NDN Blog

The Democrats' Generation Gap

Not since the Vietnam War and the presidential primary campaigns of 1968 and 1972, has America seen as wide a gap in voting behavior between older and younger voters within a political party as the Democrats are experiencing this year. Healing that rift becomes the primary challenge for Hillary Clinton whose general election victory could very well depend on winning over millennials (born 1982-2003) to her side.

The youngest adult millennials, those between 18 and 29 years of age, have voted for Senator Bernie Sanders in Democratic primaries in states across the country by margins of 3 or 4 to1, a level of support that matches or exceeds the size of the margins President Obama enjoyed among millennials in his two campaigns. According to the Harvard Institute of Politics’ most recent poll, by a narrow 30 percent to 26 percent margin, women in this segment of the generation are even more likely to believe that Bernie Sanders would do a better job than Hillary Clinton in “improving women’s lives in the U.S.” But Clinton is much more competitive among millennials 30 to 35 old as they settle down and begin to form families. And among voters over 45, Secretary Clinton has been able to roll up margins over Sanders at levels comparable, if slightly lower, than her opponent’s advantage among young people.

There’s little doubt that Clinton’s Republican opponent, Donald Trump, and his campaign are well aware of this generational split within the Democratic Party and would like to exploit it by making their own appeal to millennials. But, Clinton and the Democrats should have the edge in any battle for the support of America’s youngest voters. Millennials identify as Democrats over Republican by a margin of about 1.5 to 1 and a majority of them have favorable attitudes toward the Democratic Party and negative impressions of the GOP. So how can Hillary Clinton begin to close the generation gap within her own party in time for the general election? The best way for her to undertake that task is not to try and speak directly to millennials while the primary campaign is still under way, but to talk to her own core supporters, those over 45 years of age, about the need to forge a permanent inter-generational alliance that could cement Democratic national political dominance for decades to come.

Her dialogue with her supporters must begin by talking about what is right about millennials. Older voters, millennials’ parents and grandparents, have shaped the most tolerant generation in America’s history. The votes of millennials enabled the country to elect its first African-American president in 2008—and then to re-elect President Obama in 2012. The millennial generation’s determination to eliminate discrimination in any form not only led to Barack Obama’s election, it has provided the momentum for our country’s new attitudes toward members of the LBGT community, immigrants, and women’s rights—all causes Secretary Clinton supports.

Millennials are also the most connected generation in America, an attribute that Hillary Clinton can speak to from her own experience as Secretary of State. During her tenure in that office she added social media to America’s arsenal of soft power in Latin America and the Middle East. She could talk to her peers about how she envisions millennials using these new tools to establish relationships around the world that can lead to a more peaceful and inclusive future.

There are other aspects of the millennial generation that Hillary Clinton could use the bully pulpit of a presidential campaign to highlight. Millennials are the biggest generation in American history. They are simultaneously very demographically diverse and attitudinally unified. Forty percent of them are non-white and one out of five have an immigrant parent. Their numbers mean that they will shape American society and its politics for decades to come and many of their beliefs provide fertile ground for coalition building both within the Democratic party and, in some surprising ways, across party lines.

  • In Pew’s latest study of generational differences on issues of public policy, it is members of the millennial generation, in both political parties, that consistently take the more liberal position on such issues as immigration, gay rights, civil rights and economic inequality in comparison to all older generations. Their personal experience of growing up in an increasingly diverse America has caused them to look for consensus through cooperation and collaboration rather than engage in the type of confrontational behavior so many older politicians now seem to favor.
  • Millennials are “pragmatic idealists.” They believe deeply in causes, just as baby boomers did when that older generation was growing up—ideals that still fuel the enthusiasm of female boomers for electing a woman as President of the United States. But millennials also bring a determination to “get things done” as President Obama is fond of saying. They look for results not rhetoric. Reflecting the generation’s preference for fixing problems at the local level and not in some remote bureaucracy, millennial Democrats, according to Pew’s analysis are the generation among Democratic identifiers who are most likely to agree that “government regulation of business usually does more harm than good.”
  • At the same time, millennials in both political parties are most likely to believe in collective action to address the nation’s challenges and in using an activist government to find “win-win” not “we win, you lose” outcomes in both domestic and foreign policy. They are the least likely to agreewith the idea that “government is almost always wasteful and inefficient” or that “government today can't afford to do much more to help the needy.” Similarly, millennials are the generation most likely to be skeptical of achieving peace through military strength.

Of course, for the generation’s commitment to community and consensus to ensure that our political behavior lives up to America’s highest ideals, millennials also have to make their presence felt in the coming elections. In November, the generation will comprise about 30 percent of the electorate, a greater percentage than baby boomers will likely contribute. If she has any hope of motivating them to turn out and vote for her in November, Clinton must also pay particular attention to the deliberations of the convention’s platform committee to ensure it addresses the generation’s primary concern, the cost of a college education.

She has already spoken out forcefully on the need to lift the burden of student debt from this generation so they can afford to start their own families and get on with their lives the way older generations were able to do when they graduated from school. She has endorsed, and the Democratic Party platform should underline, the importance of allowing millennials to refinance their student debt to lower the amount of their monthly payments, just as older generations have been able to do with their home mortgage. And for those whose debts were incurred because of unscrupulous lenders or schools, the platform ought to commit to providing them a way to have those debts forgiven entirely.

Even more important, the Democratic platform will need to advocate for programs that will end this generational scourge forever. Older generations didn’t have to borrow money to go to high school and millennials and the generations that come after them should be able to get their higher education debt free, because that’s the level of education they—and America—will need to be successful both in today’s economy and in the years ahead.

There is a direct economic connection between these millennial specific policy positions and the concerns of Clinton’s older supporters. The earnings of millennials are the best guarantee that Social Security and Medicare benefits will not have to be cut for boomers and Gen-X’ers in the future. In addition, the desire of millennials to find work with both a social purpose and a living wage should lead to equal pay for equal work; paid child care leave for fathers as well as mothers; and companies committed to their country and communities, not just the bottom line. The entire country will benefit from the kinder, fairer economy millennials will create.

In addition to making it clear to older Americans that they have common cause with the millennial generation, Clinton’s leadership skills can be demonstrated by taking the lead in holding out the hands of her generation in friendship and support across the generational divide. Combined with her own generation’s wisdom borne from experience, such an alliance would ensure not only a Democratic victory in November but America’s continued greatness in the 21st Century.

America Takes a Giant Step into the Millennial Era

As America approaches the 239th celebration of its independence, the events that began with the horrific shooting of innocent churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina on June 17th and culminated in an eloquent eulogy to their grace, and God’s, ten days later by President Obama, seemed to signal a shift in the nation’s direction to a more tolerant, inclusive and confident nation. Those three traits are themselves a reflection of the attitudes and beliefs of the increasingly omnipresent Millennial generation. They form the basis for a new civic ethos that will come to characterize American government in the rest of this decade during which all 95 million members of the generation will enter adulthood. The cohort’s demographic dominance is an inexorable force increasing the chances that the startling changes the country witnessed in the span of less than two weeks are just a foretaste of what America will be like for decades to come.

The first unexpected event that suggested something different was happening occurred when the African-American families of those slain by a white man filled with hate forgave him based on their deep religious beliefs. In a courtroom in Charleston the voice of Vaclav Havel, the charismatic leader of Czechoslovakia’s Velvet Revolution, could be heard through the anguished testimonies of the victim’s families. “Those who have for many years engaged in a violent and bloody vengefulness against their opponents are now afraid of us. They should rest easy. We are not like them,” Havel said at the moment of his triumph over Communism. Similarly, the families foreswore revenge on those who had oppressed their race for generations in order to lay the foundation for a national reconciliation far beyond the confines of the Deep South. The families’ reactions were so unlike the polarizing behavior that has come to characterize American politics that the country stopped and took notice.

The family’s courage and grace was followed by an equally unexpected statement from the Republican Indian-American, female Governor of South Carolina, Nikki Haley. Whereas her more timid colleagues, including the state’s African-American Republican U.S. Senator, Tim Scott , suggested it might be time to talk through the issue of removing the most hated symbol of state’s rights and segregation, the Confederate battle flag, from its honored place on the State Capitol grounds after the victims had been buried, the Governor instead urged the state’s legislature to immediately consider its removal to begin a badly needed process of healing and reconciliation.

But, remarkable as Governor Haley’s words were, nothing could better symbolize the generational import of remarks by two white Southerners of impeccable “Old South” lineage. In response to the Governor’s comments Republican State Senator Paul Thurmond, explained why he would vote to remove the flag. “Our ancestors were literally fighting to keep human beings as slaves, and to continue the unimaginable acts that occur when someone is held against their will. I am not proud of this heritage.” This from the son of Strom Thurmond, the former South Carolina governor and U. S. Senator, a segregationist candidate for president in 1948 and leader in efforts to defy the nation’s civil rights laws in the 1960’s, including raising the confederate flag in state capitols as a symbol of that defiance.

Equally remarkable was the statement of Reverend Robert Wright Lee IV, a descendant of Confederate general Robert E. Lee and a scion of an old aristocratic Virginia family. A 22 year old Millennial, Lee is a pastor in the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, a group that has broken with the conservative Southern Baptist Convention on issues such as women in the pulpit. When asked what he would say if he had an opportunity to speak with the accused murderer, Reverend Lee replied that he would tell him, “You crucified Jesus yet again on the cross of white supremacy.”

But the debate over the battle flag of the Confederacy and its place in the Millennial Era was just one of a series of transformative events that swept the country in what many observers called the most historic week in Obama’s presidency. On the following Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court, in the case of The Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project, surprised liberals and conservatives alike by upholding the doctrine of disparate impact as a way to measure violations of the nation’s Fair Housing Act. So sure were liberals that the Court would instead begin to require proof of an overt intention to discriminate that they had quietly pushed for settling two earlier cases, expecting the Court to knock out the legal underpinnings for much of the jurisprudence surrounding the country’s anti-discrimination laws. Instead the Court made it clear that statistics and other evidence can be used to show decisions and practices have discriminatory effects without proving they are the result of direct discriminatory intentions.

As we documented in our book, Millennial Momentum, the Supreme Court, as the only branch of the federal government whose members enjoy lifetime employment, is usually behind the times initially when it comes to shifts in public opinion as the country moves from one era to another. Most famously, the “nine old men”, in Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s words, struck down much of the initial New Deal legislation as being unconstitutional in the reach and scope that those laws gave the federal government to interfere in the operation of the nation’s economy. But in FDR’s second term, with clear evidence from the President’s landslide victory in 1936 of where popular opinion stood on these issues, the Court had a change of heart and found no reason to doubt the constitutionality of Social Security or the Wagner Act’s rules for collective bargaining, or for that matter any of the myriad New Deal laws that came to its attention in later years. So too, in the Fair Housing decision, a 5-4 majority of the court decided that the country was best served after all by a vigorous prosecution of those actions leading to the social inequalities that so trouble members of the Millennial Generation.

That decision was merely a prelude to the 5-4 majority decision making same sex marriage the law of the land that was announced on Friday of the same remarkable week. This time it was clear to everyone that the Court was “following the election returns” as Mr. Dooley, Finley Peter Dunne’s wise and witty Irish bartender so famously pointed out more than a century ago. Thanks to the 73 percent of Millennials who support for gay marriage, the country’s opinion on this controversial topic had shifted at lightning speed from hostility to endorsement during the decade when a majority of the generation became eligible to vote. Even 59% of Millennial Republicans favor the legalization of gay marriage. Using the positive values of love and marriage rather than scolding opponents for their bigotry, allowed the “win-win” Millennial way of making decisions to transform public opinion. In the words of conservative columnist George Will, “whether someone was gay or not became as irrelevant as whether they were right or left handed.” All that remained was for the Supreme Court to find a way to embed that new consensus in constitutional principles, which Justice Kennedy did over the loud and even rude objections of his Boomer conservative colleagues.

A day before this decision was announced, the Court also put its final imprimatur on the validity of the Affordable Care Act, a law that is not only President Obama’s signature legislative achievement, but an excellent example of the Millennial civic ethos that will dominate public policy in the future. As complex as the Act’s provisions may be, when taken as a whole, as the Justices did in this particular decision, it does set up a new structure for how government can use its power to shape markets. ObamaCare’s strategy was completely different than the New Deal approach to federal regulation. It did not, despite the hysterical posturing of its opponents, impose the heavy hand of bureaucracy on health care markets, as it might have done by creating a “public option” for the direct provision of health care as many liberals wanted it to do. In this new civic ethos, the roles of the federal government and state governments are separately defined and the responsibilities for behaving properly are placed squarely on the individual. The Act sets the rules for the nation’s health care markets, but doesn’t dictate who is allowed to play in the game. It uses the power of the federal government to make the game fairer by offering subsidies to those least able to pay for health insurance. But it also uses the federal government’s taxing authority to impose penalties on anyone who seeks to avoid their responsibility to buy health insurance and not play at all. States were seen as the best place for individuals to learn more about their options and to provide solutions tailored to local needs. Some states stepped up to do just that. In others, Republican governors raised ideological objections. This ironically, forced their citizens to interact directly with the federal government despite their loud calls for defending states’ rights. All these new roles and responsibilities proved to be confusing at times to the drafters of the detailed legislations, but the Court was correct in deciding by a decisive 6-3 majority that what the Congress intended, a more inclusive and equitable health insurance market, should not be put asunder by judicial intervention.

But all of the signs of an emerging consensus didn’t just come from a meeting of the judicial and executive minds. In the middle of the eventful week that was, Republicans in Congress decided to hand their arch political enemy, President Obama, a victory on trade authority that only one week before had been sabotaged by leaders of the President’s own party. The trade negotiating authority he was granted by Congress is the linchpin in Obama’s strategy to confront America’s largest economic and military rival, China, through economic and diplomatic moves, rather than war.

As evidenced by the generation’s attitudes toward free trade, this approach is classically Millennial. A June, 2015 Pew survey found that 69 percent of Millennials say that free trade agreements are “a good thing for the United States,” while 56% believe that such treaties have helped them personally. Unlike those who represent economic structures and constituencies of America’s past, Millennials have always lived in a time of global competitiveness and are optimistic that they can win any such contest. They lead America in supporting the continued expansion of global trade using the mechanisms of multi-lateral treaties and due process, while providing aid to those who might be hurt by such competition. Whether President Obama, Senator Mitch McConnell, and Speaker John Boehner were listening to the voices of their Millennial constituencies when they cut their deal or not, the political fallout from having done so will be much less because of the confidence and optimism Millennials bring to their economic endeavors.

All of these momentous events were only the prelude to the remarkable conclusion to the country’s giant step into the Millennial Era. When President Obama addressed those assembled to mourn the shooting, ten days earlier, of Reverend Clementa Pinckney in Charleston’s historic Mother Emanuel AME Church before a racially-mixed congregation that reflected the diversity and tolerance of the Millennial generation, the President turned to his Christian faith and its notion of grace to explain the actions of the victim’s families in forgiving the person who had harmed them, culminating in an act that will be memorialized in every historical account of his presidency. He began singing “Amazing Grace,” all alone and in acapella style, until the congregation and the organist joined in, inviting everyone in the country to do so as well.

He also spoke of the way forward to a better America. He dismissed the typical Boomer generation call for additional conversations about race and instead pushed for immediate action to address some of the wrongs society has visited upon its most vulnerable and discriminated against minorities. “We talk a lot about race,” he said “There’s no shortcut. We don’t need more talk.” Mindful, as he said in a podcast interview earlier in the week, that real racial progress has been made in America on racial issues, he outlined additional actions that could be taken to improve race relations in both the political and economic spheres. He did not recommend new federal legislation. Instead his suggestions reflected the Millennial generation’s belief in thinking globally, but acting locally and individually to solve the big problems confronting the nation. He suggested that employers call back “Jamal and not just Johnny” for job interviews, that local government work to improve community/police relations, and that states stop trying to restrict voting rights.

History is best seen in a rear view mirror. The passage of time helps clarify which events and decisions turn out to have lasting impact and which do not. Many observers were sure that the 9/11 terrorist attacks would set America on a new course of unity and strength or that the Great Recession would lead to a more populist approach to economic policy. But as important as those events have been in shaping the beliefs of the Millennial Generation, neither led to any new national consensus on how to address the nation’s challenges. Instead, even after 9/11 and the Great Recession, the country’s politics remained on a continuing course of retribution and resistance, reflecting the deep ideological divisions of America’s previously largest generation, Baby Boomers. Consequently, it can’t be said with certainty that the sudden alignment of the nation’s Supreme Court with the priorities of its chief executive and the willingness of previously hostile political forces to join in an atmosphere of comity and reconciliation will turn out to be as propitious as it appears at the moment. But there are plenty of signs to suggest that America became a more tolerant, inclusive, confident, and pragmatic country in this amazingly short period of time.

We can only hope, as the President suggested in his eulogy to Reverend Pinckney , that not only will God continue to shed his grace on America, but that the final lines of the revered patriotic hymn, , “America the Beautiful,” will also become true, thanks in large part to the continued acceptance of the values of the Millennial Generation. If America follows the generation’s lead, it will be more completely crowned “with brotherhood from sea to shining sea,” then it has ever been before.

Happy Fourth of July to all Americans and especially the members of America’s next great generation, Millennials.

This piece was cross-posted on MikeandMorley.com.

Watch for Millennial Oriented SOTU from President Obama


As demonstrated in the presidential exit polls and rehashed in countless articles and blogs since the election, Barack Obama’s decisive reelection victory over Mitt Romney was a triumph for a still-emerging, majority Democratic Obama coalition, which we said in a pair of preelection articles would define a new civic ethos, or consensus on the role of government, for the nation.

The president even more forcefully reiterated his civic ethos vision–that America and its individual citizens advance only when “We, the People” work “together”–in his Inaugural Address. He is sure to return to that formulation in his State of the Union speech given how popular  his policy preferences are on his side of America’s two new 21st-century political party coalitions.

The Democratic coalition is centered on the millennial generation (young voters 18 to 30), women (especially single women), minorities, and the highly educated, and is geographically focused in the Northeast and West.

All of these groups gave at least 55 percent of their 2012 presidential votes to the president. In fact, without the support of 60 percent of millennials, Obama would have lost the election. For some parts of the coalition, support for the president’s reelection verged on unanimity.

More than nine in 10 African-Americans voted for him, as did about seven in 10 Asians, Hispanics, Jews, and single women.

On the other side, the groups in the Republican coalition were equally loyal to Mitt Romney. Solid majorities of men, whites, seniors–especially those living in the South and Great Plains and Rocky Mountain states–voted for the GOP candidate.

For instance, the majority of women, millennials, African-Americans, Hispanics and college graduates, as well as those living in urban and suburban areas and those in the Northeast, all support controlling gun ownership over protecting gun owners' rights. The president enters the fray with the full support of his coalition on this issue and many others such as immigration reform, climate change and gay rights. 

Futhermore, his economic prescriptions focused on investing in infrastructure and research and making all forms of eduction from pre-school through college more accessible and affordable, speak directly to the most important issues for Millennials. 

The president seems intent on mobilizing his coalition to enact his policy agenda. If he is successful, the nation will see the enactment of an array of domestic policies as sweeping in its scope as Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, but aligned this time with the ideas and beliefs of another president and his winning 21st-century coalition.


A Millennial Era Approach to Preventing Gun Violence

President Obama’s comprehensive proposal for preventing gun violence in America is to be commended. The focus for policy makers shouldn’t be to try and sort out which of his ideas are politically feasible but rather which ones will work to accomplish the goal of preventing gun violence of all types, while preserving the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms. Linking the ideal outcome to a focus on the pragmatic steps we can take now to make progress toward the ultimate goal is how the Millennial Generation (born 1982-2003) approaches this type of challenge and, in this case, it holds great promise for actually fixing one of the most intractable problems facing the United States. 

As with many other social issues, Millennials have a much more liberal perspective on solutions to gun violence than their older siblings--members of Generation X, who grew up when Ronald Reagan was president. By a 55% to 36% margin, Millennials favor taking steps to control gun ownership over protecting the right to own guns. Only seniors, normally more conservative on these types of issues, approach this level of support for government action to make our cities and neighborhoods safer. By contrast, Generation X, born 1965 to 1981, is the one generation which , even after Newtown, believes it is more important to protect gun ownership rights than to control the use of firearms (by a 48% to 42% margin). 

A recent report from the Gun Violence Prevention Task Force sponsored by the Roosevelt Institute’s Campus Network (RICN), underlines both Millennials’ support for taking on the issue and their focus on pragmatic steps to do so. Starting with its title, “Young People’s Concrete Policy Recommendations to Address Gun Violence Prevention in America,” the report analyzes each side of the debate solely in terms of what solutions are likely to work. The recommendations correctly focus on steps to decrease access to semiautomatic weapons and any ammunition clip with more than ten rounds. It strongly endorses the creation of comprehensive databases that would have to be accessed for any gun transaction to take place, with a special emphasis on ensuring the names of those with serious mental illness are included in the database.  With special insight, the report, by a group of progressive Millennials, properly dismisses the distracting idea of making the current debate about culture or media coverage, as opposed to taking action.

There is plenty of evidence in the nation’s successful efforts to reduce crime to suggest that this Millennial approach to the problem will work. As Simon Rosenberg, has pointed out, violent crime, with the sole exception of gun violence,  particularly in country’s largest cities, has dropped dramatically since 1993. The principle reason for that decline was the introduction of the CompStats process by Bill Bratton as police chief of New York City, which led to a  77% decline in crime  in that city alone since then.  Vice President Al Gore’s reinventing government initiative, recognized the efficacy of this program and spread knowledge of Bratton’s approach to  police chiefs  across the country. This is one of the key reasons why there has been a continued decline since then in the nation’s crime rates. Despite economic hard times, major increases in our juvenile population as Millennials became teen agers, and a series of other societal developments that traditional sociologists and criminologists had predicted would cause an increase in crime, the progress continues. 

CompStats uses current, accurate information to analyze where crimes are being committed and by whom. The goal is to get bad guys off the streets and to flood high crime areas with police resources. The gun violence analogy to this simple and effective approach would be to keep people who lack the intention or ability to use guns responsibly from buying firearms and to heavily penalize those who use them irresponsibly. A comprehensive assault weapon and ammunition clip ban of the type the RICN advocates has proven to be effective in other countries in limiting access to guns, and a fully developed and federally mandated background check for all gun transactions should be instituted to  keep the wrong people from being able to buy guns.  

This still leaves the problem of existing weaponry, but buy-back programs both in the US, and elsewhere, have been effective in further  reducing gun violence. The attempts of  NRA supporters to short circuit such efforts by trying to buy the guns being offered instead of letting the police destroy them testifies to the ultimate effectiveness of this approach to reducing  the nation’s stockpile of unnecessary weapons. And the success of the state of Virginia, a gun lover’s and seller’s paradise, in reducing gun violence by making it clear that criminals who use guns will be prosecuted to the maximum extent of the law has proven its value as the right public policy approach to go after those who should never be allowed to use a gun. 

CompStats and the RICN report provide one further valuable lesson to keep in mind as the debate over President Obama’s proposals heats up. When Bratton first introduced the concept to his leadership team, its members told him he could never accomplish his initial goal of reducing crime in NYC by 40% within three years. Their argument was that since the police had no control over the causes of crime—poverty, ethnic and racial tensions, or educational levels--it was not possible or even fair to hold the police accountable for its reduction. But Bratton made it clear that it was not necessary to address the underlying causes of bad behavior to reduce it substantially by simply focusing on the individuals committing crimes and eliminating places where they might be tempted to do so. 

Similarly, it can and probably will be argued ad infinitum whether or not violent entertainment creates a fascination with guns that leads to gun violence. And an equally unproductive debate can be held over the media’s role in glorifying those who commit such acts. But no matter who is right, there is no reason to have that debate delay the country from doing something to keep guns out of the hands of those who would use them improperly. With technologies much less sophisticated than what is available today to sift and sort big databases, Bratton’s CompStats process was still able to pinpoint where to direct efforts to take bad guys off the street and dramatically change the safety of our cities.    

The nation’s consciousness has been stirred by the slaughter of innocent children in Newtown, Connecticut. But as Newark Mayor Cory Booker correctly points out, gun violence takes the lives of more than thirty people, about as many who died at Virginia Tech,  every single day. Now that Newtown and the President’s proposals have focused the nation’s attention on the problem of how to end such senseless slaughter, attention must be paid to the Millennial Generation’s ideas on how to meet this challenge. More than any other generation, it is their future that is at risk if we fail to do so.  


Tax Revolt Is Ending Where It All Began

California’s demographic trends provide a first glimpse of what all of America will look like in the future, including the country's  new attitude toward finding the revenue to pay for a more activist government.  The passage of several ballot propositions last November, coupled with the increases in income tax rates just passed in Congress to avoid the “fiscal cliff, ” suggest that the anti-tax revolt, which was born in California, is now coming to an end to be replaced by a more  civic-oriented attitude on the part of voters.  

In 1978, Proposition 13 was passed by the voters of California who were fed up with inflation-driven, double digit, increases in property taxes, sparking a nation-wide tax revolt that Ronald Reagan rode all the way to the White House. At that time, Jerry Brown was in his first incarnation as governor of California and the Democrats controlled a two-thirds majority in the State Assembly. Proposition 13 was not only designed to limit future property tax increases for existing home owners but to limit the ability of  Democratic legislators to continue to raise taxes. It did so by imposing a new constitutional requirement that a two-thirds vote in both houses of the legislature would be needed for lawmakers to pass any type of tax increase in the future.  

Now, fast forward to November 6, 2012 when Democratic Governor Jerry Brown bet the fate of his return engagement as California’s governor on the passage of a ballot proposition designed to balance the state’s chronic budget shortfall by raising an additional $6 billion through temporary increases in the state sales tax (by one-quarter of a percent) and the state income taxes on high income earners. The measure, Proposition 30, passed easily, (by a 54% to 46% margin).

A ballot proposal to raise a billion dollars by closing a loophole in the way the tax liabilities of out-of-state corporations were calculated passed by an even wider, twenty point, margin.  And over 80% of the 140 local school bond proposals on ballots across the state that day also were approved by voters.  Not only that, but when all the votes in California were finally counted, the Democrats had won two-thirds majorities in both houses of the legislature, not just in the Assembly, but, for the first time since 1883, in the State Senate as well.

As Tony Quinn, a California Republican political analyst put it, “the anti-tax zealots who for years have been tail-wagging the old flea-bitten Republican dog. Well, now, there is no dog. Only fleas.”  By the time of the 2012 election, Republican registration in California had slipped to less than 30%, from 35% just eight years ago. The state adopted an online registration system this year, adding over one million new people to the voter rolls. Only 20% of those registered as  Republicans, reflecting the high proportion of young people  who not only availed themselves of the opportunity to register to vote easily, but also  rejected  the GOP.

According to CNN exit polls, 27% of California voters this year were under thirty, up from 20% in the Obama-mania year of 2008. They voted for Proposition 30 by a 2:1 margin.

Latinos made up 23% of this year’s California voters, compared to only 18% in 2008. The Republican Party and its positions have continued to lose support among this rapidly growing segment of the electorate ever since Governor Pete Wilson used his support of  Proposition 187, which was designed to deny all public services for undocumented immigrants, to ride to re-election in 1994. Fifty-eight percent of Latinos voted in favor of Proposition 30. 

Right now, the state’s demographic makeup is more diverse than the rest of the country. Only 55% of the California electorate in 2012 was white compared to 72% nationally. But with the country becoming less and less white each year, it is likely that the anti-tax revolt that started in California will begin to die out across the rest of the country as these demographic trends accelerate almost everywhere in America.

The state’s election results signal the arrival of a new demographic alignment, one whose civic ethos will call for a stronger role for government and for the taxes to pay for it. If California lives up to its reputation as a national trend setter, this will soon become the majority viewpoint in the entire United States, not just in its most populous state. 

Asian Americans Are an Emerging Force in U.S. Politics

First Posted in the National Journal

In the countless commentaries focusing on the demographic factors shaping the outcome of the 2012 election, there has been virtually nothing said about the contribution of Asian-Americans to the electorate and to Barack Obama’s reelection. It will be hard to ignore this growing group of voters much longer.

Since at least 2009, the number of Asian immigrants entering the United States has exceeded that of Hispanics, and in 2012 Asian-Americans cast a higher percentage of their ballots for Obama than did Hispanics (73 percent to 71 percent). Members of this very diverse community accounted for about 3 percent of the electorate on Nov. 6. Since Asians continue to migrate to the U.S. in large numbers, and because about 30 percent of Asian-Americans in the country now are not yet citizens but are likely to become so in the future, their share of the electorate should keep growing.

The 113th Congress going into session in January will include a dozen Asian-American members, the largest number ever. Irvine, Calif., in the heart of the formerly solid Republican Orange Country, cast 52 percent of its votes for Obama, principally because Asian-Americans now make up almost 40 percent of the city’s population. 

The presence of Asian-Americans in the 2012 election was not limited to candidates or voting; they were even part of its pop culture. Throughout the campaign, videos emerged depicting the presidential candidates dancing in “Gangnam Style,” a Korean version of hip-hop. One, featuring a dancer with a striking resemblance to Obama, came to the president’s attention causing him to remark that he might be able to repeat some of the dancer’s “moves,” but only privately for the First Lady and not at an inaugural ball.

Another was designed to inspire a trip to the polls by young Asian-Americans living in the 626 area code of California’s San Gabriel Valley, heavily populated by Asian-Americans of varied national backgrounds, especially Chinese.   

A June 2012 Pew Social Trends survey, aptly titled, “The Rise of Asian Americans,” demonstrates the increasing importance of Asian-Americans in U.S. politics, suggesting that they are taking their place in an emerging Democratic coalition that could dominate American politics during the coming four decades.

Some other observations:

Asian-Americans overwhelmingly identify as Democrats. Asian-Americans identify with or lean toward the Democratic Party rather than the Republican Party by an almost 2-to-1 margin (50 percent to 28 percent). Similar to Hispanics, among whom Cuban-Americans traditionally identify with the GOP while those of Mexican and Puerto Rican descent most often see themselves as Democrats, there are nationality variations in party ID among Asian-Americans.

Indian-Americans (65 percent Democrats to 18 percent Republican), Japanese-Americans (54 percent to 29 percent), Chinese-Americans (49 percent to 26 percent) and Korean Americans (48 percent to 32 percent) are solidly in the Democratic camp.

Filipino-Americans (43 percent Democrats to 40 percent Republican) and Vietnamese-Americans (36 percent to 35 percent) are evenly divided in their partisan identification.

Like Americans generally, younger Asian-Americans and Asian-American women are slightly more likely to call themselves Democrats than older voters and men.

Asian-Americans tilt liberal. Asian-Americans lean more toward the liberal than the conservative side of the political spectrum. Among all Asian-Americans, 31 percent say they are liberal, 24 percent call themselves conservative, and 37 percent say they are moderate.

By contrast, in a Pew survey of the general public conducted at about the same time as its survey of Asian-Americans, 34 percent identified as conservatives, 24 percent as liberals, and 37 percent as moderates. Younger Asian-Americans are particularly likely to be liberal rather than conservative (39 percent to 17 percent).

Asian-Americans favor activist government. A majority of Asian-Americans prefer a “bigger government that provides more services” rather than a “smaller government that provides fewer services.” In this regard, they are the mirror image of the general public which favors a smaller rather than a bigger government by 52 percent to 39 percent. Asian-American women are far more positive about “big government” than men (61 percent to 49 percent).

Asian-Americans have more liberal views on social issues. The majority of Asian-Americans believe that abortion should be legal in all or most cases and that homosexuality should be accepted. On both of these social issues the beliefs of Asian-Americans are virtually identical to those of the general public.

As is the case with Americans overall, young Asian-Americans are substantially more likely to hold “liberal” beliefs on social issues. However, not surprisingly, as among Americans generally, social issue attitudes are shaped to a far greater extent by religion rather than demographics.

Large majorities of non-Christian Asian-Americans (Hindus, Buddhists and those unaffiliated with a faith) support tolerance of gays and relatively open abortion policies. Most Asian-American Christians take the opposite stance.

Asian-Americans approve of President Obama and are more positive about the direction of the U.S than Americans overall. At the time the Pew survey was conducted, 43 percent of Asian-Americans said they were satisfied with the way things were going in the U.S., more than twice the percentage of the general public that felt that way (21 percent). As a result, a majority of Asian-Americans (54 percent) approved of the way Obama was handling his job as president. That was 10 points higher than his approval rating among the general public.

Given their majority Democratic identification and liberal leanings on issues, the high level of Asian-American support for Obama in 2012 and 2008 (when 63 percent voted for him) is not surprising. Even more important, those identifications and attitudes suggest that Asian-Americans are likely to be a component of the Democratic coalition long after the president has left office.


2012: Another Millennial Triumph

In an election as close as this year’s presidential contest, any group can make a credible claim for having made the critical difference in the outcome. But there is certainly no denying the impact the Millennial Generation (young voters 18-30 years old)  had on the outcome of the  2012  election. Because it was so surprising to so many (but not us), there was as much commentary among the chattering classes on the day after the election about  the impact on American politics of the Millennial Generation as the more  conventional conversation about the continuing rise in the influence of Hispanic-Americans.  It is possible that this sudden discovery of the power of the Millennial Generation will last beyond this week’s instant analysis, but whether it does or not, the size and unity of belief of the Millennial Generation will continue to be felt for the rest of this decade and well beyond.

            Millennials made up 19% of the electorate in 2012, a point or two more than their share

of the 2008 electorate. Unlike four years ago when the Millennials’  share was equivalent to that

of senior citizens, this time they outpaced the senior share,  which fell to only 16% of the

electorate. Although final turnout numbers are difficult to calculate until all the votes are

counted, CIRCLE research data Even as Hispanic voters reached an historically high level of participation,  Millennials, about a quarter  of whom are  Hispanic, became a powerful 23 million strong segment of the electorate, a number that will only grow larger over the rest of this decade.

            So far, just about sixty percent of Millennials have turned eighteen. Over the next eight years, all Millennials will become eligible to vote, representing a 95 million voter opportunity for whichever party is willing and able to successfully recruit them. If Millennials continue to participate at around the 50% mark that they have in the past two presidential elections, they will eventually represent about a 47 million member constituency, twice the numbers that they were in 2012. . 

            But it’s not just the size of the generation that makes Millennials such a powerful political force. The previously largest American generation, Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964) have been hopelessly split in their political opinions and preferences ever since they ignited the cultural wars of the 1960s. This makes Boomers less of a political opportunity as an entire cohort  and of more interest to politicians when they are segmented along other lines, such as the infamous and well-known gender gap that they created starting in the 1980s.  Millennials, by contrast, have consistently voted in a highly unified manner. Two-thirds of them voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and 60% of them voted for his re-election this year.  Even though there are significant ethnic differences within a generation that is 40% non-white, Millennial voting behavior continues to show the powerful pull of their generation’s consensus-oriented approach to decision-making.

            Millennials are now a key part of a 21st century Democratic coalition that includes minorities and women, especially college educated and single women of all ethnicities,  which together now represents a majority of American voters. As the number of Millennial voters continues to grow throughout this decade and the generation preserves its  unity of belief, something which political science research  suggests will happen,  Millennials will have the pleasure of experiencing many more electoral triumphs in the years ahead.  

GOP Hispanic Political Malpractice

One of the more curious developments in American politics over the last two decades is the political malpractice of Republicans in dealing with Hispanic-Americans.  Indeed, it now appears that the 2012 election may well be determined by the share of the Latino vote that Governor Mitt Romney is able to keep from falling into President Barack Obama’s column.

According to the Investor’s Business Daily tracking poll, Hispanics prefer Barack Obama by a greater than 2:1 margin (61% to 29% on October 25).  Hispanic-Americans have tilted toward the Democrats for decades, so it is hard to blame the Republican Party’s current predicament on just the political tactics of this year’s campaign.

But unlike the African-American vote since the 1960s, which has remained rock solid Democratic, history indicates that on occasion the GOP has competed for and won a significant share of the Latino vote.  Hispanics tend to be family oriented and somewhat entrepreneurial, which should make them potential Republicans.

But deliberate, conscious decisions by Republican leaders focused on the short run gains from immigrant bashing have done severe damage to the long term health of their party. Attacks on immigrants have caused Hispanics to desert the GOP in droves, particularly in the two most recent presidential elections. And, because the Latino population is relatively youthful, if this concern is not dealt with, it may become even more acute for the Republican Party in the years ahead. Among Millennials, America’s youngest adult generation, about one in five is Latino as compared with about one in ten among Baby Boomers and one in twenty among seniors. Among the even younger Pluralist generation (children 10 years old and younger) between a quarter and 30% are Hispanic. Between these two up-and-coming generations, it’s likely that Hispanics will represent nearly 30% of the nation’s population within the next few decades. This suggests that the Republican Party has little hope of winning national elections in the future unless it reverses its current policies to bring them more in alignment with the attitudes and beliefs of this key voter group.   

Some have estimated that Ronald Reagan won 37% of the Hispanic vote in his successful 1984 re-election campaign.  Since then the presence of Hispanic voters in the electorate has grown by 400%, but the Republican share of their votes has risen above the level at which Latinos supported Reagan only once. That occurred in 2004 when Karl Rove’s strategic focus on Latinos enabled President George W. Bush’s re-election effort to win upwards of 40% of the Hispanic vote. In every other presidential election since 1984, Republicans have struggled to win the votes of even one out of three Hispanics.  

Recent data from Pew Research demonstrates that the Hispanic rejection of the GOP was not pre-ordained. Their recent survey  showed 70% of Hispanics now identify themselves as Democrats,  but that this percentage falls to just 52% among Evangelical Hispanics, a fast growing  group whose cultural attitudes are more conservative than those of the overall Hispanic population. In 2004, President Bush actually won a majority of the Hispanic Protestant vote even as his support among Catholic Hispanics failed to improve from his showing in 2000.   

Catholic Hispanics, who comprise about 60% of all Latinos, are more likely to vote based on perceived loyalties to their social-economic class than their attitudes on social issues. Bertha Gallegos, who is Catholic, pro-life and the Vice President of the Colorado Society of Hispanic Genealogy, a nonprofit and nonpartisan organization that researches the state’s Latino history, typifies the attitude among members of her faith toward the Republican Party. “I still don’t get how Hispanics can be Republicans. The only time they’re nice to us is when they want our vote. Republicans work to make the rich richer. They don’t care about the poor.”   

Since the virulently anti-immigrant campaign in favor of Proposition 187 in California that attempted to bar immigrant access to basic social services the Republicans have continued to play exactly the wrong tune for Hispanics.  In this year’s Republican primary, there was much emphasis on removing undocumented immigrants from American soil through self-deportation or other more draconian means, Republicans have allowed economic resentment and cultural fears to get in the way of positive voter outreach to America’s fastest growing minority population. After all, many Latino legal residents and citizens also have relatives and friends who are undocumented.

Yet studies as far back as the 2000 presidential election have shown that when properly engaged, Hispanics have an open mind on which party deserves their support. Latinos in that election were statistically more likely to support Bush over Gore if they were contacted by Latino rather than Anglo Republicans. Clearly the election in 2010 of Latino Republican governors, Susana Martinez of New Mexico and Brian Sandoval of Nevada, suggests that the community remains open to such appeals in the future.

Before such efforts can be successful however, Republicans will have to reverse course on their attitudes toward comprehensive immigration reform, a cause which traces its historical lineage to Ronald Reagan and which was a key part of Karl Rove’s re-election strategy for George W. Bush. Only when the Republican Party’s message changes will their messengers deserve and be able to gain a respectful hearing from America’s Hispanics.   


Who's Coming to the Party

This article originally appeared in the National Journal

An August national survey of nearly 3300 Americans 18-85 years old conducted by research company, Frank N. Magid Associates, details the current composition of two party coalitions that are more distinctive from one another than at any time in the past 50 years, perhaps even since the Great Depression. 

In many democracies political parties represent particular interests: labor or business, specific religions, ethnicities, or regions. In America, with its continental dimensions, varied population, and a constitutional system designed to disperse governing power, political parties are historically and still remain, coalitions of various social groups. No party monopolizes the members of any one demographic and each party contains at least some representation from all segments of the population.

 Once formed, the party coalitions have staying power. During the Great Depression, Franklin Roosevelt assembled the New Deal coalition comprised of Southern whites; the Greatest Generation children of eastern and southern European immigrants; white workers; and urban blacks.  This coalition dominated US electoral politics for four decades and restructured public policy domestically, transforming public economic policy from laissez faire to governmental activism, and internationally, moving the nation’s foreign policy from isolationism to interventionism.

As new generations with new concerns emerged in the midst of the racial and lifestyle changes of the 1960s, the New Deal coalition fell apart. It was supplanted by a Republican coalition that increasingly added two former components of the Democratic coalition—the white south and working class whites—to the upper income white residents of suburbs and small towns outside of the South that had been the core of the GOP in the previous era. The new Republican coalition dominated national elections almost as long and shaped public policy almost as profoundly as had the New Deal coalition that it superseded. 

Party coalitions are formed in a nation with a constantly changing economy, political process, and demographic make-up and, consequently, are not permanent. The sharp differences between today’s two party coalitions are portrayed very clearly in the Magid data. 

 The majority of voters who identify with or lean to the Republican Party are males (54%) and members of America’s two oldest generations—Baby Boomers, those in their 50s to mid-60s, and Silents or seniors--who together comprise 53% of Republicans. The GOP coalition is almost entirely white (81%). It is disproportionately Southern (38% of all Republicans and 41% of strong Republican identifiers) and resides in above average numbers in small towns and rural areas (40%). Two-thirds of Republicans are married and three-quarters are Christian, while only 7% are unaffiliated with any faith. A third of all Republican identifiers and 42% of strong Republicans attend religious services at least weekly. And, not surprisingly, 56% of all Republicans and 68% of strong Republican identifiers are self-professed conservatives. 

The Democratic coalition is far different. A majority of Democratic identifiers are women (53%) and from the country’s two youngest generations—Millennials, voters in their 20s, and Gen-X’ers, people in their 30s and 40s, who in total make up 57% of Democrats. Forty-one percent of all Democrats and 45% of strong Democrats are non-white with about equal numbers of African-Americans and Hispanics. Nearly half of Democrats (48%) live in the Northeast and West and a disproportionately large number live in big cities or suburbs (70%). Just half are married. Only 57% are Christian, while about one in five each are either of non-Christian denominations or unaffiliated with any faith. Just 21% of Democrats attend a religious service weekly. Slightly more (24%) never do. The Democratic coalition is, however, more diverse ideologically than the Republican: while a plurality (42%) are either self-identified liberals or progressives, nearly as many (35%) say they are politically moderate. 

 America is undergoing major demographic, economic, and societal changes that have led to this new alignment and will continue to shape the two party coalitions. Some of the change—the Great Recession, the deepest and longest economic downturn since the 1930s--was severe and occurred almost overnight. Other changes, among them the transformation of the nation from a white to non-white majority country, the emergence of America’s largest and most diverse generation, the Millennials, and a makeover of the U.S. economy, are taking place more slowly, but equally profoundly.

In order to hold together and expand their coalitions, both parties will need to formulate a new “civic ethos” that addresses the fundamental question of what the size and scope of government should be in this new era. Both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney recognize this and used their party’s conventions to articulate distinctly different visions and values that they believe should shape and guide America’s politics and government in the coming years. The party that enunciates this new civic ethos in a way which enables it to build a majority electoral and governing  coalition is likely  to dominate U.S. politics for the next four or five decades. 

Generational Cycle Is Turning on Immigration

This article originally appeared in the National Journal

Americans have been of two minds about immigration almost since the founding of the Republic. On the one hand, we swell with pride at the welcoming words of Emma Lazarus’s Statue of Liberty sonnet: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free,” and coverage of the swearing in of new citizens from around the globe has become a staple of July Fourth television newscasts.

By contrast, each new large wave of newcomers has led to the emergence of nativist groups and to laws designed to minimize immigration. The arrival of millions of German and Irish immigrants before the Civil War led to the creation of the anti-immigrant Order of the Star Spangled Banner and the electoral successes of the American (or Know Nothing) Party in 1854 and 1856. The waves of Eastern and Southern European immigrants in the late-19th and early-20th centuries produced a revival of the Ku Klux Klan and the passage of a 1924 law, which imposed low nationality quotas on immigrants from that part of Europe as well as Asia and Africa. 

But history also indicates that, although mixed attitudes about it may endure, concern with immigration and fear of immigrants rises and falls as new generations with different attitudes emerge. 

A February national survey of nearly 1,500 Americans between the ages of 18 and 64, conducted by communication research firm Frank N. Magid Associates, suggests that the United States is about to enter a period in which the debate about immigration should become less contentious, primarily because of the increasing presence within the electorate of the tolerant and diverse millennial generation, a cohort now in its teens and 20s. Millennials will represent one out of every three eligible voters by the end of this decade.  

According to Magid, about three in 10 Americans are completely opposed to all immigration—legal and illegal—while an identical number perceive a need for even undocumented immigration, believing that “the United States needs illegal immigrants to do work others won’t.”

The attitudes of other Americans fall between these extremes. The majority agree that “immigration has made America a great country” and that “immigration is an American legacy worth keeping.” About 43 percent would favor making their community “immigrant friendly.” At the same time, 71 percent say that while they favor legal immigration, “illegal immigration is out of control.” Just over 40 percent agrees that “immigration is making America worse,” while only 30 percent disagrees.

Millennials, on the other hand, tend to be more positive about immigrants. For most millennials, immigration is not an abstract or academic matter. It is as up close and personal as their parents, their friends, their classmates, and their next-door neighbors. Nearly one out of five of them have at least one immigrant parent, and almost 30 percent of millennials are Hispanic or Asian—groups containing large numbers of recent immigrants.

As a result, millennials agree more strongly than older generations that “immigration is an American legacy worth keeping,” 57 percent to 52 percent. The majority, 51 percent, also agrees that their community should be “immigrant friendly,” compared with 39 percent of older generations.

They are also less likely to believe than their elders that “illegal immigration is out of control,” 67 percent to 75 percent. Millennials are also likely to accept the proposition that the country “needs illegal immigrants to do the work others won’t,” 37 percent to 22 percent of older generations.

Generational theory says it is the historic role of “civic” generations, such as today’s millennials and last century’s GI generation, to be the cohort in which the acculturation and toleration of newcomers to America reaches its apex.

A major theme of GI generation writers ranging from novelist Herman Wouk, (Marjorie Morningstar), to playwright Neil Simon (Biloxi Blues , Brighton Beach Memoirs) and sociologist Will Herberg (Protestant, Catholic, Jew) was the depiction of the way in which GIs of various ethnicities emerged from their immigrant homes and neighborhoods to achieve acceptance within the larger society.

In 1965, it was a GI generation-dominated Congress and GI president, Lyndon Johnson, that passed immigration-reform legislation overturning the nationality quotas established in 1924. Now, as a new ethnically diverse civic generation emerges in large numbers, American politics will renew its cyclical rhythm and return to policies that once again tolerate and include immigrants from every part of the globe.  

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.


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