Will Millennials Still Be Liberal When They're Old and Gray?

The Millennial Generation (born 1982-2003) is the cohort most in favor of using the federal government to promote economic stability and equality since the GI Generation of the 1930s and 1940s. The attitudes of Millennials were heavily shaped by the protected and group-oriented way in which they were reared and their experience of feeling the full brunt of the Great Recession as they emerged into adulthood.  

As a result, the biggest political story of the first half of the 21st century may well be the extent to which the largest American generation ever retains its economic liberalism and thereby shapes the direction of public policy in coming decades. If history is any guide, much of that story’s plot will be written during the next four or five years.

Millennials deserve America’s sympathies for the disproportionate impact the Great Recession has had on their generation. According to a recent Pew Research Center survey, a clear plurality (41%) of Americans think that young, rather than middle-aged (29%) or older  (24%) adults are having the toughest time in today’s economy. And they are right.  Last year, the unemployment rate for 18-24 year olds (16.3%) and 25-29 year olds (10.3%) was well above that of those 35-64 (7%). Even among those 18-24 year olds fortunate enough to find full-time employment, real median weekly earnings were down by six percent over the previous four years. Not surprisingly, the weak economy has had a profound impact on the personal lives of Millennials. Nearly half (49%) say they have taken a job (often part time) just to pay the bills. A third (35%) have returned to school, something that may pay benefits in the long term, but is at the expense of current earnings. About a quarter have taken an unpaid job and/or moved back in with their parents (24% each). About one in five have postponed having a baby (22%) and/or getting married (20%). Less than a third (31%) say that they earn or have enough money to lead the kind of life they want.

Their experiences with the Great Recession have only reinforced Millennials’ support for economically activist government. Last November, when Pew asked whether Americans preferred a larger government that provided more services or a smaller government that provided fewer services, Millennials opted for a bigger government over a smaller one by a large 54% to 35% margin. By contrast, 54% of Boomers (born 1946-1964) and 59% of Silents (born 1925-1945) favor a smaller government. .

In addition, a majority of (55% to 41%) Millennials favored a greater level of federal spending to help the economy recover from the recession rather than reducing the federal budget deficit. Millennials also continue to support governmental efforts to lessen economic inequality; 63% agreed that government should guarantee every citizen enough to eat and a place to sleep. Consistent with their overall attitudes toward the size of government, the two oldest generations—Boomers and Silents—favored reduced spending and a more limited government role in promoting economic equality.

The tendency of people to retain their political viewpoints and preferences throughout their lives suggests that once they are set, Millennial Generation attitudes toward government’s proper role in the economy will persist for decades. This conclusion was recently confirmed by   economists Paola Giuliano and Antonio Spilimbergo. In a longitudinal analysis of survey data collected annually since 1972, they found that experiencing an economic recession during one’s “formative” years (18-25 years old) led Americans to favor “leftist” governmental policies that would “help poor people” and lessen “income inequality.” These attitudes were not influenced by experiencing a recession either before or after the formative years and remained in place even when controlled for demographic variables such as sex, race, and social class. However, the same data suggested that the deeper and more sustained the recession, the lower the level of confidence survey respondents had in governmental institutions such as Congress and the presidency.  

The success of governmental action in dealing with the Great Depression in the 1930s and World War II in the 1940s put the GI or Greatest Generation on the path of lifelong support for governmental activism. After the nation’s victory over the Axis and the economic boom that followed, positive perceptions of government and political efficacy were virtually universal among Americans. Today, although America has begun to shake off the worst aspects of the Great Recession, unemployment remains stubbornly high and growth rates remain below the level needed to make dramatic dents in unemployment rates, especially among Millennials.

So far Millennial beliefs in activist, egalitarian government policies have not been shaken by the slow pace of the recovery or what  some may perceive as an inadequate federal response. The extent to which those attitudes persist in future decades, when Millennials will represent over one out of every three adult Americans, could depend on how well the government deals with the economic challenges the nation faces in the years just ahead.

Crowdsourcing the Congress: Wikipedia's Blackout Bomb

The debate over legislation to stop online piracy  revealed not only the threat that a new generation of consumers presents to the entertainment industry’s traditional business model but the equally shaky future of  the way Congress currently conducts its business. The high tech, Internet-based companies that Hollywood most fears used their clout with the most coveted customers, young Millennials, to stop an attempt to rush to pass the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the House and its Senate twin, Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA).

The success of the Wikipedia-led Internet blackout demonstrated the way Congress goes about its business is as susceptible as the entertainment industry’s business model is to disruption from the energy and attitudes of a new, digitally native generation, Millennials (born 1982-2003). The film and television industry’s foundation, built on the notion that content will triumph ṻber alles, was shown to be  just as prone to destruction by the Napster virus as its  cousin in the recording industry was a decade ago. It turns out that consumers like companies, such as Google, Facebook, and Amazon, more than they like the companies who produce and package the content and insist on being paid for it.

  But the fact that many in Congress suddenly abandoned their support of SOPA or PIPA  in the face of this consumer revolt also sent a clear warning to those pushing the bills, using traditional methods of high--priced lobbying and closed-door decision making, that their way of doing business is equally in jeopardy. Wikipedia’s blackout Facebook page was liked or shared around 1.2 million times. A petition organized by Google in opposition gained over seven million signatures. When Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) announced on Facebook that he was withdrawing his support for PIPA, his action generated 4,700 likes.  Between midnight and 4 PM on the Wednesday of the “blackout bomb”, Twitter recorded over 2.4 million tweets on the subject. The Internet community’s insistence on a more open decision making process forced the Congress to ultimately abandon their confrontational, large-contributor  approach to the problem.  If Congress actually learned the larger lesson from this experience and  adopted a process that incorporates the Millennial Generation’s desire for win-win solutions derived from bottom up  participation designed to forge a consensus, they might finally reverse the continuing decline in popularity with their customers—the American electorate.   

Today, all national surveys show approval of Congress at historically low levels. ) Since the Republic was conceived, communication technologies have evolved to reduce the time and distance that separate Congress from the public, but most of Congress’s procedures and practices have remained trapped in a time warp of its own traditions. Creating a new connection between citizens and their representatives by using Millennials’ favorite technologies to build a more transparent, open and participatory legislative process is the essential first step in reversing this decline in Congress’s credibility.

This alternative approach to the legislative process was actually utilized by Democratic Senator Ron Wyden from Oregon and Republican U.S. Representative Darrell Issa in drafting their alternative to SOPA/PIPA. The two lawmakers published a draft of their approach last year on the web at and asked for comments from interested parties. Based on the suggestions of those who visited the site, they proposed a bi-partisan alternative--the Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade Act, or OPEN Act--that uses a scalpel instead of a sledgehammer to address the problem. It empowers the U.S. International Trade Commission to cut off the money supply of the several dozen foreign piracy sites that do most of the damage to content creators.

Although Internet companies and online activists liked both the process and the outcome, organizations such as the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) continued to insist that the danger presented by these sites to their business model is so great that they can’t wait for the niceties of legalities and due process that the Wyden/Issa solution would involve.  The fact that the entertainment industry’s solution is perceived to be so  threatening to the freedom of users of the Internet that it united civil libertarians on the left and Libertarians on the right in opposition to SOPA/PIPA has not dissuaded those wedded to the old ways of doing business in Congress that they need to change their tactics. Their stubbornness is reminiscent of the attempt by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) to halt the proliferation of peer-to-peer music sharing sites by suing its teenage customers, before RIAA finally gave up and acquiesced in a new business model for the industry built around Apple’s iPod. 

It’s time for Congressional leaders to use the learning experience of the SOPA/PIPA debate to throw off their generational blinders and find a way to concede power gracefully to a new generation with new ideas. To restore its credibility, Congress will have to use new tools to fully involve Millennials and older generations in the decision-making process. It should make a new bargain with the American people, built on an increased level of citizen participation in the process of governing, rather than upon the current trade of access and constituency service in return for campaign contributions.

Only when Congress embraces this new way of doing business will the legitimacy of the country’s legislative process begin to be restored and Congress’s approval ratings start to rise again. Until then the electoral fate of Senators and U.S. Representatives will be as uncertain and as subject to disruption as the future of the entertainment moguls they sought to please by backing SOPA/PIPA. 

(Cross-posted from Huffington Post) 


Join Us Today at Noon, Online: A Presentation on Millennials with Winograd & Hais


Please remember to join us TODAY at Noon ET for the next in our series of exciting new spreecasts: a presentation about the Millennial Generation featuring new work from critically acclaimed authors and NDN Fellows Mike Hais and Morley Winograd.

This Spreecast is drawn from the arguments in their new and compelling book, Millennial Momentum, which takes an in-depth look at this consequential generation, the largest in our history, and where it is headed.

Topics will include Millennials' support of President Obama, Millennials' turnout in Iowa and New Hampshire, and how registration rates should shape both parties' organization efforts.  Be sure to check out Mike and Morley's latest column on the Republican primary and this great piece about Millennials and Obama.

If you wish to participate in the event please do so by going to the NDN/NPI Channel at Noon ET TODAY the webcasting platform Spreecast. On the Spreecast platform you can watch the conversation in real time over the web, chat about the discussion, ask written questions or even join the moderated conversation via video if you have a webcam.

All you have to do is click on our our Spreecast channel participate in the conversation. While it is not necessary to RSVP, we welcome you doing so on our spreecast page.


Reminder! Join Us Tomorrow for a Discussion with Millennial Experts Hais & Winograd

Friends, I hope you will join NDN and the New Policy Institute for a special event tomorrow, Thursday, September 15th - a conversation with NDN Fellows Mike Hais and Morley Winograd about the ways in which members of the Millennial Generation are transforming our nation. We are proud to be hosting them here in Washington at NDN, 729-15th st NW. For more information or to RSVP, click here.

And as a reminder, their new book, Millennial Momentum: How a New Generation is Remaking America is now available for purchase. Following on the heels of their critically acclaimed 2008 book, Milllennial Makeover, this newly released book, Millennial Momentum, investigates how the beliefs of the Millennials are transforming American society. About every eight decades, coincident with the most stressful and perilous events in U.S. history - the Revolutionary and Civil Wars and the Great Depression and World War II - a new, positive, accomplished, and group-oriented "civic generation" emerges to change the course of history and remake America. The Millennial Generation (born 1982-2003) is America's newest civic generation. Get your copy today!

What the 2010 Census Means for the 2012 Election

Last week NDN hosted a panel discussion on what the 2010 Census means for the 2012 Election.  Morley Winograd, NDN Fellow and co-author of Millennial Makeover, one of New York Times Ten Favorite Books of 2008, and the forthcoming Millenium Momentum, focused on the growth of the Millennial Generation and the importance of engaging this fast-growing portion of the electorate.  Joel Kotkin, an internationally-recognized authority on global, economic, political and social trends, and the crtically acclaimed author of The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050, offered his thoughts on migration within America (particularly to the South and West), and what those changes mean for state and national politics.  Carlos Odio, the former Deputy Latino Vote Director for Obama for America and Deputy Associate Director of the White House Office of Political Affairs, and now the Director of Special Projects at New Organizing Institute, offered reflections on the changing Latino electorate and how and where their participation will make an impact in 2012.

Some of the most interesting questions came from our audience, who wondered if the midterm turnout rates were a predictor of 2012 enthusiasm among Millennials and Latinos, and whether the administration's policy priorities matched the electorate's priorities.

We plan to continue the census series, so be sure to send any ideas for future programming to Alicia at

Invite: Mon. June 20th Event -- What the 2010 Census Means for the 2012 Elections

America is going through profound demographic change.   The latest census results affirm what we at NDN have been saying for years: the Hispanic population is booming, the population is moving to the South and to the West,  and the Millennial Generation is on the rise.   But what does this new data tell us about how both parties will need to retool going into the 2012 elections?   What do these demographic shifts mean for American politics?

Join us on Monday, June 20th at 5:30pm ET for a panel discussion on what the 2010 Census means for the 2012 Election.  Morley Winograd, NDN Fellow and co-author of Millennial Makeover, one of New York Times Ten Favorite Books of 2008, and the forthcoming Millenium Momentum, will join us to discuss the growth of the Millennial Generation and how this fast-growing portion of the electorate can be engaged.  Joel Kotkin, an internationally-recognized authority on global, economic, political and social trends, and the crtically acclaimed author of The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050, will offer thoughts on migration within America, how suburbs and city-centers will change to accommodate population growth, and what those changes mean for state and national politics.  Carlos Odio, the former Deputy Latino Vote Director for Obama for America and Deputy Associate Director of the White House Office of Political Affairs, and now the Director of Special Projects at New Organizing Institute, will offer reflections on the changing Latino electorate and how and where their participation will make an impact in 2012.

Following the panel, there will be a brief reception with light refreshments.  Be sure to RSVP here.   

For background, be sure to check out the past work of NDN's 21st Century America Project.

Demographic Explosion Underscores NDN's Predictions

As census news and analysis begins to roll in, we at NDN could not be more excited. For years the team at NDN/NPI has been a leader in helping policymakers better understand the changing demographics of the United States. In the coming year, we are excited to continue our role as interpreter of what these changes mean.

Below you can find some of our 21st Century America efforts, including spot-on demographic analysis by Mike Hais, Morley Winograd and other members of the NDN team and clairvoyant political analysis from Simon on how these demographic shifts are changing modern politics.  I hope you'll take a minute to read these pieces and compare where our analysis was to where we find ourselves today. 

A Continued Look at the Changing Coalitions of 21st Century America, Poll and Presentation, by Mike Hais and Morley Winograd

Hispanics Rising 2010

The American Electorate of the 21st Century, Poll and Presentation, by Mike Hais and Morley Winograd

End of the Southern Strategy, by Simon Rosenberg

The 50 Year Strategy, by Simon Rosenberg and Peter Leyden in Mother Jones

Juan Williams on the GOP's Youth Problem

Today The Hill ran an interesting piece from Juan Williams entitled “How the GOP can capture the youth vote next year.”  Williams’ basic logic is that some polling shows a slight decline in Millennials’ Democratic allegiance and a slight increase in their enthusiasm for Republicans, leaving an opening for Republicans to woo this important electorate.  The only challenge seems to be that Williams doesn’t actually know how they’d go about that, save for tackling entitlement reforms.

Bizarrely, rather than making a case for Republicans, Williams makes a very strong case for why Millennials support Obama, and by extension, his party: 

“[Y]ounger Americans are more worried about a tight job market’s long-term impact on their ability to buy a home or save for retirement…That is why polls show the number one priority for young Americans is increased federal spending to get employers to hire more workers. Young people also want more dollars dedicated to education, another point of difference with older voters. That is where President Obama comes into play and so far he stands apart from Republicans and Democrats in appealing to the youth vote. During the first two years of his presidency, Obama has overhauled federal student loan programs, budgeted $30 billion in the stimulus to make college more affordable and, as part of the new healthcare law, has given young people the right to stay on their parents’ insurance plan up to the age of 26."

Williams never gets around to making an equally persuasive case for Millennials' GOP support.  But while the title of Williams’ piece over-promises, it does beg an interesting question:  What would a pro-youth GOP plan look like?  How can Republicans appeal to Millennials if the needs and wants of their generation run completely counter to the anti-government spending ideology that inspires the Republican base? 

At the very end of his piece, Williams alludes to Republicans introducing "a pro-youth agenda."  Given their record on health care, on Dream, on tax breaks for the wealthiest 1%, I'd settle for seeing their version of a not anti-youth agenda.  Where Williams sees opportunity for the GOP, I see a big challenge: an ideological incongruency between their party and the largest generation in American history.  

The Radical Right's War on Voting: An Opportunity in Disguise?

First, they sought to divide us by legal status.  Next, they came for the teachers and the nurses.  Recently, they attempted to drive a wedge between African-Americans and Hispanics by erroneously tying minority unemployment rates to illegal immigration.   Now the Radical Right is taking their war against American values one step further by introducing and passing state-based legislation that will make it harder (and in some cases, impossible) for emerging communities to vote.

A new piece in today's Washington Post details various efforts to limit voting rights.  From legislation in New Hampshire that would make it harder for young people to vote, to legislation in North Carolina that would require a state-issued ID and make it harder for many groups to vote, the 21st Century coalition is under attack.  While there have been various assaults on the American way, this is the first to attack Millennials, African-Americans, Latinos and women in such equal measure.     

The consequences of the legislation are grave - both at an electoral and a civic level. But this coordinated campaign also offers an opportunity to re-unify and invigorate this growing majority, a chance to join together and fight to make it easier to vote, not harder. 


This Week in the 21st Century America Project

This weekend, singer Shakira was honored by the Harvard Foundation for her artistic and humanitarian work.  After the ceremony, Shakira offered a message of hope to the Latino community:

The Grammy Award-winning singer...said Latino immigrants in the U.S. facing various anti-immigrant bills will have "justice" as public awareness about their plight grows.

"Justice will come. I'm sure," Shakira told The Associated Press after the award ceremony. "Wherever there is ... a kid, who could be the son or the daughter of a Latino immigrant, who cannot attend a school in the United States of America, that kid should be a concern to all of us and our responsibility."

Shakira's sentiment is on-point with the results of a Pew Research poll released just last week which show that despite a rise in extreme rhetoric against Hispanic immigrants, including the emergence of a campaign to change the 14th ammendment, a majority of Americans oppose such radical proposals.  According to Bruce Drake at Politics Daily:

Proposals to deny citizenship to what immigration hardliners call "anchor babies" born in the U.S. to illegal immigrant parents are unpopular with the public. Fifty-seven percent oppose changing the Constitution's 14th amendment that grants automatic citizenship to anyone born on American soil. Thirty-nine percent favor changing the amendment and 4 percent are undecided.

Pew also released a different set of research last week - one examining the digital habits of Latinos and African-Americans.  The study found that Latinos have less home broadband access than black Americans but share similar rates of Internet and mobile use. Other key findings include both groups using mobile technology for internet access in the absence of home broadband.  Unsurprisingly, more acculturated Latinos reported greater online usage than their less acculturated peers.  In addition, when researchers controlled for income and education, the numbers were consistent across racial groups.  Jill Duffy has a good rundown of the data here.   

Finally, Chuck Raasch uses the scene in Wisconsin to examine the difference between Millennials and other generation when it comes to cooperation and combat.  You can read it here.

Syndicate content