Michael d. Hais

Lessons from Detroit: 10 Years Later, the Overhaul of the Domestic Auto Industry and Its Parallels with the Republicans' Problem

Note: Morley Winograd and Mike Hais, NDN Fellows, are co-authors of the critically acclaimed Millennial Makeover: MySpace, YouTube, & the Future of American Politics. Winograd and Hais also have a long history with Detroit and Michigan. Winograd lived there for 50 years and was Chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party from 1973 to 1979. Winograd later served in Washington, DC, as Senior Policy Advisor to Vice President Gore, during which time he witnessed the events described in the essay below. Prior to joining Frank N. Magid Associates in 1983, Hais was a political pollster for Democrats in Michigan and an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Detroit.

With President Barack Obama's expected annoucement later this morning, the current debate over whether to save our domestic auto industry has revealed some starkly different views about the future of manufacturing in America among economists, elected officials and corporate executives. There are many disagreements about solutions to the Big Three’s current financial difficulties, but the more fundamental debate is whether the industry  should bend to the will of the government’s and taxpayers' priorities or serve only the needs of the companies’ customers and their shareholders. 

Detroit had an opportunity -- nearly 10 years ago to the date -- to change. To understand the globalizing world around it, to understand that consumers' priorities and values -- especially those of the rising Millennial Generation -- were changing drastically. While some may think it's a leap to compare an overhaul of Detroit with an overhaul of the discredited Republican Party, the similarities are there:  

But when the government becomes a major stockholder in private enterprises, the brand becomes political. And as General Motors learned to its regret, when a company’s brand is as damaged as badly as the Republican Party’s is now, the chances of it prevailing in any debate about the automotive industry’s future is greatly diminished. Very aware of the public tsunami of anger over AIG bonuses, Wall Street excesses and public perception of corruption and lack of accountability, President Obama is not in a forgiving mood. He has made clear the domestic automobile industry has to be seen as a contributor in ending America’s dependence on foreign oil and improving our environment to secure his support. Almost exactly ten years since the debate at the Detroit airport, as a price for its financial support, the federal government will in fact be telling at least General Motors which vehicles to produce for its customers.  Given that arrangement, both parties to this newest partnership need to find “win-win” solutions for the industry’s future that match the optimism and civic spirit of the Millennial generation who will have to pay for the results of their decisions.

The last time the industry seriously engaged in such a debate was during the Clinton Administration and the companies’ failure to effectively respond to Vice President Al Gore’s offer to partner with them in producing more environmentally sensitive products gives substance to President Obama’s charge last week that their current difficulties were caused by executive “mismanagement” in the past.

Attempts to nudge Detroit into producing more fuel-efficient vehicles have been going on since the 1973-4 Arab Oil embargo, which led Congress to establish Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency (CAFÉ) standards for cars and light trucks. The original fuel efficiency target was for cars to meet an average of 27.5 miles per gallon (mpg) by 1985. On Earth Day, 1992, candidate Bill Clinton proposed to raise that standard even further to 45 mpg if he were elected President.

When Al Gore was asked to join the ticket, auto industry executives, terrified at the prospect that the man who had called for the abolition of the internal combustion engine might become Vice President, implored the leadership of the United Automobile Workers (UAW) to meet with the candidates and bring them to their senses. The lobbying effort worked.  Clinton agreed to delay the adoption of higher CAFÉ standards until it could be proven that such goals were attainable. 

This formulation opened the door for what came to be known as the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles or PNGV.  Reluctantly supported by the Big Three, PNGV provided approximately a quarter of a billion dollars in government research funds to demonstrate the feasibility of producing a midsize sedan that could get 80 mpg. Often called “the moon shot of the 90s,” each car company was to make a prototype of such a vehicle by the politically convenient year of 2000 and begin mass production by 2004.  

After a few years of technological research, the partnership settled on the combination of a hybrid gasoline and electric powered propulsion system as the most promising approach. But by 1997, the car companies began to resist expending their resources to develop even a prototype for such a vehicle. Vice President Gore, who had been in charge of the  PNGV program since its inception, decided to meet with the Big Three CEOs to make sure they did not forget their  past commitments. The answer from Detroit was emphatic: profits were coming from SUVs and heavy-duty trucks, not cars. Gore countered that argument by offering to trade the administration’s support for tougher regulations on the permissible amount of sulfur content in the diesel fuels that would power some of the new hybrid SUVs, if the car companies would join in expanding the scope of the PNGV plan to include SUVs, the very product they said the marketplace was asking for. Gore suggested each company produce a concept SUV by 2002 and three production prototypes by 2006, capable of getting 80 mpg. He also suggested they advance the mass production goal for cars to 2002 by deploying a 60 mpg five passenger sedan in 2002 rather than waiting for an 80 mpg version in 2004. 

Ford’s Peter Pestillo and his UAW ally, Steve Yokich, quickly replied, “no way.” Pestillo maintained, “We need much more time than that to make them cost competitive.”  Not all of the auto executives were blind to the challenge. General Motors’ Vice-Chairman, Harry Pearce had been the driving force behind GM’s ill-fated EV1 electric car experiment. And William Clay “Bill” Ford, Jr., great grandson of the company’s founder and Chairman of its Board of Directors envisioned building  a 21st century version of the Model T that would be environmentally friendly as well as inexpensive. Gore asked the companies to respond to his suggestions by September 1998, the fifth anniversary of PNGV.  

But it wasn’t until May of 1999, that the auto company CEOs joined the Vice President to settle the issue of SUVs and PNGV.  Gore began the meeting, held in a back room at the Detroit airport, by suggesting that developing these products could enhance the industry’s image as well as each company’s individual brands.  Ford's Pestillo asked for still more time to consider the idea: “While we love the progress we are making in PNGV as it’s currently constituted, it’s not yet clear to us that the technologies we have been working on apply to the design of an SUV.”  But Pearce used the platform (basic body design) issue raised by Ford to make Gore’s point. He sketched a future auto industry where the line between cars and trucks would not be as clear, describing what we know today as “crossovers”.  It might therefore be wrong, he suggested, for PNGV to be limited to just one platform. 

Gore took the opening and suggested the companies think about what such an announcement might mean to the industry’s image and their individual brands. “It’s not just the substance of the issue you need to consider. You also need to think about the symbolism of the decision. Putting SUVs into the PNGV project would change the public’s perception of where you are going in the future.”  When Pestillo attempted to return to his original arguments, he was overridden on the spot.  GM said, “If you will include lean burn technology (for diesel SUV’s) into the project that might work.” Gore responded, “Let’s work on this as a package.”

Recognizing the breakthrough they had just achieved, the participants began to think about what the future might look like if they formed a true partnership -- not too dissimilar from what is being contemplated now under the terms of the automotive industry loan. Gore said he would put his personal reputation behind such an agreement, which the press would think of as a “Nixon goes to China” event, garnering the auto industry a great deal of positive press. 

But when it came time for the true test of their commitment to this new partnership, the autos blinked. The Vice President suggested they sign off on a press release, conveniently drawn up before the meeting started, announcing the inclusion of SUVs in an expanded PNGV project. The CEOs argued for a less definitive announcement stating that they would address the issue of highly fuel efficient SUVs within the context of the PNGV partnership, but not commit to any specific goals for their production. This less-than-definitive agreement barely made it to page B4 of the Wall Street Journal the next day and was generally ignored by the public the participants were hoping to impress.

Unfortunately for America, General Motors then decided to go in almost the opposite direction. Rick Wagoner, who became General Motors' CEO in June 2000, chose to pursue an SUV-centered strategy that won big profits for a brief period. Since then, however, GM stock has plunged 95%, from $60 per share to just under $4 today. General Motors, which has lost $70 billion since 2005, has seen its market share cut in half.  Seven years after the fateful auto summit with Al Gore, when asked what decision he most regretted, Wagoner told Motor Trend magazine, “ending the EV1 electric car program and not putting the right resources into PNGV. It didn’t affect profitability but it did affect image.” [emphasis added].

His lack of commitment to the type of automobile industry that PNGV envisioned ultimately led to his downfall with the Obama Administration now demanding his resignation as part their plan to save GM.

The importance of a company’s public image or brand value has never been greater than in this new civic era, where the lines between democratic decision-making and private sector planning are becoming increasingly blurred. The organizing cry of Boomer feminists was “the personal is political.”

The paragraph from above bears repeating: 

But when the government becomes a major stockholder in private enterprises, the brand becomes political. And as General Motors learned to its regret, when a company’s brand is as damaged as badly as the Republican Party’s is now, the chances of it prevailing in any debate about the automotive industry’s future is greatly diminished. Very aware of the public tsunami of anger over AIG bonuses, Wall Street excesses and public perception of corruption and lack of accountability, President Obama is not in a forgiving mood. He has made clear the domestic automobile industry has to be seen as a contributor in ending America’s dependence on foreign oil and improving our environment to secure his support. Almost exactly ten years since the debate at the Detroit airport, as a price for its financial support, the federal government will in fact be telling at least General Motors which vehicles to produce for its customers.  Given that arrangement, both parties to this newest partnership need to find “win-win” solutions for the industry’s future that match the optimism and civic spirit of the Millennial generation who will have to pay for the results of their decisions.

Positive Partisanship for a New Era

Bipartisanship. Other than "stimulus" or "bailout," perhaps no word has been written or spoken more often by politicians and pundits alike in Washington since the inauguration of Barack Obama. Commentators have generally characterized President Obama's attempts to engage Republicans as almost completely unsuccessful, while Republicans have derided his efforts as charming but ineffective, especially in light of the more partisan approach of his party’s Congressional leadership. Liberals such as Thomas Frank dismissed bipartisanship as a "silly Beltway obsession," calling it "the most cynical stance possible."

For his part, the President told columnist E.J. Dionne that the almost complete rejection of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act by congressional Republicans reflected a combination of genuine "core differences between Democrats and Republicans" and an opportunistic attempt to "enforce conformity" and "reinvigorate their base." Obama then outlined the limits of his good will in a phrase sure to be repeated as the debate continues: "You know, I'm an eternal optimist. That doesn't mean I'm a sap."

While some of this is just typical Washington politics, there is more to the argument over bipartisanship than mere gamesmanship. American politics has moved to a new era, one in which basic public attitudes toward government and the norms by which political activity is conducted and judged have been altered sharply and profoundly. Spurred as always by the emergence of a large and dynamic new generation, this makeover or realignment has changed almost everything about American politics, including the very meaning and practice of "bipartisanship."

The most striking evidence of just how much things have changed was the extraordinary exchange between the President, congressional leaders from both houses and parties, and leaders from the private sector, both business and labor, at the White House Summit on "Fiscal Sustainability." The entire event was deliberately choreographed by President Obama to be demonstrably bipartisan and televised for the public to see. The dialogue between the President and Members of Congress suggested some principles of an approach to governing that can best be described as "positive partisanship." It is the way in which bipartisanship will be exercised in the new civic era that began with the election and inauguration of Barack Obama. The President himself summarized how this new approach should work, responding to U.S. Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), the ranking Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, who asked him to take the lead in telling Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her fellow Democrats to be inclusive in their approach to developing legislation: "I do agree that the majority has an obligation to try and be as inclusive as they can, but the minority has to be constructive in return. The minority has to come up with their own ideas and not just want to blow things up." Exactly.

In the 40-year long "idealist" era that just ended, bipartisanship reflected the circumstances of a nation dominated by the unflinchingly ideological and profoundly fractured Baby Boomer Generation. Within the electorate, and especially among Boomers, there were approximately an equal number of Republicans and Democrats and, at times, more independents than either. Voters were almost always sharply divided along the demographic lines of gender and ethnicity. In 14 of the 20 Congresses during the era, different parties controlled the presidency and at least one house of Congress, something favored by the American public in attitude surveys throughout the period. As a result, major alterations in public policy were rare and institutional gridlock was the rule rather than the exception.

Historically, in previous idealist eras, "bipartisanship" meant seeking the lowest common denominator to bridge the differences between ideological extremes. During most of the idealist era between the election of Andrew Jackson in 1828 and Abraham Lincoln in 1860, attempts to find a literal mathematical midpoint between the slave states and free states were the rule. The Missouri Compromise of 1820 divided the territory acquired in the Louisiana Purchase into free states north of latitude 36° 30' and slave states south of that line. Later, new states entered the Union in pairs, one slave and one free state at a time. A Whig politician, Henry Clay, gained the nickname "the Great Compromiser" for his efforts to achieve those middle ground solutions.

In the idealist era that has just ended, political leaders, especially Democrats, were often forced to return to the bipartisan model of that earlier era. Bill Clinton, certainly the more successful of the two Democrats elected to the presidency between 1968 and 2004, often pursued an approach of "triangulation" between the ideological liberals of his own party and the conservatives of the opposition Republicans. "Centrist" Democratic groups (the very term obviously implying middle ground positioning) sought a "Third Way" between the ideological and partisan ends of the political spectrum. Party liberals often excoriated Clinton and the "centrist" Democrats for their ideological impurity. But the efforts to seek midpoint bipartisan policies made sense in a politically divided idealist era, especially one in which the opposition party held the presidency most of the time and divided government was the norm.

But in 2008, America moved to a new political era and everything changed, including the meaning of bipartisanship, as the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression pushed the country into another civic era. In this environment, the American public, which had preferred divided government during the previous idealist era, now endorses unified government. A CNN survey conducted immediately after the 2008 general election indicated that a clear majority (59%) favored the idea of the Democrats controlling both elective branches of the federal government. Only 38 percent said that one-party rule was a bad idea. The public used a clearly civic era rationale to explain its changed attitude, telling Wall Street Journal pollsters that when the same party controls both the presidency and Congress, "it will end gridlock in Washington and things will get done." A recent CBS/New York Times survey confirmed the desire for decisive action across the institutional lines of a newly unified government. A clear majority (56%) wants President Obama to pursue the policies he promised in the campaign rather than working in a bipartisan way with Republicans (39%). By contrast, an even larger majority (79%) wants congressional Republicans to work in a bipartisan way with the President rather than sticking to Republican policies.

Faced with the need to deal with the deep national crisis that triggered the birth of the civic era, the majority of Americans no longer have the time or tolerance for the partisan and ideological rancor that fractured the political process and produced gridlock in the previous idealist era. If nothing else, the public expects calm, courteous, and polite discussion that focuses more on possible solutions and less on defining differences and distinctions. That tone was exemplified by the President as he conducted the Q&A with the Summit participants -- listening carefully to what they had to say, agreeing or disagreeing with some comments but always in a civil, and in some cases self-deprecating, way that made it impossible for the participants to engage in their usual hot-button rhetoric.

Beyond demanding a new tone in political discourse, the public is also expressing its desire for decisive action with the majority party, currently the Democrats, having primary responsibility for governing. At the Summit, the President underlined some of the philosophical differences between the parties when discussing the question of individual tax rates or levels of overall revenue. But he made clear by his control of the session what he had told some Republicans earlier: "We won." He acknowledged both that the electorate had asked Democrats to take the lead in developing and implementing policies to deal with the major issues facing the nation and that he wanted the Republicans to play a role in finding the answers so long as they participated in a "constructive" fashion.

This offer to engage puts the GOP in a quandary. It can choose to retain its ideological purity and hope to avoid blame if Democratic decisions turn out to be ineffective or harmful, but in doing so it is denying itself any role policymaking during Obama’s presidency. Furthermore, such posturing is already creating an image in the public’s mind of Republicans being too political and obstructionist.

Alternatively, the GOP can resurrect the "Ev and Charlie Show" from the days of Lyndon Johnson when those two Republican congressional leaders participated in the policymaking process as a junior partner. If the Republicans choose this approach, they may leave themselves open to charges, similar to those leveled by Newt Gingrich at Republican congressional leaders when he first arrived in Congress, that they are a pale "me too" reflection of the Democrats, without any guiding principles of their own. But the approach does produce results. In the 1960s, Everett Dirksen and Charles Halleck collaborated with LBJ to provide the crucial votes on the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The decisive support of Republican Senators Susan Collins, Olympia Snowe, and Arlen Specter for the recently enacted economic recovery act may be an unofficial and limited reflection of this approach early in the new civic era.

Overall, however, the GOP seems inclined to avoid collaborating with Democrats in order to stay true to its idealist era ideology. While that may well promote party unity and discipline, from the perspective of enhancing the Republican brand, it seems to be a major error.

In  a recent Daily Kos survey, clear majorities had favorable opinions of the President (67%) and the Democratic Party (53%). Favorable attitudes toward congressional Democrats (44%), Speaker Nancy Pelosi (39%), and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (34%) were not nearly as high. But, the favorable ratings received by the Democrats were substantially above those given to the Republican Party (27%), congressional Republicans (17%), John Boehner (13%), and Mitch McConnell (19%). Moreover, since the first of the year, favorable ratings of the Democratic leaders and the Democratic Party have remained stable or even increased, while those of the Republicans have declined.

In 2008, the American people chose the Democratic Party to take the lead in confronting and resolving the grave problems facing the nation. They are expecting a decisive, civic-oriented response from President Obama. The Republican Party is left with the options of either joining the struggle or being left behind. Ultimately, both parties behavior will be shaped and judged by a new definition of what it means to exercise positive partisanship in a new era.

National Service and National Pride: Obama/Powell Initiative Is Down Payment to Millennials

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 (Rutgers University Press: 2008), named one of the 10 favorite books of New York Times Pulitzer Prize-winning book critic Michiko Kakutani in 2008.

The selection of former Secretary of State Colin Powell to announce the Obama Administration's national service initiative, "Renew America Together" (USAService.org), is much more than a smart political move. It’s a perfect down payment on the promises Obama made to his most ardent supporters, the Millennial Generation (born 1982-2003).

The support of young voters was decisive in Obama's narrow nomination victory over Hillary Clinton and their 2:1 margin for him over John McCain accounted for 80 percent of his nearly nine million national popular vote lead last November. By giving Powell this important and visible role, Obama simultaneously burnishes his bipartisan credentials and demonstrates his understanding that the United States has moved to a new era dominated by the outlook of a new generation determined to make America a stronger and more unified country.

Millennials are of an archetype labeled "civic" by the seminal generational theorists William Strauss and Neil Howe. Like all other civic generations throughout American history, Millennials are defined by their strong desire to advance the welfare of the entire group and, by extension, all of society. The willingness of Millennials to help make things better was reflected in their enthusiastic reaction to Obama’s call during the campaign for a program aimed at young people that would help them pay for college in exchange for two years of public service, either in the military or one of the federal civilian service organizations. While the financial concerns of a generation heavily burdened by educational debt may have partially accounted for the loud applause this idea always generated, there is far more to it than self-interest.

A 2004 Harvard University Institute of Politics survey indicated that 85 percent of college-age Millennials considers public service an effective way to solve problems facing the country. A virtually unanimous 94 percent say that volunteer activity is effective in dealing with challenges in their local community.

Millennials have already clearly demonstrated their strong willingness to put these attitudes into action by participating in service programs in large numbers. In 2004, 80 percent of high school students, all of whom were Millennials, participated in community service activities. This contrasts with only 27 percent of high school students, all whom were members of the much more individualistic Generation X, that did so in 1984. Stemming from the virtually total public service participation of Millennials, by 2006 more than a quarter of those who volunteered for one of the federal government's National Service organizations (26 percent) were 16-24 year olds. That was twice the contribution of young people in 1989, when all of those in the 16-24 year old cohort were Gen-Xers.

But this won't be the first time that a civic generation has rallied to the service of America. And, it won't be the first time that a grateful country has rewarded this service. After the GI Generation great-grandparents of today's Millennials helped to defeat the Axis in World War II, the Servicemen's Readjustment Act, better known as the GI Bill of Rights, sent millions of returning veterans to college. This was not only a just reward for a job well done; it was also excellent public policy. By exponentially increasing the number of American college graduates and the size of the country's middle class, it paved the way for the long period of post-war growth that made the last half of the 20th century the American Century. If history is any guide, the Millennial Generation will follow in the footsteps of the GI Generation and through its dedication to public service will leave America an even stronger country than the one they inherited.

Governor Palin Is No Millennial

Republicans were rightfully excited by the enthusiastic response that the nomination by John McCain of Sarah Palin received from a significant portion of the electorate. However after the initial euphoria wore off, a pattern emerged that suggested the nomination was not going to be the ten strike it first appeared to be.

There is no question that her nomination energized the conservative base of the Republican Party who was suspicious of McCain’s commitment to their positions on the social issues dealing with “God, guns and gays.” Beyond those Republican stalwarts, however, the nomination has done little to gain McCain additional support from groups such as disaffected Hillary Clinton supporters and independents and moderates that the campaign had hoped would be won over by Governor Palin. Since the conventions, recent CBS polls, among others, show that Barack Obama’s support among white women, for instance, has actually gone up and that of McCain has declined. McCain has also lost support among moderates and independents since his selection of Palin. 

Much of the lost ground for the GOP has come from the Millennial Generation, those 26 and younger. Millennials reject the confrontational or risk-taking style that Palin--a classic Gen Xer--exhibits. Just as they have a hard time getting along with their Gen X bosses at work, Millennials of both genders and all races have turned away from the McCain ticket at least partially in response to the choice of Sarah Palin.  Obama now enjoys more than a 2:1 advantage among Millennials and this largest American generation  might provide him with up to a 10 million-vote margin over McCain IF it  votes on Election Day in equal numbers to older generations. Even if Millennials vote at only the low level that young voters did in the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections, Obama's margin over John McCain among this generation is likely to be two or three times the margin young voters gave Al Gore in 2000 and John Kerry in 2004.   Whether Palin’s nomination produces a great enough turnout among Republican base voters than what it loses among Millennials may well determine the wisdom of Senator McCain’s vice-presidential choice.


Voter Rolls Forecast Bad News for Conservatives

I wrote last week of the youth vote and voter registration patterns in Connecticut, predicting that the striking increases in Democratic registrations nationwide would impact not only the presidential race but also the rest of the ballot this November. Jennifer Steinhauer wrote on the same theme in Monday’s New York Times. The change is substantial; buried in the article is its long-term significance:

Swings in party registration are not uncommon from one year to the next, or even over two years[…] But for a shift away from one party to sustain itself — the current registration trend is now in its fourth year — is remarkable, researchers who study voting patterns say.

Since 2005, the number of voters registering with the Republican party has decreased while the numbers of Democrat-affiliating voters and unaffiliated voters have increased. Of the 29 states that register voters with a party affiliation, over half have seen an increase in share of the population identifying as Democrat. NDN has been making this case -- on these terms -- for quite a while now. In fact, my favorite part of the article was when Steinhauer reinforced NDN’s argument that the country’s shift to a more Millennial and more Hispanic demography favors progressives:

In many states, Democrats have benefited from a rise in younger potential voters, after declines or small increases in the number of those voters in the 1980s and ’90s. The population of 18- to 24-year-olds rose from about 27 million in 2000 to nearly 30 million in 2006, according to Census figures.

Dowell Myers, a professor of policy,planning and development at the University of Southern California, also noted that a younger, native-born generation of Latinos who have a tendency to support Democrats is coming of age.

Further, young Americans have migrated in recent years to high-growth states that have traditionally been dominated by Republicans, like Arizona, Colorado and Nevada, which may have had an impact on the changing registration numbers in those places.

Let’s take a look at what NDN has been saying.

First, we’ve noted that the Millennial generation has consistently displayed progressive values and has voted more heavily Democratic than other generations in their first few elections. New Politics Institute friends and collaborators Morley Winograd and Michael Hais argue that the Millennial generation represents a fundamental shift in American politics, a prediction reflected in these registration statistics, in their book Millennial Makeover. Moreover, in their NPI paper Progressive Politics of the Millennial Generation, they observed the striking disparity between Republican and Democratic Party identification among Millennials.

Secondly, NDN has been on the forefront of understanding how America's Latino population is changing American politics. Andres has been following Latino preferences for the presidential race consistently on our blog. (For full coverage, see McCain has a Latino Problem, Gallup Poll Finds Obama Continues Leading McCain Among Hispanics, and McCain struggling with Hispanics.) As early as March, invoking data from our major report Hispanics Rising II, Andres wrote:

The findings of our research confirm trends in the Hispanic community that we saw emerge in 2006 – Hispanics are trending very Democratic and voting in much higher numbers. So far this year, 78% of Hispanics who have voted in Presidential election contests have voted Democratic. In those states where Hispanics are tracked, results have shown a dramatic increase in their share of the overall vote, skyrocketing 67%, from 9% of the overall vote in 2004 to 15% in 2008.

Steinhauer even cites evidence for NDN’s argument that progressives can succeed in taking their case to exurbs. In 2006, NDN argued that the increasing diversification of the exurbs would challenge their trend of conservativism.

In many major metropolitan areas, suburbs that were once largely white and Republican have become more mixed, as people living in cities have been priced out into surrounding areas, and exurban regions have absorbed those residents who once favored the close-in suburbs of cities.

These changes in voter registration patterns forecast what could happen this fall. The New York Times included a handy graphic that's worth checking out. Observe that among the seven states experiencing the most dramatic increases in the Democratically-affiliated share of voters, two are states which voted Republican in 2004 – two of 2008’s top swing states – Iowa and Nevada. Also note that perennial swing states Pennsylvania and New Hampshire made the list.

How is it playing out already? Democrats’ 2006 state-level victories in Colorado, Iowa, and New Hampshire may forecast additional gains in states NDN sees as highly competitive this fall. I thought also of freshmen Senators like Claire McCaskill (MO) and Jim Webb (VA), potential bellwethers for November’s Electoral College map. These voter registration numbers are more in a series of indications that conservative ascendancy has ended and a political shift is underway.

All I'm sayin' is that you heard it here.

Millennial Enthusiasm is Contagious

Big things are on the horizon in America. After decades of gridlock and disillusionment, a new and, in Caroline Kennedy's words, "hopeful, hard-working, innovative, and imaginative" generation is spurring massive change and renewal in our nation's political life. The first contests of the 2008 campaign have demonstrated that the increased optimism and excitement about politics of this rising generation has even begun to spread to members of other, older generations.

The massive increases in the Democratic vote, especially among young voters, in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina and even in this week's Florida beauty contest are, by now, well-known. But there are other early indications of the Millennial Generation-led resurgence in excitement about politics. According to the Nielsen television rating service, the national audience for the Myrtle Beach Democratic debate held just before the South Carolina primary was the largest for a primary debate in cable history. Viewing among 18-49 year olds, the demographic most coveted by advertisers, was also at record levels.

All of these indicators of Millennial Generation political excitement and optimism and the spread of those feelings to older Americans are confirmed in a January 2008 national online survey conducted by the Millennial Strategy Program of media research firm, Frank N. Magid Associates. A clear majority of all Americans (57%) and nearly two-thirds of Millennials (61%) say that this year's election is more important than other recent presidential elections.

Millennial attitudes are more optimistic than those of Gen-Xers or Boomers. Forty-percent of Millennials believe that the United States will be better off as a result of the 2008 presidential election; only 23 percent feel that things will be unchanged, and only nine percent think things will be worse after November. While about a third of both older generations believe that the outcome of the 2008 election will improve things, slight pluralities of both Xers (42%) and Boomers (43%) feel that the 2008 election will leave America unchanged or in worse shape.

But the politics of hope is beginning to infect Americans of all ages. In a December 2006 Magid survey, voters split evenly about whether Americans are too divided to unite and solve the country's problems or could come together with the right leadership and cause (45% vs. 47%). Now, a majority (50%) believes that Americans can unite and only a third (36%) remain doubtful. All generations have participated in this increased optimism, Millennials more than others.

As the campaign now spreads to twenty-two states on February 5, the contagious enthusiasm of Millennials for reinvigorating our civic institutions will reshape the nation's political landscape just as much as the GI Generation and FDR's infectious optimism did seventy-six years ago.

Morley Winograd and Michael D. Hais are co-authors of Millennial Makeover: MySpace, YouTube, and the Future of American Politics to be published in March 2008 by Rutgers University Press.

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