New Politics

Winograd and Hais: The Republican Party Ignores Young 'Millennials' at Its Peril

Los Angeles Times

By Morley Winograd and Michael D. Hais

If the Republican Party thinks it has problems now, just wait. The party's incredibly poor performance among young voters in the 2008 election raises questions about the long-term competitiveness of the GOP.

The "millennials" -- the generation of Americans born between 1982 and 2003 -- now identify as Democrats by a ratio of 2 to 1. They are the first in four generations to contain more self-perceived liberals than conservatives.

And a recent Daily Kos tracking poll should send shudders down the spine of any Republican who understands how powerful a voting bloc this generation could become over the next decade.

Only 9% of millennials polled expressed a favorable opinion of the Republican Party. Only 7% were positive about the GOP's congressional leaders. By contrast, 65% of millennials had a favorable opinion of the Democratic Party, and a majority also approved of congressional Democrats.

Though many people question the political sophistication of the millennials, they have been instilled with egalitarian and participatory values by their parents since birth.

This child-rearing produced a generation that was wide open to the personal appeal and message of Barack Obama and his party. Moving forward, the initial preference of millennials for President Obama and the Democrats will remain in place for a lifetime unless Republicans can quickly adapt their message and find a messenger who can speak to this powerful new force in American politics.

Only 41% of all millennials were eligible to vote in 2008, yet their overwhelming support for Obama transformed his win from what would have been a squeaker into a solid victory. Obama's popular-vote margin over John McCain was about 9.5 million nationally; millennials accounted for nearly 7.6 million of those votes.

In the 2010 off-year election, half of millennials will be eligible to vote, representing about a fifth of the overall electorate. By 2012, 60% will be eligible to vote, and they could make up about a quarter of the American electorate when Obama runs for reelection. By 2020, when virtually all millennials will be over 18, they will represent 36% of the electorate and will completely dominate elections and the political agenda of America.

And it seems likely that this civic generation, like its "Greatest Generation" great-grandparents, will vote in big numbers. Turnout among voters under 30 has been rising steadily since millennials began to replace the alienated and more cynical Gen-Xers in this age group. From a low of 37% in 1996, turnout increased to 53% of all eligible millennials, and 59% in the key battleground states in 2008.

Their unity of opinion and their numbers will make millennials' preferences for economic activism, a non-intrusive approach to social issues by government at any level and a multilateral interventionism by America in foreign affairs the policy paths to political success during the next decade.

It is simply inconceivable that the Republican Party can craft a winning strategy between now and then that doesn't accommodate these ideas.

But so far, Republicans appear to be tone-deaf on the issues that millennials care about.

Millennials have been reared with a desire to serve their community, and the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act provides them an opportunity to do just that, while at the same time dealing with their single biggest financial worry -- the high cost of a college education. Unfortunately, all but 25 House Republicans voted against the bill, despite its co-sponsorship by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah).

Millennials also are experiencing higher levels of unemployment than any other generation. They expect the federal government to take an active role in fixing that problem and support redistributing income if necessary. But the almost-unanimous Republican opposition to the "recovery" act helped convince millennials that only one party actually understood their problems and was prepared to act in accordance with their beliefs.

Polls consistently show millennials are more committed to environmental protection than any generation in American history, willing to sacrifice economic growth or endure higher prices in order to save the planet. Given the millennials' overwhelming concern with the environment, House Minority Leader John Boehner's comments recently that carbon dioxide isn't a real threat because "we all breathe it out" and, besides, "cows give out a lot of gas too," went beyond inanity into the realm of political suicide.

The only tentative Republican gesture to millennial power to date is the GOP's sudden fascination with a new social network platform, Twitter. By choosing Twitter -- with its limitations on content -- to connect to millennials, Republicans are actually demonstrating how little they know about this generation's commitment to engaging in the content-rich challenges of rebuilding the nation's civic institutions and national unification.

Republicans will need to find a new message and much better messengers than their last presidential ticket or their current congressional leaders if they want to truly connect with today's young voters. Failure to do so will leave Republicans, to paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, locked in the dogmas of their quiet past, unable to think and therefore act anew.

Morley Winograd and Michael D. Hais are fellows of the think tanks NDN and the New Policy Institute and the coauthors of "Millennial Makeover: MySpace, YouTube, and the Future of American Politics."

If the Republican Party thinks it has problems now, just wait. The party's incredibly poor performance among young voters in the 2008 election raises questions about the long-term competitiveness of the GOP.

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Voters Deliver a Mandate for a New Economic Strategy

Over the last few months, NDN has been part of a broad progressive campaign to explain why the American economy was not delivering the type of broad‐based prosperity this country needs. This week, American voters delivered a clear and unmistakable mandate for action on our economy. The facts are simple: during the Clinton era, the average family income increased by more than $7,000; but in the Bush era the average family has actually seen their income decline by more than $1,000. And the results this week make it clear that this lack of upward mobility was a critical issue in removing the Republicans from power.

There is a prevailing wisdom emerging that this election was about the Iraq war. This is only partially correct. Of course, Iraq mattered. But the exit polls and post‐election analysis make it clear that the economy mattered a grea deal, perhaps even more than Iraq. The economy was a deciding factor in key battleground states, and was especially important for swing voters. Moreover, voters who felt the economy was doing badly were overwhelmingly more likely to vote Democrat (all exit polls referenced are the official national exit polls which can be found here).

  • The economy was the most important issue. The exit poll asked voters if they considered various issue important in deciding their vote. If you add up those who responded ‐ where issues were extremely, very, or somewhat important ‐ the economy comes out number one.
  • Table 1

  • Economy Crucial in Battleground States. The economy played a critical role in the key battleground states that decided the election. In these areas the results could not be clearer: the economy was the number one issue. The exit poll asked voters in key swing states about Iraq and the Economy. In each swing state more voters thought the economy was either “extremely important” or “very important” in their decision over who to vote for their senator.
  • Table 2

  • Economy Plays Big with Swing Voters. Stan Greenberg’s post‐election analysis shows that Iraq was the dominant issue for the majority of voters. However, Greenberg is clear that the economy was the second most important issue overall, and that it played a disproportionately important role in persuading swing voters who were considering voting for the Democrats. Among this group of swing voters 51% cited economic issues like gas prices, while 38% cited jobs and the economy. Only 23% cited Iraq.
  • Only 30% of Americans believe they are getting ahead. The exit poll in two separate questions about the perception of their own economic situation, only 30 percent said their own economic situation had improved in recent years. And remarkably, the same number – only 30% ‐ said they believed the life of the next generation would be better than theirs. Of those who felt they had prospered voted about 2:1 for the Republicans. For those who were struggling, they voted the opposite way, 2:1 for the Democrats.
  • Those struggling to get ahead voted Democrat. Additional questions confirm how much a factor perceptions of the economy were in driving the Democratic vote. Those who thought the economy was “excellent” voted overwhelmingly for the Republicans (86% vs 13%.). Democrats easily carried those who thought the economy was either “not good” (74% vs 23%) or “poor” (85% vs 13%.).

All of this added together clearly shows that the American people want the new Democratic majorities in the House and Senate to focus and pursue an aggressive strategy to help them and their families get ahead.
This administration’s economic record has left America weaker, and the American people worse off. This election year, the American people held them accountable. Now it is time for action.

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