Millennials

It's a Brand New Ballgame: Presidential Transitions in a Civic Era

Almost before the echoes of Barack Obama's Grant Park victory speech had died away, pundits and the blogosphere began to keep score about the effectiveness of his transition. In a way, a presidential transition is like a political spring training that gives the incoming manager and his team a chance to prepare and set the tone for what amounts to a four-year long regular season. Every transition presents opportunities for an incoming Administration to put together a game plan to deliver hardball policy ideas to give the new team an early lead in the beginning of the regular season. One danger the new team faces during the transitional pre-season is being suckered by the other side into playing for keeps before opening day. With President-elect Obama’s Cabinet and White House policy team largely in place, and the maneuvering over various economic bailout options mostly behind us, it’s time for some preseason analysis of the management decisions the Obama team has made.

This upcoming season is a particularly important one to get ready for because the new president is taking office during a political realignment. Realignments are rare events in U.S. politics, occurring only about once every four decades; the 2008 realignment is only the sixth in American electoral history. During and after a realignment, the old political truths–and the standards for judging presidential transitions–that appeared axiomatic during the preceding era no longer apply and the President-elect has to manage the process with an acute sensitivity to what the times demand.

As we indicated in our book, Millennial Makeover: MySpace, You Tube and the Future of American Politics, all political realignments are produced by the coming of age of a large, dynamic generation and the emergence of a new communication technology that effectively mobilizes the rising generation. All realignments give American politics an extreme makeover. However, because they are caused by different types of generations, either "idealist" or "civic," not all realignments are the same. Consequently, the standards for judging the success or failure of a presidential transition vary from one type of realignment to another.

Idealist generations, like the Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964), whose coming-of-age produced a realignment centered on Richard Nixon’s “law and order” campaign of 1968, try to impose their own personal morality on the country through the political process. Political debate in eras dominated by idealist generations often tends to focus on social or moral issues, not economic or foreign policy concerns. Because idealist generations are highly divided, ideological, and uncompromising, during these types of realignments, the most successful transitions are those that advance the ideological goals of the new president and his winning team.

The current realignment however, is a "civic" realignment, produced by the political emergence of America's newest civic generation, Millennials (born 1982-2003). Civic generations react against the efforts of divided idealist generations to advance their own moral causes. They expect their team to unify the country, focus on reenergizing political and governmental institutions and using those institutions to confront and solve pressing national issues left unattended and unresolved during the previous idealist era. The transition efforts of President-elect Obama should be measured against this set of expectations, not those of an idealist era like the one just ended.

Honest Abe's and FDR's Transition Lessons for Barack Obama

Previous civic realignments occurred in 1860 with the election of Abraham Lincoln and in 1932, when the Millennials' civic generation great grandparents, the GI Generation, put Franklin Roosevelt in the White House. It's no coincidence that these civic presidents, along with George Washington, top all lists of our greatest presidents. All three led the United States in resolving deep crises by inspiring and guiding new civic generations and creating, revitalizing, and expanding the country's civic institutions. It is this high historical standard that will set the bar for history’s evaluation of Obama’s presidency, making his preparation for the new season all the more challenging.

An incoming president during a civic realignment must avoid exacerbating the national crisis that he will soon inherit but also avoid being tied to the failed policies of the outgoing Administration. So far, President-elect Obama has been able to maneuver through this political thicket as deftly as Lincoln and FDR did after their own realigning elections.

Southern states began seceding from the Union within days of Lincoln's election. Lincoln attempted to reassure the South that he would do nothing to tamper with slavery in states where it already existed, but he could not keep secessionist states in the Union without acceding to their demands to permit slavery in new territories. That would have required him to reject his own principles and those of his Republican Party, something he was unable and unwilling to do.

The outgoing Democratic President, James Buchanan, argued that secession was unconstitutional, but also that he had no power to prevent it. Consequently, he did virtually nothing when the seceding states took control of federal institutions throughout the South and blockaded Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor. Lincoln waited until South Carolina actually fired on Fort Sumter before he announced his intention to use military force to relieve the federal garrison there. Not being precipitous or overly anxious made it easier for Lincoln to prepare for, rally, and lead the country in the war that followed.

The transition between the Administrations of Herbert Hoover and Franklin D. Roosevelt was far more strained. In contrast to Buchanan, Hoover made a number of post-election attempts to persuade or, in the view of pro-FDR historians, entrap Roosevelt into endorsing Hoover's monetary and fiscal policies. Hoover presented to FDR an offer to share power in the public interest, but what he really wanted Roosevelt to do was commit to killing the New Deal before it even started. In letters to conservative Republican senators, Hoover said that if the president-elect agreed to what Hoover wanted, "he will have ratified the whole major program of the Republican administration; that is it means the abandonment of 90 percent of the so-called new deal." More specifically, Hoover wanted his successor to renounce, among other things, aid to homeowners unable to pay their mortgages, public works projects, and plans for the Tennessee Valley Authority. FDR studiously avoided making any policy commitments or even responding to the outgoing president's efforts to contact him, going so far as to claim that a secretary had misplaced a letter to him from Hoover. FDR's ability to preserve his political independence and policy flexibility made the historically high-scoring first 100 days of his presidency possible.

Obama Is a Good Student of History

Both the Bush Administration and the Obama team seem to be well aware of the rocky Hoover-Roosevelt transition during which an already bad economy worsened. Both Obama and Bush wanted to avoid open conflict and strained to be, or at least appear, cooperative on issues such as the auto company bailout and the use of TARP funds to stabilize the nation’s financial system. This approach fits the promise of Barack Obama to avoid excessive partisan confrontation. It fits the desire of the Bush Administration to shape a historical record as positive as possible.

It is also clear, however, that Obama is attempting to follow in FDR’s footsteps by seeking to avoid collaborative policy making or commitments to continue any Bush Administration policies. For example, Obama’s economic team has resisted overtures from the Bush Administration to coordinate more fully on a financial sector rescue package or endorse the release of the second tranche of TARP funds. Instead, the Obama team has kept its focus on the next political season by pushing Congress to quickly pass an Obama-designed stimulus program even before January 20, 2009.

From the beginning of the transition, Obama and his team have repeated the mantra that the United States has "only one president at a time,” a nice way to say, “wait until spring training is over and the regular season starts before we start playing for real." Based upon the professionalism and historical sensitivity he has demonstrated during the transition, his team should be not only a pennant contender, but also one capable of winning the World Series of a civic realignment.

Virginia and the New Coalition

Today's Post has an excellent analysis of Virginia's changing electoral landscape, detailing Democratic gains with Hispanics, African-Americans, young people and upper income and more educated voters.  The story of what happened in Virginia in 2008 mirrors what happened across the nation, and makes very clear the national GOP's problems are structural as well as temporal - they simply are not building a Party and a Coalition suited to the demographic realities of 21st century America.  

An excerpt:

The party's gains rest heavily upon the state's changing demographics and were amplified this year by deep enthusiasm for the Democratic presidential and senatorial candidates, coupled with a broadly successful turnout operation.

In Northern Virginia's outer suburbs, a growing number of nonwhite residents, particularly Hispanics, are diminishing what had long been a big source of votes for Republican candidates. Loudoun, Prince William and Stafford counties and Manassas and Manassas Park have all experienced double-digit increases in the percentage of nonwhite residents since 2000. And in each of those locations, Democrats' share of the vote increased proportionally.

The nonwhite population of Prince William, for example, has grown by 13 percentage points since 2000. President-elect Barack Obama carried the county with almost 58 percent of the vote -- 13 points better than former vice president Al Gore did in the 2000 presidential race.

Loudoun experienced a 12-point gain in the minority population since 2000, and Obama did 13 percentage points better than Gore did in 2000. Obama did 10 points better than Gore in Stafford, which saw a 10 percent increase in the minority population since 2000.

This shift, matched with historical Democratic strength in the inner suburbs, makes Northern Virginia a huge source of votes for Democrats. The region's size, compared with the rest of the state, threatens Republicans' ability to win statewide if Democrats can continue to get their voters to the poll, demographers and political scientists suggest.

"The transformation in Northern Virginia has been rapid and dramatic, and Obama came out of Northern Virginia with a margin of [213,000] votes, and that is very hard to overcome," said Ken Billingsley, director of demographics and information for the Northern Virginia Regional Commission. "In Prince William, the change has already occurred, and I am not the least bit surprised that Stafford, Spotsylvania and Fredericksburg are moving in that direction."

.....

According to exit polls, Hispanics made up 5 percent of the statewide electorate this year, almost matching their overall share of the population. Hispanics in Virginia favored Obama over Arizona Sen. John McCain, the GOP nominee, by an almost 2 to 1 margin. If Republicans hope to recover from their losses in time for the 2009 races for governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and the House of Delegates, their candidates will have to find a way to overwhelmingly win the white vote and make inroads with blacks and Hispanics.

"I, as a Southerner, understand that for the Republican Party to win presidential elections in the future we can no longer be the party of the deep South and Prairie Midwest," said Trey Walker, a South Carolina native who oversaw McCain's Virginia campaign. "If we don't start appealing to [minorities], we are going to continue to lose." (bold added for emphasis). 

Whether the Republican Party can start to speak effectively to the multi-racial America of the 21st century will be one of the most important questions in American politics in the coming years.  I think this job will be much harder than many understand for the foundation of the modern GOP - and the key to their success in recent decades - has been the exploitation of racial grievence.   Willie Horton, welfare queens, tax and spend, deporting undocumenteds - it has all been about exploiting white fears of the racial other in American life.  As I wrote earlier this year in an essay, On Obama, Race and the End of the Southern Strategy, demographic changes in America were making this type of politics a 20th anachronism whether Barack Obama became President or not.  With him as leader, there will also now be a moral challenge to this core play in the GOP playbook - for how will this society, this culture, allow the dog-whistle, wink and nod racial politics of the Southern Strategy era with a bi-racial man as President?  

While you will hear many Republicans echo Mr. Walker above, and call for their Party to get right with America's emerging demographic realities, I don't know if they understand how fundamental a rethink this is going to require.  Just three years ago the GOP House passed a bill calling for the arrest and deportation of 5 percent of the American work force - 10-12 million people, 10-12 million largely Hispanic people.  How they move from this politics of Nixon to a politics more fitting of Lincoln is going to be a transformation remarkable to behold - and almost unimaginable today. 

It’s Official: Millennials Realigned American Politics in 2008

The 2008 election not only marked the election of America's first African-American president, it also saw the strong and clear political emergence of a new, large and dynamic generation and the realignment of American politics for the next 40 years.

The first large wave of the Millennial Generation, about one third of the young Americans born from 1982-2003, entered the electorate to decisively support President-elect Barack Obama. Young voters preferred Obama over John McCain by a greater than 2:1 margin (66% vs. 32%). This is well above the margin given by young voters to any presidential candidate for at least three decades, if not at any time in U.S. history. In 2004, young voters preferred John Kerry to George W. Bush by a far more narrow 10 percentage points (55% to 45%). Moreover, the support of young people for Obama crossed all ethnic lines: he won the votes of a majority of African-American (95%), Latino (76%), and white (54%) young people.

Dispelling the myth that young people never vote, Millennials cast ballots in larger numbers than young voters had in any recent presidential election. About 23 million young people, an increase of 3.4 million over 2004, accounted for almost two-thirds of the overall 5.4 million increase in voter turnout. Their participation increased at a rate greater than older generations. As a result, young voters increased their overall share of the vote from 17 percent in 2004 to 18 percent in 2008. In contrast to previous recent presidential elections, a majority of young people voted in 2008 (53%), and in the competitive battleground states, youth turnout was even higher (59%). This was significantly above the 1996 (37%), 2000 (41%), and 2004 (48%) levels. In the earlier elections, "young people" were primarily members of Generation X, an alienated and socially uninvolved cohort; by contrast, the young voters of 2008 were mostly members of the civic-oriented Millennial Generation.

Their unified support for Barack Obama combined with their high turnout made the Millennial Generation the decisive force in his victory. Young voters accounted for about seven million of Obama's almost nine million national popular vote margin over John McCain. Had young people not voted, Obama would have led McCain by only about 1.5 percentage points instead of seven. Republican Internet guru Patrick Ruffini pointed out that without Millennials, Obama would not have won the combined 73 electoral votes of Florida, Indiana, Ohio, and North Carolina. While he may still have won in 2008 without young voters, Obama's margin and his political mandate would have been far narrower.

Contrary to the hopes of many Republicans, the Millennial Generation's support for Barack Obama is not a one-time phenomenon. Millennials are every bit as supportive of the Democratic Party as they are of Obama personally. Millennials identify as Democrats over Republicans by a 2:1 margin and Pew survey results indicate that they have done so since at least early 2007, well before Obama emerged as a well-known national political figure. More of them consider themselves liberals rather than conservatives (31% to 18%), as well. When it comes to policy, Millennials are liberal interventionists on economic issues, active multilateralists in foreign affairs and tolerant non-meddlers on social issues-a profile that most closely matches the Democratic Party's platform as well as the new President's agenda. Their propensity to vote straight Democratic was clearly evident in 2008 when young voters supported Democratic congressional candidates by about the same margin that they did Obama (63% vs. 34%).

What's more, as with previous civic generations, they are likely to vote a straight ticket for their preferred party for the rest of their lives. The Millennial Generation is ready to take its place as America's next great Democratic civic generation, just as their GI Generation great grandparents did nearly 80 years ago. Welcome to the Millennial Era.

Results From The First Election Of The Millennial Era

The 2008 election not only marked the election of America's first African-American president, it also saw the strong and clear political emergence of a new, large and dynamic generation and the realignment of American politics for the next 40 years.

The first large wave of the Millennial Generation, young Americans born from 1982-2003, entered the electorate to decisively support President-elect Barack Obama. Young voters preferred Obama over U.S. Sen. John McCain by a greater than 2:1 margin (66% vs. 32%). And, dispelling the myth that young people never vote, Millennials cast ballots in larger numbers than young voters had in any recent presidential election. The overall contribution of young voters to the electorate ticked up slightly from 17% in 2004 to 18% this year, but in a larger electorate, that represents millions more voters. Proving that this generation of young voters is committed to participating in America’s civic life, it appears that a majority of eligible Millennials cast their ballot, continuing the rise in the percentage of young people who voted from its low of 37% among Generation Xers in 1996.

The increased size and overwhelming unity of young voters added significantly to Barack Obama's popular vote margin over John McCain of about six percentage points nationally. Without the contribution of young voters Obama's popular vote lead would have been a much narrower 1.5% points. Moreover, it appears that the youth vote was ultimately decisive in Obama's close wins in the formerly red states of Indiana and North Carolina.

As a result of this decisive support from the Millennial Generation, the Democratic Party is likely to be the dominant political force in the United States in the decades ahead. Millennials identify as Democrats by the same 2:1 margin that they voted for Barack Obama. Political science tells us that once individual and generations form their party identification they retain it for a lifetime. This will allow the Millennial Generation to take its place as America's next great Democratic civic generation just as their GI Generation great grandparents did nearly 80 years ago. Welcome to the Millennial era.

America in the Millennial Era

Senator Barack Obama’s success in the 2008 presidential campaign marks more than an historical turning point in American politics. It also signals the beginning of a new era for American society, one dominated by the attitudes and behaviors of the largest generation in American history.

Millennials, born between 1982 and 2003, now comprise almost one-third of the U.S. population and without their overwhelming support for his candidacy, Barack Obama would not have been able to win his party’s nomination, let alone been elected President of the United States. This new, “civic” generation is dramatically different than the boomers who have dominated our society since the 1960s and understanding this shift is critical to comprehending the changes that America will experience over the next forty years.

The arrival of social network technologies enabled Millennials to create the most intense, group-oriented decision-making process of any generation in American history. This generation’s preference for consensus for everything from minor decisions, like where to hang out, and major decisions, such as whether go to war, stems from a belief that every one impacted by a decision needs, at very least, to be consulted about it. This approach will dominate how leaders of America’s primary institutions – from corporations and churches to government at all levels – will be measured in the years ahead.

Contrast that approach to those of the candidates who struggled in 2008. In her losing run for the Democratic presidential nomination, Senator Hillary Clinton presented case for a highly assertive, controversial – if sometimes a bit too strenuous – Boomer style of leadership. She emphasized the value of her years of experience and wisdom. Senator John McCain tried that approach as well during the summer lull, but found it didn’t have sufficient power to overtake Obama in the national polls. He then rolled the dice and asked a Generation-X Governor, Sarah Palin, to help him win voters by emphasizing their mutual belief in the superiority of traditional social values and small government. The Republican ticket has had about as much success with this strategy as Governors Huckabee and Romney did Millennial voters during the primaries.

To successfully manage the transition to a Millennial era, institutions will need to find leaders of any age far-sighted enough to fully embrace Millennial attitudes and behaviors. They have to give them full reign to makeover the outdated structures they will inherit.

Millennials, in particular, are ready to take on the challenge. Millennials were taught that if you follow the rules and work hard, you will succeed. As the first generation to experience “always on,” high-speed access to the Internet at a young age, Millennials have confounded the vision of many Gen X futurists who envisioned the Net as a tool to enhance individual freedom and liberty, not as a new resource for community building. Sharing their ideas and thoughts constantly from short Twitter texts, or “Tweets,” to extended, if often amateurish, videos on YouTube, Millennials generate and absorb an overwhelming amount of information. Individual Millennials use this ability to influence their own decisions, and then those of the wider group. If institutions and their leaders want their decisions to have any credibility with this new generation, every institution will need to open its own governance procedures to ensure a level of transparency and fairness that meets the test of Millennial values.

There have been other times in American history when a “civic” generation like the Millennials has emerged to transform the nation. In the eighteenth century a “civic” generation, called the “Republican Generation” by the seminal generational theorists William Strauss and Neil Howe, created the constitutional republic whose democratic values we celebrate to this day. About eighty years later, an equally “civic” impulse propelled to the war to abolish slavery and extend liberty and freedom to all citizens. And when the last “civic” generation was called upon by its elders to conquer fascism and remake America’s economy in the twentieth century, the GI Generation responded with such fervor and ability that they were labeled the “Greatest Generation” by a grateful nation.

Now, another eighty years later, it is the Millennial Generation’s turn. Its “civic” revolution draws its unique character from the particular way Millennials were brought up, and their use of interactive communication technologies. We believe the Millennial Generation's revolution will be just as profound as that of previous “civic” generations. Barack Obama’s victory does indeed mark the end of the late 20th century “idealist” era of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. But its significance is much deeper, and likely to shape the nature of the new era the country is about to enter.

Cross-posted at newgeography.com.

Coming Soon to Decide an Election Near You…the Millennials

The Millennial Generation is poised to play a decisive role in the election of Barack Obama on November 4. An October 30 ABC News/Washington Post national poll gave Barack Obama an eight-point advantage over John McCain (52% vs. 44%). Among young voters in the ABC sample Obama continued to enjoy the nearly 2:1 advantage he has held throughout the campaign (64% vs. 33%). Among all older voters, the race is far closer (50% vs. 46% in favor of Obama).

Just how big an advantage this proves to be for the Obama campaign depends on how many Millennials actually cast their ballots in the election. In 2004, about half of eligible young people turned out to vote; they favored John Kerry by a relatively narrow 55% vs. 45% margin. This gave Kerry about a 1.7 million vote plurality among young voters, a lead that was more than wiped out by George W. Bush's lead among older generations -- Silents like John McCain and Joe Biden, Baby Boomers like George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, and Gen Xers like Sarah Palin. This year, the sheer size and overwhelming unity of Millennials is likely to provide Barack Obama with a much larger advantage.

Even if Millennials vote at only the same rate that young people did in 2004, Obama will receive about a six million vote plurality from them. Given the political interest and high voter turnout that Millennials showed in the presidential primaries earlier this year, it seems likely that their turnout on Tuesday will be higher than that of young voters four years ago. If 55 percent of Millennials go to the polls, Obama's plurality among them will grow to about seven million. And, if Millennials vote at the same 60 percent rate that older generations do, Obama's national plurality from young voters will be almost eight million. Given that George W. Bush beat John Kerry by only a little more than three million votes, the Millennial margins Obama is likely to enjoy should prove to be the decisive factor in this year’s election.

While it was painful for Democrats to experience at the time, the inter-generational contest between Barack Obama, with his solid support among Millennials, and Hillary Clinton, with her dedicated cadre of Boomer women, proved to be a great advantage to the Democratic ticket in the general election. Once Senator Clinton graciously and enthusiastically endorsed Obama at the convention, the stage was set for a campaign that could unite the generations in November. By contrast, John McCain’s nomination of Sarah Palin, a classic Gen X candidate for Vice President, did irreparable damage to his candidacy among Millennials. Like her generation, Palin’s risk-taking style is confrontational and entrepreneurial with little tolerance for government activism. By contrast, Millennials are focused on solutions that involve the whole group and use government as an instrument to bring people together on behalf of the greater good. Millennials were the first generation to register their disapproval of Palin, and her negatives among this key constituency have continued to climb throughout the campaign. Millennials are a generation of "liberal interventionists" in the economy, "activist multilateralists" in foreign affairs, and "tolerant non-meddlers" on social issues -- all things the McCain/Palin ticket is not.

But, as we forecast in our book, Millennial Makeover: MySpace, YouTube, and the Future of American Politics, what the Millennials do on November 4, 2008 is going to be only one important step in what this generation will accomplish over the next four decades. The Millennial Generation is a civic generation and, like their GI Generation great grandparents, America's last civic generation, Millennials will lead a makeover of American politics. This realignment will make the Democratic Party the dominant force in U.S. politics and will turn the country away from the divisive social issues and gridlock of the past forty years to a win-win approach that confronts and actually resolves fundamental economic and foreign policy matters. Welcome to the Millennial Era.

 

*** Morley Winograd and Michael D. Hais, Fellows at NDN, are co-authors of Millennial Makeover: MySpace, YouTube, and the Future of American Politics (Rutgers University Press: 2008).

Still No Evidence That McCain Is In This Thing

In reviewing the polls today the trend lines continued unaltered - Obama holds his commanding lead with no evidence that the race is in any way breaking towards McCain.  As DemFromCT's am report shows there was no meaningful movement towards McCain overnight and Obama's numbers held.  Gallup's 3 daily tracks released at 1pm this afternoon have all sorts of bad news for McCain, with the 2 likely voter tracks each now having the race 52-42 for Obama.  For all this talk that the late breaking vote may break to McCain there is no evidence of this. What still must be terrifying to the national GOP is that there are so many late polls with Obama ahead by 8-12 points, and with their man still mired in the low 40s. 

I offered some thoughts yesterday on why the race the broke the way it did this Fall.  Called Keys to the Fall: Obama Leads, McCain Stumbles, you can find it on the Huffington Post (where it ran on the home page for almost 24 hours) or a version right here on our blog. 

So.....I was asked by a newspaper to offer my predictions for Tuesday.  I committed to Obama 53, McCain 46 and Obama claiming 353 electoral college votes.  But given the polls of recent days there is a remote but growing possibility that Obama wins by 10 points or more.  

Also if you haven't seen it read Jonathan Weisman's front page political story in the Wall Street Journal today.   It includes this passage, which includes data and arguments that will be familiar to our readers:

Demographics also shifted in the right places to give Democrats a lift. In Colorado, Virginia and North Carolina, the influx of a younger, more-educated populace brought voters more receptive to the Democrats' message. A concerted Republican campaign to curb illegal immigration turned a wave of new foreign-born voters against the GOP in Florida, Nevada and Colorado, just as the Latino vote in those states was growing.

Between 2000 and this year, the Hispanic electorate will have doubled, to 12% of voters, according to Census data and NDN, a Democratic group that studies the electorate. That growth has been concentrated in once-Republican states, not only in the Mountain West but in the South. By 2006, Hispanics represented 31% of voters in New Mexico, 13% in Nevada, 11% in Florida and 8% in Colorado.

President Bush and his political team were able to ride that wave, nearly doubling the GOP's share of the Latino vote from 21% in 1996 to 40% in 2004, according to exit polls. Then came 2006 and the Republican Party embrace of get-tough legislation on illegal immigration, followed by Republican efforts to kill bipartisan bills to stiffen border enforcement and provide illegal immigrants a pathway to citizenship.

In 2006, Republican support among Hispanics fell to 30%. Even Sen. McCain, who co-authored the bipartisan immigration legislation, does not appear able to reverse the trend. An NDN poll in August, when Sens. Obama and McCain were virtually tied in the polls, found Sen. Obama leading among Colorado Hispanics 56% to 26% and Nevada Hispanics 62% to 20%.

In Colorado alone, more than 70,000 new Latino voters have registered since 2004. An Associated Press-GFK poll released Wednesday found that 16% of Colorado's likely voters identify themselves as Hispanic -- and 70% of them back Sen. Obama.

The growth of professional havens in Northern Virginia, the Research Triangle of Raleigh-Durham, N.C., and the Boulder-Denver corridor of Colorado may also be contributing to the changing electoral landscape. Voters in such places tend to be younger, more ethnically and racially diverse and less interested in social-conservative issues, such as abortion and gay marriage. And there are a lot of them: 83 million so-called millennials between ages 19 and 37, compared with 74 million Baby Boomers between 51 and 69.

530pm Update: This from today's Washington Post track analysis

In today's Washington Post-ABC News daily tracking poll, Obama holds a 53 to 44 percent lead over McCain, unchanged from yesterday, and little in the survey suggests that trimming the margin would be an easy feat.

For the first time, the slice of likely voters who report they will "definitely" vote for Obama has (by just a hair) now reached 50 percent, a milestone which George W. Bush never reached in Post-ABC tracking polls in 2004 or 2000, and the number of movable voters - those who said they could change their minds or who remain undecided - has slimmed to 7 percent.

McCain's campaigning over the past week has not convinced more voters that Obama is a risky choice, nor has he gained ground as the candidate better able to handle taxes or the economy. (Obama holds a 13-point advantage on taxes, his largest of the campaign, and a 14-point lead on the economy.) For the second time in Post-ABC polling, Obama has crossed into majority support as the candidate better able to manage an unexpected crisis.

One plus for McCain: Strong enthusiasm among his supporters has moved up a bit to 41 percent, the highest level it's been since the Republican convention, but still far behind the 68 percent of Obama supporters who are deeply enthused by his candidacy. 

Will Millennials Vote in November?

The second presidential debate left few observers willing to predict anything but an Obama victory in November. But one nagging question remains in the minds of many pundits. Will Millennials, whose overwhelming support for Senator Obama’s candidacy represents his margin of victory in polls in many battleground states, actually turnout to vote in November?

One such skeptic is Curtis Gans, an eminent researcher on voting trends and turnout at the American University’s Center for the Study of the American Electorate, whose most recent report even goes so far as to deny the existence of the Millennial Generation. Aging Boomers like Tom Friedman have made the same public mistake, demonstrating just how convinced many leading thinkers among that generation, which is well represented among leading political commentators in the media, are that the political style of young people today is not like their own youthful political behavior was and is, therefore, not appropriate or useful.

Since Gans' research report was focused on, in his words, the increased, “almost record,” turnout in this year’s presidential primaries, it is particularly surprising that he chose this vehicle to announce his distaste for the Millennial Generation and its political style. Gans cites the work of William Damon as the source of his knowledge about this generation, which is strange given the large number of more well-documented studies of the Millennial Generation disproving Damon’s contention that the parents of Millennials are “creating a generation of young people who lack confidence and direction.” The evidence shows just the opposite.. If anything, employers and teachers who interact daily with Millennials complain that they are almost too confident, to the point of sounding “cheeky.”

This generation's self-confidence and orientation toward the group and the broader society has important political implications. Recent polling data from USAToday/CNN demonstrate that Millennials are paying close attention to the 2008 election and have every intention of voting, at numbers rivaling those of older voters. Their survey of more than 900 young Americans, taken Sept. 18-28 found that:

• 75 % of Millennials are registered to vote
• 73% plan to vote
• 64% have given "quite a lot" of thought to the election

Even Gans concedes that Millennials may vote in large numbers in this election. But he says that they will do so only be because of their fondness for Senator Barack Obama and not because of any long-term commitment to the political process. Millennials he says “were brought in by the uniqueness of Obama’s candidacy—precisely because he seemed to offer something different than the politics they had been eschewing.” He continues, “they won’t stay in if he’s not elected and their interest and engagement won’t be sustained if he does not live up to the promise of his candidacy once in office.” Nothing could be further from the truth.

There is no doubt that Millennials have responded very positively to Senator Obama and his candidacy and that the Obama campaign has strongly targeted this generation. Millennials supported Obama overwhelmingly in this year's Democratic primaries and virtually all current general election surveys indicate that Millennials favor him over John McCain by at least a 2:1 margin. But the political attitudes and identifications of Millennials were clearly evident long before the Obama candidacy gained widespread visibility. A Pew Research Center survey conducted in March 2007 indicated that Millennials identified as Democrats over Republicans by nearly a 2:1 ratio (52% vs. 30%). And, a study conducted at about the same time by the Millennial Strategy Program of communication research and consultation firm Frank N. Magid Associates showed that Millennials were the first generation since at least the GI Generation to contain a greater number of self-perceived liberals than conservatives. All of this at least raises the possibility that the high level of Millennial political involvement is significantly based on the Democratic and liberal affinities of the generation and would be strong even without Obama's strong candidacy.

Gans makes it clear why he is sure that the political involvement of Millennials stems solely from their attachment to Barack Obama. He yearns for the “idealistic activism” of the 1950s and 1960s when, according to Gans, all of America shared a “different ethos” thanks to an educational system based “on John Dewey’s philosophy.” Since, in Gans' mind, the emerging Millennial Generation doesn’t share the liberal idealism of his own youth, it cannot possibly sustain its current level of political activity.

If only it were so, Curtis.

In fact, the ideological ferment of the late 1960s, led by half of the Baby Boomer Generation’s counter-cultural rebellion against authority, and the reaction against this social turmoil by the other half of Boomer Generation, produced the political gridlock that caused the very cynicism in the older portions of the electorate that Gans decries. Even his own expert on the Millennial Generation, William Damon, concedes that Millennials “are working hard, doing well enough in school, and staying out of trouble.” Indeed, America is enjoying far lower levels of socially deviant behavior, such as teen age pregnancy and crime, since these indicators began to soar during the adolescent years the Baby Boomer Generation with its disdain for social rules and convention.

But Gans' own words demonstrate the flaw in his thinking. The 1950s that he writes about so nostalgically was actually an era dominated by the behavior and ethos of the GI Generation, another “civic” generational archetype, just like Millennials, not by his beloved Boomers. That generation put FDR in the White House, brought about the New Deal approach to progressive government, defeated fascism in WWII, and voted at rates greater than those of previous generations. Their Democratic loyalty lasted a lifetime: the last remaining members of the GI Generation and the first sliver of Millennials provided the only pluralities for John Kerry over George W. Bush among any of the generational cohorts voting in 2004.

The previous falloff in voting by young people described by Gans in his diatribe is completely explained by the generational attitudes and behaviors of Boomers and Gen-Xers as they moved into and out of young adulthood. One generation, Boomers, initially turned out to vote spurred by admirable idealism and then often left the political process when they discovered in Gans’ telling phrase, that “their leaders showed feet of clay.” The other, Generation X, never bothered to participate in large numbers having been discouraged by the political gridlock Boomers had created. Now that Millennials make up the entire population of voters 26 and under in this election, you can be assured that they will not only vote at rates comparable to older voters, just like their GI Generation great-grandparents did, but they will also continue to vote heavily and participate vigorously in the nation’s political process for the rest of their lives.

They will do so, because unlike Curtis Gans and his ilk, which never were able to translate their idealism into action, Millennials are intent on working together to create a better America than the one Boomers have left them as an inheritance. Their confidence, political activism, and unity will begin to initiate that change on Election Day this year thanks to a record turnout of young voters. The 1.7 million vote plurality given to John Kerry by young voters in 2004 will grow to between 8 and 10 million for Barack Obama when this involved and unified generation goes to the polls on November 4. Only Curtis Gans and out of touch Boomers will be surprised.

Generational CONVENTIONal Wisdom

The key to waging a successful presidential campaign by either Barack Obama or John McCain will be their ability to use their respective conventions to overcome generational tensions. What happens in Denver and the Twin Cities could give the nominees freedom to embrace the generational changes that will shape American politics for decades to come.

If the candidates pay proper attention to generational politics, each convention will begin with a nod to their party's Boomers and then pivot away from the past to address, on the final night, new voters whose support they will need to win in November.

The candidates must take the lead in managing their party's convention so that the ticket and its platform reflect the desire of the electorate to move beyond the cultural wars of the 1960s. Each party's understanding of this generationally driven challenge will be evident in how it handles the iconic, Boomer figures demanding center stage at their conventions.

Obama, in an acknowledgement of the generational strains in his party, has agreed to Hillary Rodham Clinton's request to not only address the convention in prime time on Tuesday night, but to have her name placed in nomination the following night. In return, he has gained the agreement of former president Bill Clinton to, in effect, lead the Boomers in the Democratic Party to embrace and endorse Senator Obama's nomination on Wednesday night.

As tough as that challenge has been for Obama, the problem is more acute for John McCain. President Bush's job performance ratings are among the lowest of any president. But he remains popular with Boomer ideologues in the GOP, who are continually looking for signs that McCain has stayed from party orthodoxy. Any attempt to deny a sitting president the spotlight at their national convention, as Democrats did in keeping Lyndon Johnson from addressing their 1968 convention, will be met with cries of "I told you not to trust him" from Republican true believers.

It appears that McCain's advisers have decided to throw cultural war red meat to the delegates with appearances by Bush and Vice President Cheney on Monday, in hopes that the electorate won't pay too much attention until later in the week.

If history is any guide, the place where both candidates will be willing to make concessions to their party's ideological base will be the party's platform. Since this policy statement is debated early in the convention, with little penalty for abandoning a plank or two later in the campaign, platforms are the easiest way to throw a bone to ideological purists. The Generation X and Boomer Democratic blogosphere has previously attacked Obama for failing to adhere to hard left positions on post 9-11 issues and offshore oil drilling.

Similarly, a number of conservatives have condemned McCain's former positions on climate change, immigration, and campaign finance reform.

The choice each candidate must make is whether to use the platform debate to give the cultural warriors in their party a final opportunity to replay the political drama of the nation's Boomer past or to use the platform debate as a "Sister Souljah" generational moment and decisively break with that kind of divisive politics.

Senator McCain's campaign has already announced a "hands off" approach to his own party's platform, making it clear he doesn't intend to abide by all of its provisions--or fight over them. Senator Obama has taken a more inclusive approach to the platform, seeking to find ways to blend different opinions among party activists into one document everyone can agree on--a classic Millennial approach to resolving a problem.

In the end, however, there will be no better place for the two candidates to demonstrate their break with the politics of past generations than in their acceptance speeches.

The McCain campaign has signaled its intention to use their candidate's story of personal sacrifice on behalf of the nation throughout the convention. This effort will likely culminate in an acceptance speech attempting to simultaneously distinguish his life's experience from those of the Woodstock generation ("I was tied up at the time") and arouse the passions of his party's Boomer base.

The challenge, however, is how to do that that without awakening a set of related thoughts among Millennials about just how old and potentially out of touch with their generation he is. Millennials weren't around for Woodstock, don't care about it, and prefer that everyone "play nice" together. Passion displayed as anger turns them off. To capture a new and winning coalition in this campaign, McCain would be better off using his acceptance speech to underline his national security credentials based on a lifetime of service, both of which appeal greatly to Millennials.

Obama's decision to deliver his acceptance speech before a large outdoor audience on the 45th anniversary of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech comes with its own set of risks. Echoes of that remarkable speech are sure to arouse the passions of the liberal half of the Boomer generation. But, it will also remind viewers of the turmoil of the 60s that drove a majority of the nation to embrace the Republicans' appeal for "law and order."

Obama's rhetoric will need to inspire a new generation to take the next steps toward achievement of King's dream, without creating a backlash among the rest of the electorate that wasn't enamored with the racial overtones of the Democratic primary campaign.

To succeed in November, both candidates will have to speak explicitly to the future and demonstrate that their campaign represents the hopes of a new generation. The country is waiting for a new leader with a new approach to guide it out of the Boomer briar patch in which it has been stuck since 1968. After the conventions, we will have a clearer idea who can best lead the country into a new era of American politics.

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

Voter Rolls Forecast Bad News for Conservatives

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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