Millennial Makeover

Victory for Egypt's Leaderless Revolution

As jubilant young Egyptians danced in the streets of Cairo and Alexandria, celebrating the departure of their 82 year old former president, American television commentators immediately began discussing two issues that seemed to them to be of greatest importance: who were the leaders of the uprising and how did they use social media to bring down the reign of a 30-year dictatorship? In doing so, they revealed the same type of inter-generational misunderstandings that cost Hosni Mubarak his presidency.

The revolution was successful because it had no leaders, only coordinators of bottom up energy. Its use of social media was brilliantly conceived to meld online organizing with offline action, not supplant it. The inability of older generations to understand the power of this new form of leadership among Egypt's, and ultimately the world's, young people suggests there will be many more such surprises in the future, both at home and abroad.

One of the first celebrities to emerge from the uprising, Wael Ghonim, made this point as emphatically as he could to CNN in the midst of the celebrations. "I am not a leader. The leaders are in Tahrir Square." Not to be dissuaded, the interviewer then asked him if he was planning on entering politics. Ghonim wisely responded that all he wanted to do was go back to work for Google and some day meet Mark Zuckerberg, whose creation had enabled the activists to gain support for their revolution. That answer of course set off another media frenzy, especially on Twitter, about how this was only the first of many Facebook revolutions to come. It may be, but only if other young people read Ghonim's promised new book, Revolution 2.0, and learn the organizational lessons it promises to teach.

This group of Egyptian under-30 organizers learned an important lesson from the failure of their fellow generation's protest in Iran. That uprising was shut down by Iran's secret police, who used the protesters' tweets and Facebook messages as a primary source of information on who should be arrested and imprisoned. In Egypt, the roughly one dozen technologically sophisticated middle class young organizers assumed the police were monitoring their communications anddeliberately sent them scurrying to false protest locations, announced on their Facebook sites, even as selected members of their group were sent quietly into poorer neighborhoods to organize the groups who were ultimately successful in taking over Tahrir Square.

All of these plans for offline action were hatched in secretive, in person meetings, many in the homes of their loving parents. In the same way that the 2008 Obama campaign used a social media site to provide a way for millions of its American millennial generation supporters to organize the on-the-ground voter interactions that propelled it to victory, these young Egyptians knew both the value and the limitations of social networking technology to effect huge social change.

Since 2008, these organizational lessons have been available to older leaders willing to see beyond their own generation's perceptions of what it takes to lead change, but few have absorbed them. Malcom Gladwell continues to belittle the power of social media to create tipping points, as if demonstrating in the streets like it was still the 1960s is the only tactic to bring about change with any value. His fellow Boomer, Tom Friedman, who had previously mislabeled American Millennials as "Generation Q[uiet]," was hobnobbing with other clueless elites in Davos when the Egyptian revolution broke out and was completely surprised by events in the region of the world where he first developed his reputation as an astute observer. And of course the most obviously out-of-touch older leaders were President Mubarak and his sidekick, Vice President Omar Suleiman, who continued, right up to the day they lost power, to underestimate the ability of the youth of their country to channel the pent up desire of the Egyptian people for freedom and a new way of life.

It's not surprising that the facility of young people in using new technology is the first thing older generations notice and comment upon when talking about "kids today." Many older people, however, fail to look beyond those surface behaviors to the deeper values that now animate young people around the world. The belief of the emerging generation in democratic values, in the ability of people to govern themselves, free from dictation from above, and in the power of individual initiative to inspire collective action on behalf of the community's greater good, determine the way young people use technology, not the other way around. All of those attitudes and values were in clear evidence in Egypt over the last few weeks, reminding those clinging to power and outdated perceptions of how to hold onto it, that a new generation has arrived. Like their civic-oriented counterparts in America eight decades ago, this century's emerging generation has a "rendezvous with destiny" and will lead the world in entirely new ways into a new era.

Originally posted at the Huffington Post.

Which Deficits Do Millennials Care About?

The nation's capital is abuzz with talk about deficits.  The Republican co-chairman of the President's Deficit Reduction Commission, Alan Simpson, a member of the aging Silent Generation (born 1925-1945), began the debate by lecturing his younger Baby Boomer (1946-1964) colleagues about the need for their generation, labeled by Simpson the "greediest generation," to finally face up to their lifelong avoidance of responsibility and agree to painful reductions in their future retirement benefits and current tax preferences. The generation gap that has separated Boomers from their elders for decades appeared to be almost as wide today as it was in the 1960s.

The Commission's confrontational conversation was all about money, devoid of any discussion about what kind of country America should become. By contrast, at the NDN headquarters in Washington, the Roosevelt Institute Campus Network, a think tank run by and for Millennials, was releasing an equally important document, a Blueprint for the Millennial America. In stark contrast with the zero sum proposals being tossed around by older generations, the Blueprint's focus was on America's civic deficit-- the imbalance between what we need to do as a nation and the investments we are willing to make to retain our global leadership. The group launched its Think 2040 project, this past March, in order to "leverage our unique generational characteristics, transform our communities nationwide, and redefine the American dream," in the words of its national director, Hilary Doe.  Their vision, generated in a year-long discussion with over two thousand Millennials, focused on what type of country America's youngest generation (born 1982-2003) wanted to inherit when it takes over  the reins of power in 2040. 

The participants envisioned an America "that continues to be a model for the world in terms of innovation, productivity, and strength... [and] a moral leader as well." They wanted America to live by three core values: "a deeply held concern for equity, respect for the individual and society, and a belief in community empowerment and self-determination." Together, these values, and the group's vision, paint a picture that "uniquely represents the world Millennials aspire to create: more accessible, more equitable, more community-driven, more entrepreneurial, more inclusive, and better prepared to tackle the long-term challenges our country faces."

Participants were appalled at the inequities of the country's current educational system, "the foundation of our economy and democracy," and placed its reform at the top of their list of priorities. They committed to changing the system's unequal outcomes, but didn't want American schools to "lose their essential creativity and civic function in an effort to meet federally mandated standards." Rather, as part of their generation's focus on acting locally to implement national goals, they favored "an eclectic mix of federal incentives and local power and creativity to revitalize American education."

The Millennials who participated in Think 2040 approached America's environmental problems with the same values that informed their broader vision. Because they believed that "environmental challenges fundamentally alter the texture of communities," they proposed solutions that respected "the needs of America's communities," so that no one would be asked to "make sacrifices without fully considering the cost to communities across the United States." To accomplish this goal, which clearly reflects the unique sensibilities of Millennials, the report prioritized the development and usage of renewable sources of energy above all other environmental solutions. The participants argued that "creating a thriving domestic market for renewable sources of energy, fostering a strong green-jobs sector, and achieving energy independence....was essential for the long-term health of the country's environment and its economy," as well as "maintaining national and global security and preserving biodiversity."    

Just as, after World War II, the previous civic generation, Tom Brokaw's Greatest Generation, created "a system of global cooperation to promote human rights, poverty reduction, and conflict resolution," these globally minded Millennials shared "an overwhelming belief that it is the moral duty of the United States to reduce global conflict by reinvigorating international institutions." They pointed out that "the rise of genocide in the 20th century has led to a fundamentally different conception of America's international responsibility," to guide the country's foreign policy.  In their  Millennial America, the United States would work "with its allies across the globe to promote sustainable development, capacity building, and community ownership, instead of invading and occupying enemy territory," and use "defense, diplomacy, and development as equal pillars of U.S. foreign policy."

At home, Think 2040 participants wanted "to build an American economy that supports and rewards creativity, ingenuity, and personal determination to succeed," leading them to endorse banking reform, infrastructure investment, and turning the nation's social safety net into a "trampoline."  Their government social safety trampoline would "lower barriers to entrepreneurship, enable workers to rebound in times of need, and combat intergenerational poverty by allowing children the opportunity to succeed regardless of their family challenges," in order to produce an economy with greater upward mobility.

Exemplifying their generation's penchant for combining high ideals with pragmatic solutions, the Blueprint's action plan suggested Millennials "demand change, but act locally. Work to combat challenges, but do so from within the system. Create change, but not just through protest....What allows us, as communities, to overcome obstacles ... is collaborative action." The report emphasized the need not only for  high levels of civic engagement by the generation, but the need for reforms  in the political system to reduce the role of money in elections  creating  "a more open, accountable, and democratic electoral system."

 Doe is confident of her generation's ability to effect the changes the Blueprint advocates because "our shared experiences have made us socially empathetic, tolerant, informed, collaborative, engaged, innovative, entrepreneurial, effective problem solvers both capable and willing to work together to overcome the challenges that we face."  Unlike older generations that are ready to engage in pitch fork battles to protect their own perquisites and power, Millennials consistently look for win-win solutions to the challenges the country confronts. Perhaps, if more decision-makers in Washington listen to the voices of this generation so eloquently captured in the Blueprint, they will find a vision for the future that can point to a way out of the partisan gridlock that continues to poison U.S. politics as it has for decades.   

 Rather than judging the value of deficit reduction and other policy proposals based on the number of oxen they gore, we should judge each one by how much it contributes to building the kind of America we want our children and our children's children to inherit. Based on that criterion, the Blueprint for the Millennial America sets a high bar for the rest of the country to jump over.   

America is a Different Country in 2010

With two weeks to go in the unpredictable 2010 elections, many pundits have been left scratching their heads and admitting that they really have no idea how this election is going to turn out. Nate Silver, today's most careful analyst of election statistics and forecasting, examined a variety of indicators and concluded that there were more closely contested and hard-to-predict congressional races this election than ever before. The biggest reason for this uncertainty is that America's electorate is changing as fast as the country's demographic and generational characteristics are, challenging old assumptions about how politics works in America.

In 1965 the nation was 89% white and 11% black, about the same as it had been during the previous century. Since then, high levels of Asian and Latin immigration have produced an America today which is 66% white and 33% "people of color," a tripling of the minority population in only four decades. Remarkably, 10% of Americans are of Mexican descent and about 5% of the electorate speaks primarily Spanish. For the first time in US history a president of mixed race, who considers himself to be African-American, resides in the White House. 

The second big demographic change is the emergence of the largest, most diverse generation in American history, one which will dominate the political and cultural life of 21st century America as much as the Boomers did in the late 20th century. The Millennial Generation, born from 1982-2003, is sometimes condescendingly referred to as the "youth vote," but it should be more accurately recognized as the biggest and most important new voting cohort in America. There are about 95 million Millennials, about half of whom are now of voting age. One out of four eligible voters in 2012 will come from this generation and more than one out of three voters will be Millennials in 2020. 

Every two years the percentage of non-whites, along with Millennials, in the American electorate is increasing.  Non-whites will grow from 33% of the population today to 50% by 2042. As these populations grow, a new political reality will take hold in areas altered by their increased participation, especially in the Southwest and coastal areas of the country. The power of these population shifts to upend conventional political wisdom was demonstrated by Barack Obama's victories over heavily favored establishment candidates in both the Democratic primary and the general election in 2008. 

These demographic transformations are changing the political loyalties and beliefs of the American electorate. Democrats now have their largest lead in national party identification since the early 1960s. In the most recent Pew survey, only 15% of Americans claimed to be completely unaffiliated independent voters, while about half (48%) identify with the Democratic Party and 37% with the Republican Party. By contrast, in 1994, the last time in which a newly elected Democratic president faced a midterm election against an aroused GOP, the two parties were tied in party identification at 44% each. This Democratic advantage is due in large part to Millennials and Hispanics who identify as Democrats by a 2:1 margin over Republicans.

Survey data also shows that most Americans continue to favor using government to address their economic concerns and societal challenges. This summer, in a survey conducted for NDN, a clear majority (54% vs. 31%) of Americans favored a government that actively tries to solve societal and economic problems rather than one that takes a hands-off approach--numbers virtually unchanged since Barack Obama's inauguration. More recently, only 29% of those surveyed this fall told Pew they wanted all of the Bush-era tax cuts to remain in place, while a majority (57%) preferred either that those on the wealthy should be allowed to expire or that all of the Bush tax cuts should end. Forty percent of adults told an Associated Press survey they didn't think the new health care law went far enough, while only 20% felt the federal government shouldn't be involved in healthcare at all. These pro-government attitudes are likely to grow as more and more Millennials enter the electorate. By a 60% to 36% margin the generation favors a bigger government providing more services over a smaller government providing fewer services.

Rather than being surprised every two years by the changing politics of a nation altered by a rapidly changing demography, pundits would be wiser to anticipate that American politics is going to keep changing and evolving every two years, and will never again look like the politics of the 20th century. In the shorter run, the operative question in this year's midterm elections is the extent to which the major components of the 21st century American electorate make their presence felt at the polls in November. President Obama, who is concentrating his final campaigning efforts on college campuses and minority neighborhoods, clearly recognizes the challenge-but also the rare opportunity-presented by the 21st century electorate. His success in energizing these newest members of the Democratic Party's base will determine the still uncertain outcome of the midterm elections. But the longer term direction of American politics will clearly continue to be driven by the demographic and generational changes now sweeping the country.

America’s Economy Needs to Restructure in Order to Recover

The news that the growth of America's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) slowed in the second quarter to an anemic 2.7 percent, from its barely adequate first quarter performance of 3.7 percent, helps make the case for building what President Obama  terms a "New Foundation" for the country's economy. The president should use NDN's analysis of the root causes of our current economic difficulties to explain to the American people why this restructuring  is needed and how all of his legislative accomplishments-not just the auto company interventions he rightly touted in Detroit last Friday-- are putting in place a New Foundation for a 21st century economy, built on much more solid ground than the flawed and failed economics of the era America has just left.

The continuing high unemployment rate this far into the Great Recession should  demonstrate to all but the most stubborn partisans that expecting the contours of our economy to suddenly snap back into the shape that they were  in before the financial meltdown of September,  2008 is wishful thinking of the worst kind. It ignores the fundamental weaknesses of the consumer-driven economy of the last decade and leads to policy prescriptions that fail to deal with the root causes of our economic malaise. Besides, that economy, built on the sands of using the value of one's home as a personal ATM, led to a lost decade in real income growth for middle class Americans, so no one should be hoping it comes back anytime soon. 

The last time the country experienced the prolonged economic pain it is experiencing now was during the Great Depression. Thanks to the decisive interventions of President Obama's economic team and the Federal Reserve the country is fortunately not experiencing anything quite that painful this time around. But the economic downturns of the 1930s and of this decade have more than just the ironic adjective "Great" in common.

Both occurred as a new, civic-oriented generation was coming of age. In the 1930s it was the GI Generation, what many now call America's Greatest Generation.  Today it is the Millennial Generation, a cohort many expect to be our next great generation.  The unity and size of both generations gave first President Franklin Roosevelt and then President Obama the margin of electoral victory and mandate for change that underpinned political support for long-term, structural changes in the economy. In both cases, the dire circumstances in which ordinary Americans found themselves provided  the impetus for the creation of major new social programs-Social Security in Roosevelt's  first term and health care reform in Obama's. 

But many current observers fail to realize how similar the controversies surrounding these changes also are.  Just as Republicans today, and some moderate Democrats, seek to impose a new round of austerity on the nation's economy by attempting to stop the funding for such basic programs as extended unemployment insurance,   FDR, during his first term, dodged and ducked an onslaught of advice to scale back the New Deal from both the opposition and from many within his own party. The debate continued right through the 1936 election, when his Republican opponent, Alf Landon, campaigned on a platform of repealing Social Security, arguing, as those seeking to repeal health care reform do today, that it represented an unwarranted "socialist" intrusion into individual paychecks by an out-of-control federal government. 

But during the entire debate, Roosevelt stuck to his guns and insisted on the need to fundamentally overturn the laissez faire economic policies of the Roaring Twenties. As Pulitzer Prize winning historian, David M. Kennedy wrote in his book Freedom from Fear:

The New Deal's premier objective, at least until 1938, and in Roosevelt's mind probably for a long time thereafter, was not the economic recovery tout court but structural reform for the long run. In the last analysis, reform, not simply recovery, was the New Deal's highest ambition and lasting legacy.

And just as President Obama's health care and financial regulatory reform efforts are not the second coming of socialism that opponents tried to make them out to be, Roosevelt's  structural solutions avoided the heavy-handed notion of government control that so many in his party favored and so many Republicans accused them of being.  The FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation) created a feeling of security among depositors, not a government bank.  The SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) gave stockholders new information upon which to base their investment decisions, but didn't restrict their investment opportunities.  The FHA (Federal Housing Administration) provided more safety to lenders and new mortgage terms for home buyers, but didn't attempt to have government build the houses people needed.  The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and the Fair Labor Standards Act set new, fairer rules for both employers and workers to follow, but didn't impose the kind of price controls and work rules that were part of the earlier, ill-fated National Industrial Recovery Act. As Kennedy correctly observes:

To be sure, Roosevelt sought to enlarge the national state as the instrument of the security and stability that he hoped to impart to American life. But legend to the contrary, much of the security that the New Deal threaded into the fabric of American society was often stitched with a remarkably delicate hand, not simply imposed by the fist of the imperious state.

It's also important to remember that, with the exception of the FDIC, none of these long-lasting, deep changes in the rules and structures by which the American economy operated were enacted in the initial year of Roosevelt's first term. Social Security, for example, didn't pass until 1935, after the 1934 midterm elections. By that chronological measurement,  President Obama's New Foundation is actually being built ahead of schedule.

Nor did any of Roosevelt's structural reforms restore the country to full employment immediately.  When FDR uttered his famous line "I see one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished" in his 1937 inaugural speech, he was speaking about the progress the country had made in his first term and warning his audience not to become complacent with what had been accomplished to that point.   Just as President Obama must walk a fine line between noting the positive impact his initial efforts to stop the economic bleeding have had without suggesting there is nothing more that can or should be done, so too did FDR want the country to understand that, as he put it in the same address, "Such symptoms of prosperity may become portents of disaster!"

To avoid that result this time, President Obama needs to make it clear that much more needs to be done to restructure the economy, and that a stock market recovery without a recovery in middle class incomes is not the goal of his administration. Among other things, the president must emphasize that until all American schools have won the "Race to the Top," until our economy is built on a lower carbon infrastructure, until every American worker has the skills they need to compete in the global economy for jobs with good wages and good benefits, and until America's tax structure rewards work and innovation and not financial manipulation, the New Foundation for the nation's economy will not be complete.  

The restructuring of our economy is and will be painful. America's tolerance for change will be as sorely tested as it was during the Great Depression.  President Obama's leadership skills will be put to the same stern test that FDR had to pass. 

But Democrats should welcome the opportunity that the 2010 midterm elections present to argue for the need to undertake a fundamental restructuring of the nation's economy and to brag about the steps they have already taken to produce that transformation. Rather than ducking or attempting to explain away the economic difficulties the nation faces, it's time to build a strong foundation of political support for the economic New Foundation the President seeks to put in place. As NDN's recent survey research shows, a majority coalition already exists for just such an economic and political program. It's time to make sure the voices of America's 21st century constituencies are heard in November.

Twenty-first Century Electorate’s Heart is in the Suburbs

Even as the nation conducts its critically important decennial census, a demographic picture of the rapidly changing population of the United States is emerging.  It underlines how suburban living has become the dominant experience for all key groups in America's 21st century electorate.

While suburban living was once seen as the almost exclusive preserve of the white upper-middle class, a majority of all major American racial and ethnic groups now live in suburbia, according to the newest report on the state of metropolitan America from the Brookings Institute.  Slightly more than half of African-Americans now live in large metropolitan suburbs, as do 59% of Hispanics, almost 62% of Asian-Americans, and 78% of whites. As a result the country is closer than ever to achieving a goal that many thought would never be achieved-city/suburban racial/ethnic integration. This is particularly so in the faster growing metropolitan areas of the South and West.

SuburbsThe trend is likely to continue for the foreseeable future. A majority of Millennials live in the suburbs and 43% of them, a portion higher than for any other generation, describe suburbs as their "ideal place to live."

The nation's one hundred largest metropolitan areas have grown twice as fast as the rest of the country in the last decade. That growth was heavily concentrated in lower density suburbs, which grew at three times the rate of cities or inner ring suburbs. At the same time, one third of the nation's overall population growth was due to immigration. As a result about one-quarter of all children in the United States have at least one immigrant parent.  In 2008, non-whites became a majority of Americans under 18, a demographic milestone that underlines just how fast and how dramatically the country is changing. Any political party that wants to build a lasting electoral majority must align its policy prescriptions with these new demographic realities to attract the votes of  a younger, more ethnically diverse population, most of which now lives in the suburbs.   

Economic opportunity continues to be the major driver in determining where people want to live and work. Five of the six fastest growing metropolitan areas in the last decade were also among the top six in job growth according to data from the Census and the Bureau of Labor Statistics analyzed by the Praxis Strategy Group. (pdf) The same five metropolitan areas--Phoenix, Riverside (CA), Dallas, Houston and Washington, D.C-- also ranked high in the diversity of their population, differing only in the degree of educational attainment their residents have achieved. With America experiencing the first decade since the 1930s in which inflation adjusted median income declined and job creation slowed to levels not seen in decades, this movement to where the jobs are is hardly surprising. Yet this crucial factor is often  overlooked by urban planners who argue  that cultural amenities and sport complexes are the key to attracting new residents. In fact, metropolitan areas that focus on job creation for Millennials (young Americans born 1982-2003) and minorities have the best chance of gaining population in the next decade.

Clearly providing higher-quality public education experiences is a key part of any such economic strategy. The arrival of stealth fighter parents at local school district meetings across the country only underlines how passionate young families are about the quality of education their children receive and their unwillingness to let Boomer ideological debates delay the changes needed to properly prepare their children for a higher educational experience that increases the odds of  economic success. The traditional separation between municipal partisan politics and non-partisan school policy making is increasingly outdated when so much of a city's economic success depends on the quality of the education its residents receive. In this environment, the educational policies of the Obama administration that focus on results and outcomes and not on  process or previous practices should serve as a template for elected officials at every level to follow.

Safe neighborhoods of single family dwellings with a surrounding patch of land continue to attract families of every background to the nation's suburbs. Metropolitan areas that provide such an environment to all of their residents are the furthest along in achieving a more integrated society. Los Angeles, for instance, which is often decried by non-residents as simply an aggregation of suburbs with no central core, has a suburban population whose demographic profile almost exactly matches the city's population. The fact that most of its housing reflects the tract developments of the 50s and 60s, and that former Los Angeles police chief William Bratton used his COMPSTAT crime fighting techniques to bring the city's crime rates down to levels not seen in five decades, are two key reasons for this polyglot profile.

Rather than fighting this desire on the part of America's 21st century electorate to live comfortably in the suburbs, politicians of all stripes should find ways to embrace it and advocate policies that reflect our new economic realities. For instance, rather than insisting on higher density housing and light rail systems as the only  answer to the nation's appetite for foreign oil, the federal government should adopt tax incentives that encourage telecommuting. If all Americans worked from home, as many Millennials prefer to do, just two days a week, it would cut that portion of our nation's gas consumption by more than a third. The FCC's recently announced broadband policy will help put in place the infrastructure required to make such a lifestyle possible and even more productive.

Three out of four commuting trips involve a single individual driving their car to work and this isn't likely to change with the increased growth in suburban living.  But putting as much emphasis on making our nation's highways "smart" as in creating a smart electrical grid would make it possible for the existing highway system to shorten commuting time and reduce the quantity of fuel used in such trips.  Recent developments in mobile technology makes this a practical, near term solution if state and local governments are prepared to invest in upgrading an infrastructure that is already designed and deployed to connect people's homes to their workplace.

Aligning the message at the heart of a party's programs with the values and behaviors of America's 21st century electorate is the best way to guarantee victory this year and for years to come. As Simon Rosenberg has stated, Democrats need to "embrace the coalition" based on the country's new demographic realities that Barack Obama used so effectively in 2008.  That embrace requires not only focusing the party's efforts on the growing demographic groups that now make up a majority of Americans, but also rethinking many of the policies it advocates to make them more friendly to the suburban lifestyle that so many members of the coalition desire. As he points out, "crossing the chasm" from the old coalition to the new will "be hard, but it is in the best interests of the country and the best interests of the Democratic Party."

21st Century America Project

For years the team at NDN/NPI has been a leader in helping policymakers better understand the changing demographics of the United States. We are excited to announce that we are bringing our demographic and public opinion research together under a single banner: The 21st Century America Project. The project will feature work by Morley Winograd and Mike Hais, NDN/NPI Fellows, authors of the critically acclaimed book Millenial Makeover; Alicia Menendez, our new Senior Advisor, who has extensive experience working in these emergent communities; and other NDN/NPI Fellows and collaborators.

Below, please find some of the highlights of our past work on 21st Century America:

2010 Highlights

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

Millennial Makeover, a blog by Mike Hais and Morley Winograd

Data Matters Columns, a blog by Mike Hais

2009 Highlights

The Drop Dobbs Campaign

The Anti Vitter-Bennett Amendment Campaign

The New Constituents: How Latinos Will Shape Congressional Apportionment After the 2010 Census, by Andres Ramirez

NDN Backgrounder: Census 2010, Immigration Status and Reapportionment, by Andres Ramirez

Latino Vote in 2008, by Andres Ramirez

2008 Highlights

End of the Southern Strategy, by Simon Rosenberg

Hispanics Rising II

2007 Highlights

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

The 21st Century America Project is dedicated to demographic and public opinion research that for years has served as an invaluable resource in helping our leaders and policymakers understand America’s changing demographics.

Honoring Millennials’ Service

One year ago today President Obama signed  the Kennedy Serve America Act fulfilling one of his most important campaign promises to the Millennial Generation (born 1982-2003). The legislation represented the biggest expansion of national service since FDR's Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s.

Among other provisions, the bill

  • Established programs to involve middle and high school students in community service, including its innovative Summer of Service programs;
  • Expanded AmeriCorps openings over 8 years, allowing for up to 250,000 AmeriCorps volunteers by fiscal year 2017;
  • Expanded the National Civilian Community Corps' mission to include projects on energy conservation, environmental stewardship or conservation, infrastructure improvement, urban and rural development, or disaster preparedness needs; and
  • Established new volunteer Corps to engage Millennial's enthusiasm for such efforts including the Education Corps to improve schools, the Healthy Futures Corps to serve unmet health needs within communities, the Clean Energy Corps to work on energy projects, the Opportunity Corps to work with the economically disadvantaged, and the Veterans Corps to work with veterans and their families.

In return for participating in these service initiatives, the legislation raised the value of the full-time national service educational award that goes to participants in  the Corporation for National Community Service's programs to the maximum amount of a Federal Pell Grant. This will enable those who volunteer, to return to school after serving their country, just as members of the GI generation did after WWII.

In just one year, the spirit of the legislation has inspired countless new initiatives among Millennials, America's most civic-minded generation. Now Millennial led initiatives, such as and  are building social network sites to link their generational cohort's desire to improve the world with opportunities for doing so.

One effort that deserves special mention is the recently concluded "Beyond the Welcome Home" Veteran's Summit hosted by one of  the leading Millennial service organizations,,  in Carson, California. More than five dozen veterans of the Iraqi or Afghanistan wars, representing Millennial veterans from all branches of the armed services gathered for three days to identify the major problems facing returning veterans and develop service solutions to address their issues.  Joined by civilian Millennials and interested non-profits, the group used the latest in interactive technologies to prioritize the issues they wanted to address.

The four most important issues facing returning veterans that the group identified did not sound very different than those facing veterans returning from  earlier wars:

1.  Reintegrating veterans into civilian life so they can productively interact with civilians and society again.

2.  A lack of knowledge about programs and benefits post-separation for the armed forces that could help veterans with their return to civilian life.

3.  Suicide prevention to deal with feelings of lack of self-worth post-deployment and post-military that many veterans experience.

4.  Delays in receiving the health care and other benefits that they are entitled to due to poor communication between the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

But the solutions that received the most support  from the participants had a distinctly Millennial flavor. Many emphasized the group solidarity that Millennials feel so intensely. As one participant put it, "The way to deal with these issues is with veterans taking care of each other, just as we did in Iraq." Or as another participant said, "We need to do things ourselves, not have DoD do it. We always do better ourselves."

Millennial's determination to overhaul the institutions their elders built or, failing that, to start new ones was also evident in the suggestions offered at the conference. "We should use the established Veteran Service Organizations, but if they don't work, we should create new ones." One popular way to start new institutions was to create a "Facebook for Vets" site that could link all the sites Millennial vets are using into a single place to get all the information they need. 

Nor were the participants daunted by the challenge of taking on two of the federal government's biggest bureaucracies-DoD and the VA-through their generation's penchant for political engagement. Two comments capture the larger sentiment of the group. "We need to become active and aware of political issues that involve veterans and encourage our fellow Millennials to vote for legislators who support veterans' issues." "By sharing information and becoming advocates we can get DoD and VA to respond." 

Of the approximately 2 million service men and women who have served  our country so far in Iraq and Afghanistan, more than 60%, almost 1.26 million,  are members of  the Millennial Generation, so these sentiments are certain to find their way into this year's political campaigns. Unlike the shunned and often reviled veterans of the Vietnam War, Millennials are returning to a society that respects their service. According to NDN's latest survey on America's 21st Century electorate, 64% of Millennials, as well as 78% of older generations, have a positive view of the nation's military. But more than  one in five veterans between the ages of 18 and 24 can't find work when they return home.

The country's appreciation needs to be translated into programs for veterans that are worthy of the honor this generation has brought to our country.  Three years ago, established its Democracy 2.0 declaration which states that it is time "to act. . . to upgrade America's unfinished project of democracy." The organization has taken an important step along that path by hosting the summit and providing $25,000 to support the best ideas that flowed from the conference.  But as the nation observes National Volunteer Week, each of us should take a moment to commit to doing whatever is needed to honor the most important volunteers this country has-the members of the United States Armed Forces.

One way to do so would be to connect to any of the groups that earned support from  for the work they were doing with Millennial veterans at the Summit, or to some of the other groups dedicated to helping America's next great generation contribute as much in their civilian life as they have already done in the military. This list is a great place to start honoring our Millennial veteran's service:

Athena Bridge

The Mission Continues

Veteran's Green Jobs

Team Rubicon


Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America

Raising the Quality and Lowering the Cost of Education

Millennials (young Americans born 1982-2003) rate the quality of education and the cost of college near the top of the list of issues about which they are most concerned, just behind jobs and the economy. This week, President Barack Obama responded to those concerns with the release of his plan to fix the No Child Left Behind Law and focus the federal government's efforts even more on ensuring school's deliver the results and outcomes that Millennials and their parents expect from America's institutions.  The announcement capped a remarkable series of events that saw  Democrats joining  parents and educators across  the country in taking important steps to address  those educational needs,  providing Millennials new hope that their investments in politics and civic engagement will finally pay off.

NDN's newest survey research indicates that Millennials, unlike all other generations, rate education generally, and the cost of a college education specifically, as two of the top four critical problems  they believe government must address and fix.   Clearly, Millennials, like older generations, see a need to improve public education in America. And, in fact, Millennials perceive this need from a very personal perspective. While the Millennial Generation is  slightly more positive about the overall quality of education in the United States (41% positive/50% negative) than older generations (32%/62%), they give significantly lower grades to the education they have personally received than older generations.  Seventy percent of Millennials believe that the poor quality of public education stems from a  lack of money and the way schools  are managed and organized. Unlike the majority of older generations, Millennials are about evenly split on whether or not unions and work rules are a major problem in our system of public education. In response to attitudes like these, an  increasing number of urban school districts are beginning to abandon the strategy  of incremental reform and adopting more radical and dramatic changes to address the concerns of Millennials  and their  parents.

In Rhode Island, the Central Falls school board fired all the teachers, the principle and the administrators in an underperforming high school where half the 800 students were failing every subject and only seven percent were proficient in math. Unable to reach agreement with the teachers on how to pay for the changes needed to break this cycle of mediocrity, the board invoked the "turnaround option" sanctioned by the Obama administration's school reform initiative, which allows school boards to start over at failing schools with a brand new set of teachers and administrators. Given the President's unwavering support for systemic reform of schools that fail to educate children embodied in his Race to the Top initiative, the White House's support of the school board's actions should not have come as a surprise to those still trying to protect the status quo.

In Kansas City, Missouri the school board, that  previously had stood in the vanguard of those believing primarily in racial integration and increased per pupil spending as the solution to the problems of education in urban environments, decided to try a completely different approach. Less than third of Kansas City  elementary school students are now reading at or above grade level and no more than a quarter of most of their schools' students  have achieved the levels of proficiency required for   the skills they will need in life. Faced with these results, and the prospect of running out of money by next year, the board voted to close about half of the district's  schools in order to "dramatically enhance education for each of our students by combining our very best teachers and very best resources in fewer schools," as Kansas City's School Superintendent put it.

But perhaps the most dramatic news of the week came from Detroit where a coalition of nonprofit organizations, Excellent Schools Detroit, announced its plan to replace Detroit's failing public schools with 70 new ones and make a $200-million  investment over the next ten years in order to achieve its  goal of graduating 90% of Detroit kids from high school by 2020 and having 90% of graduates go on to college.  Currently, about 58% of students in Detroit's school system and 78% of those enrolled in charter schools in the city graduate from high school, while fewer than 25% enroll in college.

The plan includes a push for mayoral control of Detroit Public Schools, but more importantly the establishment of an independent commission to grade every school in the city, including charters, every year against a uniform set of standards and outcomes focused on achieving educational excellence. The new Standards and Accountability Commission will establish a competitive public education marketplace complete with report cards grading each school's progress against an agreed upon set of standards that will enable parents to become smart shoppers for their child's education. The commission will also  suggest closures in order to weed out failing schools, half of which, under the plan, would be closed or replaced with schools under new management by 2015. Like the Kansas City solution, the plan does not rely on increased funding from the state but rather the commitment of Detroiters to the future of their children. The idea was greeted with cheers from everyone except the members of the current school board.  

Meanwhile, back in the U.S. Senate, a flurry of phone calls and emails from Millennials across the nation, convinced a majority of Democratic Senators to join in an effort to rescue Pell grants for students attending college from dramatic cuts that would have reduced payments by 60% for eight million students and eliminated the money altogether for another half a million. The House had already passed the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act, which would reform the student loan program by eliminating the current subsidies to private lenders who make student loans guaranteed by the federal government and invest the money saved in increasing the size and availability of Pell Grants. But six Democratic Senators, who should know better, had argued that the nation couldn't afford to continue to make these investments in its future and should instead continue to underwrite the bank's profits, even as students on campuses across the nation demonstrated to protest increases in tuition at cash strapped state universities.

 Since Republicans were united in defending the interests of banks over Millennials, the only way to enact President Obama's student aid reform proposal was to include the concept in the budget reconciliation package, central to efforts to finally pass health care reform, which  only requires a simple majority in the Senate for passage. After hearing from their House colleagues on the political benefits and policy importance of the concept, even budget hawks like North Dakota Senator Kent Conrad,  chairman of the Budget Committee, agreed to find a way to bundle the two items by adjusting the education portion  to account for a revised Congressional Budget Office cost analysis. The principle driver of the increased costs of the program is the popularity of this type of college financial aid among Millennials struggling to stay out of debt and still get the education they need to get a good paying job. By combining ways to reduce the cost of college with a major expansion of health care in the reconciliation package,   Democrats  have taken a major step forward in solidifying the support of all elements of the Democratic Party's  21st Century majority coalition-from young voters to minorities.

This new coalition presents the best opportunity for Democrats to solidify a dominant majority coalition since FDR and the New Deal. But key members of the coalition, especially Millennials, are currently not convinced that voting in 2010 will make much of a difference, given the results they have seen from Congress in the first year of the Obama administration in the election of which they played such a significant role.  But these recent events   suggest the country is finally beginning to listen to the voice of this new generation and address its concerns. As educators and parents at the grass roots of this revolution begin to have an  impact in cities across the nation, the best thing that Democrats in Congress could do before this week  is out is pass both health care and student aid reform as part of their budget reconciliation process. Doing so would finally begin to align the nation's budgetary priorities with its future and bring hope for Millennials that changes they can  believe in will continue to flow from their investment in the country's political process. 

The American Electorate of the 21st Century: Poll & Presentation

Publish Date: 

Read a summary of the poll (pdf)

View the presentation (pdf)

America is going though profound demographic change. Its population is moving to the South and West. New groups - particularly Hispanics and the largest generation in American history, Millennials - have emerged. Large waves of immigration have helped put America on a path to become a majority minority nation by the mid century. This new American Electorate of the 21st Century is creating a "new politics" in America, forcing both the Democratic and Republican Parties to forge new political coalitions and new electoral maps very different from the ones they built, ran on and governed with in the 20th century.

This new report takes an in-depth look at how America's population is changing, and how the two political parties are responding to these changes. Critically acclaimed authors and NDN Fellows Mike Hais and Morley Winograd present the findings of a new major market research project designed to help policy makers and political leader better understand these changes and how they might impact the 2010 and future elections, for both parties. At the core of this new presentation will be the findings of a just completed new 2,500 person national survey, whose large sample size will allow effective comparisons across generations and groups.

The presentation and report will take a special look at one of the big questions in American politics today - Can the new Obama Coalition become the new Democratic Coalition? Is the way President Obama won in 2008, with a very different map and different voters, a road map for future Democratic success or a coalition unique to him? And what does this all mean for 2010?

Democrats Rock the Vote on Campuses

More than twice as many 18-29 year olds voted for President Barack Obama as for John McCain in 2008, and one year later the party preferences of college students remain similarly lopsided in favor of the Democratic Party and its political point of view.

The most recent data from communication research company Frank N. Magid Associates' show an equal percentage of students, 18 and older, call themselves liberals or progressives (31%) as describe their political philosophy as moderate (30%). By contrast, only 20% describe themselves as conservative, while another 20% haven't learned enough in college yet to say just what their ideological orientation is. Survey research data from 2008 and 2009 actually showed self-described moderates as the most common philosophical designation by Millennials, born between 1982 and 2003, with liberalism in second place. But those studies included Millennials who were not on campus, which suggests either that college students are a more liberal bunch than non-students by nature or there has been further movement toward liberalism among Millennials during the first year of Obama's presidency.

Almost all students on campus today are members of the Millennial Generation and bring that generation's commitment to civic engagement and consensus decision making to the political process. Unlike many members of Generation X or Baby Boomers who preceded them, a majority of Millennials believes in using government to help address societal problems and economic inequality. These philosophic touchstones form the basis of their political identification and belief system.

Millennials were inclined to be Democrats before Obama ran for presidency and both his campaign and his presidency have solidified that tendency. Beginning in 2006 as Millennials made their presence known among 18-29 year old voters, partisan identification among this age group moved from a roughly 50/50 split to a clear preference for the Democratic Party. In 2008, Millennials voted more than 2:1 for Obama over McCain (66% vs. 32%) and by roughly the same percentage (63% vs. 34%) for Democratic congressional candidates. Magid's 2010 data shows this same level of Democratic identification persisting among Millennials who are attending college. Twice as many college students call themselves Democrats as Republicans (47% vs. 24%). Only 15% are independents, with a similar percentage unwilling to identify with any of those three choices.

These numbers suggest the Young Republicans have a lot of work to do just to break even, while Young Democrats should have a rockin' good time of it on college campuses across America.

Cross-posted at the Huffington Post.

Syndicate content