favor unions over government by a 56% to 32%. These attitudes are reflected in recent surveys showing that both within Wisconsin and across the nation Americans favor the public employee unions in their dispute with the governor. In fact, largely due to defections from Republican union members, one recent survey suggested that Walker would lose a reelection vote to his 2010 Democratic opponent if a new election were to be held today.
In a recent Pew survey, nearly equal numbers of Americans were favorable toward labor (45%) and business (47%). This is in sharp contrast to the Reagan-Gingrich era of the 1980s and 1990s when the public was more positive about business than about labor by margins of around 15 percentage points. The Millennial Generation accounts for almost all of the narrowing of this gap. Millennials are positive about labor unions by a 2:1 margin (58% favorable to 29% unfavorable). The young cohort is far less positive about business corporations (49% favorable to 43% unfavorable). Although in the wake of the Great Recession, older generations are less positive toward business than they were a decade or two ago, they are still narrowly more favorable toward corporations (46% each favorable and unfavorable) than toward labor (42% favorable to 44% unfavorable).
The Millennials' endorsement of labor unions does not simply stem from a supposed tendency of young people to always support the underdog or liberal causes. Back in the 1980s and 1990s, youthful members of the individualistic and entrepreneurial Generation X (born 1965-1981), and a key Ronald Reagan support group, usually tilted toward management in its disputes with labor. Rather, the Millennial Generation has positive impressions of labor unions because it is what generational theorists have labeled a "civic generation." Civic generations, like the Millennials and the GI or Greatest Generation are characterized by their group-orientation, their tendency to build, reform, and utilize societal institutions, and their belief in cooperative approaches to accomplish their own and the nation's goals.
At around 95 million, the Millennial Generation is the largest in U.S. history, but its full force has yet to be felt. In 2008, when Millennials preferred Barack Obama over John McCain by a 66% to 32% margin and accounted for 80% of the president's popular vote margin, they comprised less than one fifth (17%) of the electorate. In 2012, when Obama runs for reelection, Millennials will account for about a quarter (24%) of those eligible to vote. In 2020, when the youngest Millennials reach voting age the generation will comprise more than a third (36%) of American adults.
As we point out in our upcoming book, Millennial Momentum: How a New Generation is Remaking America, with numbers like these the emerging generation is about to reshape all aspects of national life, including the relative positions of labor and management in the U.S. economy and American politics. The last time a civic generation so thoroughly dominated American society, as the Millennials are about to, was in the 1930s when the GI Generation, whose numbers were equal to those of the two preceding generations combined, spearheaded labor's drive to organize the nation's industrial workforce. They were so successful that more than a third of all American workers were union members by the mid-1950s. In the decades after it fought and defeated the Axis in World War II, the GI Generation assumed positions of power and thoroughly shaped the nation's institutions, just as Millennials will do in the years to come.
In the Millennial era that lays ahead, public opinion and governmental policy will be more sympathetic to labor than they have been at any time since the GI Generation ran things. Given the preference of many Millennials for public and governmental service, public employee unions should find fertile ground for organizing and for maintaining public support for a level playing field between workers and employers. That is why Governor Walker's battle in Wisconsin and similar efforts in other states over the ability of workers to organize are likely, in the end, to fail and why the decades ahead are likely to be better for organized labor than the previous few decades have been.