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.


Mike and Morley are going to be in DC on March 12th to present their findings at an event we're hosting entitled, "A Transformational Moment". Learn more about it on our website.