Millennial Makeover

Rewarding Education

America has always recognized the link between education and economic success--from the mandate for free public education in the Northwest Ordinance through Lincoln's support for the Morrill Land Grant College Act to the GI Bill of Rights legislation after World War II. In each of these previous civic eras, governments at all levels have invested heavily in education based on the belief that these expenditures would return much more in the future earnings capacity of its citizenry than the short term costs incurred. Now new research indicates the best way to bring good jobs and rising wages  to our newest civic generation, Millennials, is by breaking down the barriers to post-secondary educational success.

According to a recent study by Louis Jacobson and Christine Mokher, "Pathways to Boosting the Earnings of Low Income Students by Increasing their Educational Attainment,"  the key to future earnings potential is COMPLETION of whatever course of study is undertaken. "Course for course the returns to community colleges and four year college attendance  are comparable. However students who complete a community college credential tend to have higher earnings than four-year college students who do not graduate." Those who earned an associate degree at a community college earned 27% more than those who failed to get a degree of any kind and those with a certificate, even if for only one year of post high school education, still earned on average 8% more a year than those who failed to complete their higher education studies.  

The two major obstacles to postsecondary success identified in the study were the need to finance education and living expenses  by working while attending school and the lack of adequate preparation in academic subjects such as math and science while in high school.  Given the documented importance of completing a post-secondary field of study, the report's identification of these two principal  barriers to students finishing what they start gives policy makers a clear path to improve both educational attainment and the acquisition of good jobs with decent salaries and benefits for Millennials.

Financing Post-secondary Education

The Jacobson and Mokher study found that in 2007-2008  just about every one of the lowest income students attending community colleges was in debt, with an average of $7,147 in unmet expenses after taking into account all the grants or scholarships they received.  Student per class tuition rates are even higher at private one or  two year "career colleges," which enroll only about 10% of the number of students that attend government subsidized community colleges.  As a result, three-fourths of associate degree or certificate seekers end up working to help cover their educational and living expenses. The burden of needing to work is a major reason why only 26% of community college students get a degree or certificate within three years of starting their studies and only 38% get their  degree within  six years.   

Meanwhile federal support for higher education has failed to keep up with rising costs so that more and more students find themselves financing their education with student loans of one type or another. In Indiana, for instance, 62 percent of those who do manage to graduate carry student loan debt averaging  $23,264 per student. The loan burden in that state is even higher for graduates of for-profit colleges who leave school with  an average  debt burden of $32,650.

In addition to the steps Democrats  have already taken to increase the maximum amount available from Pell Grants and  the value of tax deductions for parents able to afford to pay their child's  tuition,  Congress should  follow the President's lead in addressing this debilitating burden on students who are required  to finance their education while attending school. One important step would be to increase support for community colleges along the lines advocated by NDN. Congress should also  eliminate the current subsidy to banks that  provide risk free  private student loans guaranteed by the government and redirect the money saved to expanding the federal loan program that allows students to borrow directly, at lower costs, from the government. This Obama Administration initiative was part of the student loan reform bill the House passed last year, but it  appears to be stymied in the Senate with sponsors hard to come by. Finally, whatever entity is eventually charged with protecting consumers from deceptive marketing of loans and other credit instruments as part of reforming our nation's financial regulatory structure, should also be given oversight of the student loan market  and the power to  set strong rules for fairer private student loan marketing and terms.

Fixing our nation's high schools

Among the brightest success stories of the Obama Administration are its educational reform policies under the leadership of Secretary of Education, Arnie Duncan. Its Race to the Top grant program designed to reward performance is already having transformative impact on educational policy in many states even as the program's first grants are awarded.  Focused on providing more money  to schools that are turning out students able and willing to learn, this program should be expanded in line with the administration's budget requests and supported by Democrats at all levels of government, from school districts to state legislatures. Now its time to bring the Gen X parents of Millennial students into the game as well and get them engaged in making sure their kids get the education they will need to succeed when they graduate from high school.

Already successful charter schools, such as UPrep in Detroit,  have demonstrated that any child of any background can graduate from high school and get accepted into a post-secondary educational experience if provided with the right learning environment, one that sets expectations of success right from the start. Bringing parents into the process of establishing such learning environments,  as California's recent "parent trigger" legislation does, represents the cutting edge of educational reform in this Millennial Era.

As Neil Howe, co-author of Generations, wrote in the most recent edition of School Administrator magazine, "when these Gen-X "security moms" and "committed dads" are fully roused, they can be even more attached, protective and interventionist than Boomer [parents]  ever were. . .They will juggle schedules to monitor their kids' activities in person. . . [and] will quickly switch their kids into - or take them out of - any situation according to their assessment of their youngsters' interests."  Congress could take a big step toward improving   America's high schools by empowering these Gen-X "stealth-fighter parents"  to take over failing schools as part of the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law.  Howe writes that  "Gen Xers believe their children's education should be a fair and open transaction with complete and accurate information and unconstrained consumer choice" and Congress should use its funding leverage to give them just what they are looking for. 

Winning  the hearts and minds of both Millennials and their parents is an achievable political goal for Democrats. Furthermore, as the latest research reveals, knocking down the barriers to obtaining a certificate or degree after high school is the key to economic success for both students and the country, making  the idea good public policy as well as good politics. Making higher education more affordable and fixing our nation's high schools should be at the top of Democrats economic policy priorities now and throughout the decade ahead. 

Blame Their Parents, Not Us

We appreciate Pete Peterson’s attention to our work, but in responding to his complaint that we are denigrating Generation X and underrating its civic participation, we should begin at the beginning, define our terms, and give credit where credit is due. In writing our book, Millennial Makeover: MySpace, YouTube, and the Future of American Politics, we borrowed heavily from the thinking of and acknowledged our intellectual debt to Neil Howe and the late William Strauss, the founders of generational theory. In their seminal books, Generations (1992) and The Fourth Turning (1997), Strauss and Howe described the four generational archetypes – Idealist, Reactive, Civic, and Adaptive – that have cycled throughout Anglo-American history. Stemming from the way each generation was reared by its parents, each generational type develops a characteristic set of attitudes and behaviors that is broadly similar regardless of where in American history it appears.

It is the attitudes and behaviors of these archetypes, not our biases or disdain for Generation X, that underpin our comments. Those same archetypical attitudes and behaviors also shape the statistics that Peterson cites both selectively and somewhat out of context in his New Geography posting.

One of Peterson’s contentions is that members of Generation X currently participate in voluntary or non-profit activities to at least the same extent as Millennials do. He cites a survey conducted by the National Conference on Citizenship (NCOC) to prove his point. It is clear, however, that the NCOC itself places great hope in the Millennial Generation, entitling a section in its reports, “The Emerging Generation: Opportunities with the Millennials” and stating that “In the 2009 Civic Health Index, Millennials emerge as the ‘top’ group for volunteers.”

While the NCOC statistics do indicate that Millennials lead the way in civic engagement, to be fair the overall differences between the X and Millennial Generations are not large. What most distinguishes Millennials from other generations is the type of community activities in which they are involved. Not surprisingly, given the lower incomes normally associated with entry level jobs and the fact that the Great Recession has hit them to a far greater extent than other generations, Millennials are more likely than older generations to volunteer rather than make financial donations. While a plurality of those in all generations say they both volunteer and donate financially, Millennials are substantially more likely to engage solely as volunteers. Among those who only volunteer, Millennials do so at 3.25 times the rate of Baby Boomers, 2.6 times that of seniors, and 1.3 times more than members of Generation X. In effect, at least in the current economy, Millennials have more time than money.

As Peterson points out, when respondents were asked whether they had increased their civic participation in the past year, Gen-Xers led the way with 39% answering “yes” surpassing Millennials (29%), Boomers (26%), and seniors (25%). He dismisses the possibility that this might reflect improvements in previously low engagement levels among Gen-Xers, but actually it does. According to the U.S. Department of Education in 1984, when all of them were Gen-Xers, only a quarter (27%) of high school students participated in community service. Twenty years later, when all high school students were Millennials about three times as many (80%) did so. It could be argued that this increase occurred simply because by 2004 students were required to be active in their communities while they weren’t previously. But, for whatever reason, Millennials better seemed to internalize the lessons about community service to which they were exposed in high school. In 1989, 13% of those participating in the National Service organizations like the Peace Corps and Teachers Corps were from Generation X, about the percentage contribution of the generation to the U.S. population at that time. In 2006, 26% of National Service participants were Millennials, twice their percentage in the population.

Peterson also maintains the voting turnout of Generation X equals that of Millennials when the two generations were of similar age. To demonstrate this he compares youth turnout in the 1992 and 2008 presidential elections. According to CIRCLE, a non-partisan organization that studies and attempts to increase the political participation of young people, 18-29 years did indeed vote at similar rates in 1992 when those of that age were Gen-Xers (50%) and in 2008 when that age group consisted primarily of Millennials (52% overall and 59% in the competitive battleground states in which the Obama and McCain campaigns concentrated their efforts).

What Peterson did not do is to report on what occurred in all of the elections between 1992 and 2008. This provides more nuanced data that is generally more favorable to Millennials. For example, in 1996, when again all young voters were members of Generation X, youth electoral participation fell to 37%, the lowest of any year for which CIRCLE reports data. Youth voting began to steadily increase starting in 2000 as the first Millennials attained voting age until, in 2008, it reached the highest level since 1972.

But, Peterson’s biggest unhappiness with those of us who “gush” about the Millennials really seems to be his belief that we extol them for partisan reasons. It is true that Millennials lean heavily to the Democratic Party. They supported Barack Obama against John McCain by a greater than 2:1 margin (66% vs. 32%) and, according to Pew, last October identified as Democrats over Republicans by 52% vs. 34%. They are also the first generation in at least four to contain more self-perceived liberals than conservatives.

We certainly don’t hide the fact that we are life-long Democrats, something we clearly pointed out in the introduction to our book even as we made every effort to be evenhanded in our examination of American politics. That evenhanded examination suggests that as a civic generation, at this point in American history, it is hard to imagine most Millennials being anything other than Democrats. Civic generations, like the Millennials, favor societal and governmental solutions to the problems facing America. At least since the New Deal, the Democratic Party has had more affinity for such approaches than the GOP. It is for this reason that the GI Generation (Tom Brokaw’s Greatest Generation) became lifelong Democrats in the 1930s and why we believe most Millennials now see themselves as Democrats and vote that way. For Peterson to wish that were different won’t make it so.

But, in the end, all generational archetypes play key roles in the mosaic of American life. In truth, no generation is somehow “better” or “worse” than another. When the civic GI Generation served America so nobly and effectively in World War II, members of the idealist Missionary Generation like Franklin D. Roosevelt inspired it and it was commanded in battle by great generals from the reactive Lost Generation such as Dwight Eisenhower and George Patton. America now faces a new set of grave issues. It will take the concerted efforts of all generations to confront and resolve them.

This essay is cross-posted at New Geography.

California’s Educational Earthquake

The tectonic plates of the nation's educational debate shifted dramatically in California last week when its supposedly dysfunctional, lopsidedly Democratic legislature passed the most far reaching educational reform program in the nation, and California's "post-partisan" Republican Governor happily signed it. Going beyond other states' efforts to respond to President Obama's "Race to the Top" competitive grant process, the state pulled the "Parent Trigger" in its legislation. This allows a majority of parents whose kids are attending a "demonstrably failing school" to, in effect, take over that school and change its governance, administration and teaching staff. In so doing, California placed itself in the vanguard of the transformation of America's K-12 education system that will put parents, not teachers or administrators, in the driver's seat in determining the kind of education that their special Millennial children will receive.

Just as we predicted in our book, Millennial Makeover: "Social networks, 'mommy blogs', and other forms of peer-to-peer communications" were the vehicle by which this parent led, bottom-up revolt overturned the power of some of California's most powerful unions to pass what Sacramento insiders considered a hopeless cause. Every time labor and its allies attempted to water down the impact of the Parent Trigger, the opposition melted in the face of thousands of parents asking a simple question, with only one good answer: "Why shouldn't parents get to decide what kind of school their kids go to?" A final compromise limited the number of schools that parents can pull the trigger on to just 75 initially. However, the future of this idea is just as bright as the state's Charter School movement, which started with similar limitations yet today is the governance model for more than 160 schools in Los Angeles alone and with enrollments rising almost 20% in the last year.

The organization behind the Parent Trigger concept, Parent Revolution, gives full credit to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and the Obama administration for creating the incentives that forced the state to consider this reform. Tucked inside the so-called stimulus bill passed last February, was over $4 billion for states and school districts to transform the performance of their schools. States that prohibit linking data on student achievement to principal and teacher evaluations, as California did before it passed this latest round of educational reform laws, were disqualified from even applying for these grants. In addition, those states that capped charter schools or limited alternative certification processes for teachers lose points in the competitive rankings for receipt of the grants. Most importantly, the program established a January, 2010 deadline for state laws to meet four conditions or "assurances" in order to be considered for the largest amount of reform incentive dollars in the last three decades:

  1. Adoption of common, internationally benchmarked, standards based on rigorous state assessments.
  2. Establishment of systems to track achievement and growth in student learning that identify effective instructional practices.
  3. Implementation of a process that rewards and retains top teachers and improves or replaces bad ones.
  4. Adoption of a policy on how to replace staff and change the culture of a demonstrably failing school (one whose test scores show no improvement over three years).

The need for money as well as the fourth and final assurance were the drivers behind the legislature's consideration of the idea of a Parent Trigger, but it was the grass roots organization that pushed the legislature into turning back pleas from their usual union allies and enacting this earth-shattering reform. Beginning in Los Angeles, whose "unified school district" (LAUSD) has been a poster child for bureaucratic stubbornness and urban educational woes, the Parents Revolution won the right to fire the principal and half the teachers of a failing school, or, in the alternative, to establish a charter school of their design for their children to attend.  Recognizing that each child has $7,000 of potential state funding in their backpack, LAUSD was the first to agree to these demands by parents at both a mostly Latino high school and a more upscale, suburban area middle school. With those successes in their pocket, the group was able to rally parents of all types, from every part of the state, to lobby for the same rights in their district.

Ben Austin, the executive director of Parent Revolution and a long-time political activist on behalf of children, believes it will not be long before the same rights are given to every parent in the country, possibly as part of Congress's reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind legislation next year. As he points out, "the old coalitions don't apply here, it's a cause that unites parents from upper middle class and working class backgrounds-white, black and Latino alike."  Or, as we said in Millennial Makeover, parents will learn about and demand:

"Models that produce superior results at lower costs and provide the aggregating mechanism for a new, decentralized, parent-controlled, educational decision-making system. Armed with new information on graduation and college acceptance rates of America's high schools, parents will choose the type of education they want for their child, with the money following the child to the school they have selected, not to the school district they live in...The result will be a system of public education that mirrors the egalitarian and community orientation of a Millennial civic era."

For the parents of students attending one of the 5000 lowest performing schools in the country, the changes can't come too soon. With an administration ready to play a critical role in providing the incentives to reform our schools, students, parents, administrators and teachers throughout the nation will soon be feeling the aftershocks of California's educational earthquake. 

A Generation’s Loyalty May Be at Stake

As Congress returns from its holiday vacation, it and President Barack Obama need to address a number of challenges facing the country from health care reform to jobs and what strategy to pursue in Afghanistan.  How the Democratic leadership deals with these issues may well determine the future loyalty of an entire generation of new voters, and with it the future of the Democratic Party.

A recent study by two economists, Paola Giuliano and Antonio Spilembergo, entitled "Growing Up in a Recession," suggests that experiencing an economic recession during the impressionable ages of 18-25 can have lifelong effects on a person's attitude toward government and its role in the economy. The Democratic Party's most enthusiastic and loyal new constituency, Millennials (born 1982- 2003), have had their young lives thoroughly disrupted by the current economic downturn. With their level of unemployment exceeding 25%, what is for other generations a Great Recession is for Millennials their very own Great Depression.  Such an experience is likely, according to the new study, to increase Millennial support for policies that favor government redistribution of income and other liberal economic ideas.

Jobless MillennialHowever, Giuliano and Spilembergo also demonstrate that this same experience often makes young people less trusting of government institutions. Conservative columnist Ross Douthat suggested recently that the difference between the Democratic New Deal loyalties of the GI Generation that came of age during the Great Depression and the greater Republican orientation of Generation X that experienced Jimmy Carter's stagflation economy in the 1970s is the degree to which government dealt effectively with the economic crisis of their youth. "When liberal interventions seem to be effective, a downturn can help midwife an enduring Democratic majority. But if they don't seem to be working - or worse, if they seem to be working for insiders and favored constituencies, rather than for the common man - then suspicion of state power can trump disillusionment with free markets."

This raises the stakes for what Congress does in the next six months to new heights. Millennials, more than one-third of whom lack health insurance, will be watching closely to see if their needs are addressed in the final version of health care reform, something Millennials support to a far greater extent than any other generation. Of course, failure to pass meaningful reform may well sound a death knell for the emerging Democratic majority that the Obama campaign created last year. 

But Millennials care even more about jobs and the health of the economy.  With record unemployment among members of this generation, any jobs package Congress puts forward must specifically meet the concerns and needs of Millennials. In particular, Congress must deal with the high cost of education (something Millennials still see as the ticket to future economic success), the lack of job opportunities even at the intern level for those just entering the work force, and the lack of access to fundamental job skills training that community colleges can provide to those ready to go to work soon.

While the Democratic leadership often believes that today's youth thinks about issues of war and peace in the same reflexive way that young Baby Boomers did four decades ago, Millennials are more likely to want to understand the mission and strategy for success in Afghanistan before making up their mind on whether or not to support a deepening American involvement in that conflict. With Millennials providing the overwhelming majority of front line troops, however Congress chooses to pay for that campaign, it must ensure that those who do go to fight are better equipped than the military force George W. Bush initially sent to Iraq.

The effectiveness of any legislation Congress adopts over the next six months will not be known for years, but the way Congressional Democrats approach their policy decisions will be clear enough to Millennials.  The stakes are large and will have long-reaching impact. If the decisions are made by cutting deals with special interest groups, none of which represent this generation and its financial concerns, or by compromising Millennial principles of equity and social justice, members of the generation are likely to sit out the 2010 midterm elections and wait for their favorite messenger, Barack Obama, to return to the ballot in 2012 before making their future preferences known. If that happens, the results in the gubernatorial elections in Virginia and New Jersey last month will only be a prelude for a much bigger Democratic disaster next November.  If, instead, Democratic leaders take off their generational blinders and recognize that the base of their party is now made up of an overlapping core of Millennials, minorities, and women and respond accordingly, they will help to solidify the Democratic loyalties of America's largest generation for decades to come. 

For more on this subject, see Winograd & Hais' previous essay, For Millennials, It's The Economy, Stupid.

For Millennials, It’s the Economy Stupid

MillennialThis month’s off year elections sent one message to Washington that has been heard loud and clear. Voters expect Congress to focus on the economy, especially employment, and take decisive and affirmative steps to deal with both the causes and ravages of the greatest economic downturn in the U.S. since the Great Depression. As the Obama administration considers a variety of new proposals to help bring down the unemployment rate, one key constituency is raising its voice and asking for a return on the investment it made in his presidency.

Members of the Millennial generation, born between 1982-2003, who were eligible to vote in 2008 went for Barack Obama over John McCain by a 2:1 margin and made up over 80% of the President’s winning margin. They continue to support his presidency and identify as Democrats by similar margins. A late October Pew survey indicates that Millennials identify as Democrats over Republicans by almost 20 percentage points (52% vs. 34%), well above the 8-point Democratic advantage among older generations. In the latest Research 2000 weekly tracking survey conducted for Daily Kos, 80% of Millennials had a favorable opinion of the president; only 14% of everyone in this generation viewed him unfavorably. This compares with a 55% vs. 39% favorable/unfavorable ratio among the entire electorate in both the Research 2000 survey and in a series of November surveys conducted by organizations ranging from ABC News and the Washington Post to Fox, although some other polls put the President’s job performance ratings closer to 50%.

But despite the clearly stronger support the President has among their generation, Millennials are increasingly restive about the lack of action in Congress to address the economic problems they face – both now and in the future.

Recent Pew research studies underline the major impact that the recession has had on individual Americans and their families. Thirteen percent of parents with grown children told Pew researchers that one of their adult sons or daughters had moved back home in the past year. Pew found that of all grown children living with their parents, 2 in 10 were full-time students, one-quarter were unemployed and about one-third had lived on their own before returning home. According to the census, 56 percent of men 18 to 24 years old and 48 percent of women were either still under the same roof as their parents or had moved back home.

The lack of jobs was particularly acute among adult members of the Millennial Generation (18-27 year olds), 61% of whom said that they or someone close to them was jobless recently. A clear plurality (46%) says that the “job situation” rather than rising prices (27%), problems in the financial markets (14%) and declining real estate values (7%) is their major economic worry.

As a result, the number one concern among Millennials is the state of the economy and the need for jobs, but they have a unique perspective on how to deal with this issue.

Millennials believe there is a clear link between education and employment and are increasingly concerned that the pathway through the educational system into the world of work is becoming increasingly more difficult and expensive to navigate. Last week, about one hundred of the nation’s top private sector and government leaders gathered for the Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council also identified education as the nation’s top economic priority.

For Millennials, the problem is personal. A smaller share of 16-to-24-year-olds – 46 percent – is currently employed than at any time since the government began collecting that data in 1948. A job market with Depression-level youth unemployment (18.5%) and a wrenching transformation in the types of jobs America needs and produces makes the implicit bargain of education in return for future economic success harder for Millennials to believe in every day.

Recently Matt Segal, Executive Director of the Student Association for Voter Empowerment (SAVE) and Founder and National Co-Chair of the “80 Million Strong for Young Americans Job Coalition” presented some ideas to the House Education and Labor Committee on what Congress could do to address this challenge. He advocated increased entrepreneurial resources be made available to youth; more access to public service careers through internships and loan forgiveness programs; and the creation of “mission critical” jobs in such fields as health care, cyber-security and the environment that would tap the unique talents of this generation. Since two-thirds of Millennials who graduate from a four-year college do so with over $20,000 in debt, debt, his testimony also urged immediate Senate approval of the student debt reform bill recently passed by the House.

There is more that can be done beyond these excellent recommendations. This summer, the President's Council of Economic Advisors released a report outlining the importance of community colleges in making America's workforce more competitive in the global economy. "We believe it's time to reform our community colleges so that they provide Americans of all ages a chance to learn the skills and knowledge necessary to compete for the jobs of the future." The report urged Congress to pass House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larsen’s bill, The Community College Technology Access Act of 2009, in order to help meet President Obama’s goal of graduating five million more Americans from community colleges by 2020.

Millennials, like their GI Generation great grandparents in the 1930s, are facing economic challenges that caught them by surprise and for which no one prepared them. But Millennials aren’t looking for a handout or sympathy. Instead, in the “can do” spirit of their generation, they are organizing to overcome the challenges created for them by their elders. It’s time for the Democrats who control Congress to recognize these concerns and to act decisively on their behalf.

This essay was cross-posted at New Geography.

The Four M's of Millennial Politics

Pundits were quick to point out that  the percentage of Millennial voters (those 29 and younger)  in the Virginia and New Jersey gubernatorial elections last week were roughly half of what they were in 2008. This led the voice of what passes for wisdom inside the Beltway, Charlie Cook, to proclaim, "we knew that young and minority voters who had never cast a ballot before they did for Barack Obama last year were very unlikely to show up at the polls this year or next."

His extrapolation of two state's unique odd  year election results into a guaranteed outcome in the 2010 general election is breathtaking for what it reveals about Cook's own biases and those of his peers. It's reminiscent of James Carville's comments prior to Barack Obama's 2008 primary triumph that "we have a word in politics for those who  are counting on the youth vote to win. We call them losers." But at least Carville saw the light after looking at the surge in  young voters for Democrats in 2008 and recognizing that a new generation, with different attitudes toward political participation than the preceding generation, Generation X,  had arrived in the American electorate.

Unfortunately, too many of those operating as if the world didn't change in 2008 are Democrats, whose misreading of last week's results could cost the party dearly in 2010.  The two gubernatorial losses cannot simply be dismissed, as the White House tried to do, as merely a reflection of circumstances unique to New Jersey and Virginia, unrelated to national campaign strategy. In reality, the 2009 election returns once again demonstrated the importance of aligning all four M's of political campaigns--Messenger, Message, Media and Money-with Millennial Generation attitudes and behavior if any campaign, Democrat or Republican, hopes to be as successful in winning the votes of young people as Barack Obama was in 2008.

A year ago Obama won 60% of the vote in Virginia among  18-29 year-olds. In New Jersey his margin was even greater, 67%. Even after taking into account Obama's overwhelming support among minorities and considering only white Millennials, the appeal of this particular messenger  to this cohort is clear. Nationally, Obama won 54% of all white Millennial Generation voters. He won 42% of white Millennials  in Virginia, reflecting that Southern state's relatively  conservative views. But even this was well above the support Obama received from older white voters. He also carried 58% of New Jersey white Millennials, reflecting the overall partisan and ideological orientation of that state.

Neither Democratic gubernatorial candidate in last week's election had a biography that matched the bi-racial, community organizer, outsider image of the President. Jon Corzine's Wall Street riches and political insider image hardly matches the selfless, socially concerned profile of Obama. Corzine's lesser appeal to Millennials  is partially a reflection of that difference. While Millennials were the only generational cohort to prefer Corzine over the Republican winner, Chris Christie, Corzine's support fell to 57% among all Millennials and 42% among white Millennials. Coupled with the decline in the Millennial Generation's  contribution to  the electorate, from 17% to 9%, even this level of support wasn't enough to re-elect Corzine.

Creigh Deeds' bio was even less like Obama's,  with a political career focused on playing the inside game in the State Capitol and appealing to the good old boys in rural Virginia. This was one reason he became one of the first Democrats to actually lose the Millennial vote to a Republican, 44% for Deeds vs. 54% for McDonnell. And despite his focus on attempting to win over more conservative Democrats, Deeds actually lost white Millennials to McDonnell by a 2:1 margin.

But the President's appeal to Millennials went beyond his unique personal qualities. He also had a message that helped engage and motivate young people from its overall theme of change to his specific call to help young people pay for college by expanding opportunities to serve their community. By contrast, Corzine's record contained nothing that was particularly appealing to Millennials. And Deeds' attempt to run a campaign based on social issues ran directly counter to the Millennial Generation's greater interest in pressing economic issues like jobs. McDonnell's campaign, by contrast was focused like a laser, as President Bill Clinton used to say, on the state's need to improve economic opportunity for all of its citizens.

Still, having the right messenger and message will not win over Millennials unless a campaign reaches out to them using the media to which they pay attention, expending sufficient resources to break through the daily chatter that is also a part of the generation's unique behavior. Corzine certainly spent plenty of his personal money on his campaign, but most of that money was devoted to television commercials, the least effective way to reach Millennials. By contrast, in Virginia, McDonnell used the Internet extensively, including a major Google ad buy late in the campaign, to make sure his message of social issue moderation and economic opportunity was heard by Millennials. 

There are many things that are different about this newest generation of Americans. At this point, Millennials identify as Democrats by nearly 2:1 and are the first generation in forty years to contain more self-perceived liberals than conservatives. Millennials are positioned to make the Democrats the majority party for decades. But Democrats cannot take them for granted because in one very fundamental way Millennials are no different than any older generation.

Like all voters, Millennials are more likely to participate in elections and vote for candidates who appeal to their concerns with a convincing and credible message that is heard often enough to make an impact. Democrats should take a lesson from their President's successful campaign in 2008 that used that formula to win two out of three Millennial votes. Or, they could spend some more time analyzing and explaining away last week's two gubernatorial defeats only to discover that Republicans have already completed their analysis and are ready to launch a  campaign with just the right four M's to appeal to Millennials and give the GOP victory in 2010.

Cross-Posted at Future Majority.

Who will Party with Whom in 2010?

As America enters a new era driven by the civic political orientation of the Millennial Generation and minorities, each party must decide the type of ideological and demographic coalition that will give it the best shot at future success.  This week's elections provided some clear clues to both Democrats and Republicans on which strategic direction to take.  Whether either party's national leadership has the political perspicacity to follow that path to success in the 2010 off-year elections and beyond, however,  is far less clear.

The special election in upstate New York's 23rd Congressional District seemed to shine the brightest light on where the American electorate is headed.  The state's local Republican Party leadership, mindful of Barack Obama's 52% majority in this once heavily Republican district, nominated a moderate, (some would later say liberal) candidate, Dede Scozzafava. Her political profile was similar to two of the most successful Republicans in New York history, Governor Nelson Rockefeller and Senator Jacob Javits, both of whom served in America's last civic era more than a half century ago.  But the GOP base outside of  New York's "North Country"  had long since moved past these faded images from the 1960s and was more interested in supporting a candidate whose conservative fiscal policies matched his attitudes on social issues such as gay marriage and abortion.

Taking advantage of the presence of a separate ballot line, national Republicans led by Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh, rallied behind the candidacy of Conservative Party candidate, Doug Hoffman, whose ideas fit their conception of the ideology that would unite and excite the GOP base.  But even in a Congressional district that hadn't elected a Democrat to Congress since the formation of the Republican Party that approach failed to generate a victory for Hoffman, who got only 46% of the vote.   Even after dropping out and endorsing the Democrat, Scozzafava got 5% of the vote from some very loyal Republicans, giving Owens a 3% margin of victory, very similar to Obama's margin in the district in 2008.  While it would be wrong to extrapolate these results from such a unique district  to the American electorate as a whole, the outcome does suggest that a strident and consistently conservative ideological approach will not be the way for Republicans to regain majority status anytime soon.

At the same time that they were losing in New York, Republicans were successful in both the New Jersey and Virginia gubernatorial elections.  By running positive campaigns focused on job creation and lower taxes, while downplaying social issues, both Robert McDonnell in Virginia and Chris Christie in New Jersey, were able to stop a recent streak of Democratic victories in those states.  All of this, as one of the smartest political journalists in DC, Ron Brownstein has pointed out, is reminiscent of the appeal and turmoil that Ross Perot's 1992 candidacy for President brought to American politics.

There is indeed much that is similar in the current Republican mantra against Democratic spending and Perot's message. Perot's appeal was based on his own "odd man out" persona and a megalomaniacal focus on the nation's budget deficit.  But Republicans tend to forget that Perot supporters were relentlessly secular. They rejected both the social agenda of the Republican Party and the big government tendencies of the Democrats. This makes any attempt by the GOP to follow the approach they used in upstate New York of melding government restrictions on social behavior and small government economic conservatism both ideologically inconsistent and politically difficult.

Others have suggested that the correct path to Republican recovery lies in marrying libertarian notions of limited government with that philosophy's social liberalism. Certainly the close votes on gay marriage in Maine and Washington, not to mention the vote to legalize marijuana by the citizens of Breckenridge, Colorado, suggests there is at least as much political potential in advocating tolerance on social issues as there is in hewing to conservative doctrine.

Writing in this month's edition of Fast Company, Silicon Valley's ideological bible, Carlos Watson, a high tech and media entrepreneur, argued the next election would provide the moment to build a lasting coalition of fiscal conservatives and social liberals.  While this week's special elections didn't offer the voter's such a choice, the candidacies for the California Republican gubernatorial nomination of both Meg Whitman, former CEO of eBay and Steve Poizner, another former Silicon Valley entrepreneur who made his fortune monetizing GPS technology, may well provide a testing ground for this theory next year.

However, history and current polling data does not suggest this approach is likely to be any more successful for the Republican party than doubling down on conservatism was in New York's 23rd Congressional District.  The most recent WSJ/NBC poll by Democrat Peter Hart and Republican Bill McInturff suggested that the American public favors a quite different approach.   A large majority (63%) of the electorate said the government had either "done the right amount of intervention [in the economy] or needed to do more." Even 42% of non-aligned or loosely aligned voters in the middle of the electorate agreed with this statement. In other words, while Republicans stick to Reagan era ideas on the size and scope of government, the electorate is actually more interested in voting for candidates who will support a larger role for  government in restoring  the health of the U.S. economy.

Democrats, instead of running away from President Obama, should follow his lead in offering even more positive ways that government can protect middle class Americans from the worst excesses of the free market.  That may be the opposite of Libertarianism, but it's just what the public wants.

Despite yesterday's results,  conservatives seem intent on launching an intense civil war for the hearts and minds of the Republican Party in a series of high profile primaries next year. Undeterred by the results from New York's 23rd Congressional district, or for that matter the election to Congress of California's Democratic Lieutenant Governor John Garamendi in a district that  only recently become blue, the GOP seems only too willing  to form the type of circular firing squads that used to characterize the Democrats when Ronald Reagan dominated U.S. politics  two decades ago. Republican  leaders should instead follow the more likely road to victory demonstrated by  the pragmatic and practical politics of Virginia's Bob McDonnell.  Only that type of candidacy, grounded in the new realities of the electorate, can provide a real opportunity for that party's recovery from its current, historically low levels of support among American voters.

The public's new found willingness to use government as an economic force is the direct result of both the arrival of the Millennial Generation and the increased representation of minorities in the American electorate. Together these forces are demographically destined to become a larger and larger part of the population, providing Democrats a wind at their backs for decades-- if they will only listen to the voters and read the lessons of this week's special elections correctly. 

Deeds Done

The likely defeat today of Democrat Creigh Deeds by Republican Bob McDonnell in Virginia's gubernatorial election sends an important message to both political parties, but it's not clear either one will listen to it. McDonnell's win will give Republicans something to crow about after three straight losing elections in the formerly dark red state, but his path to victory didn't follow the route currently being touted by conservatives in his party.  Democrats are inclined to dismiss Deeds likely defeat as an isolated incident that reflects more of Virginia's tradition to vote for the out party in the off year or the result of a lackluster campaign on Deeds' part.  For example, the Deeds campaign was nowhere to be found on the Net, even as McDonnell's campaign finished with a  Google Ad blast, targeted at both voters spending the day in Virginia and those many Virginians who spend their days working in DC.  ( The resulting failure of Democratic voters to turn out in sufficient numbers to make the election even close, however, sends an important message that Democratic leaders across America should not ignore.

Deeds McDonnellDeeds began the general election campaign by using McDonnell's master's thesis at Jerry Fallwell's Liberty University in an attempt to paint his opponent as a right wing ideologue on social issues. In effect, Deeds adopted the traditional Republican campaign strategy of  emphasizing social issues. But that approach lost its punch when American politics entered a new, civic-oriented era. In times like the present, broader societal concerns, not the politics of polarization carry the day. Just as the hot topics of the 1920s-Prohibition and the teaching of evolution -disappeared from the political debates of the 1930s, the favorite wedge issues of the 1990s-abortion, gay rights, and, once again, evolution or creationism--have fallen to the bottom of voter priority lists.

As a result, the initial success of Deed's attack was thwarted as McDonnell turned the electorate's attention to the more pressing question of jobs and the economy. His campaign themes were job creation, sound fiscal governance and bipartisanship-with no emphasis on the social issues that Republicans, like former Senator George Allen, had previously used in the state to define their party. Yet Deeds didn't seem to get the message, manifesting ambivalence about embracing President Obama and his domestic policies throughout the general election campaign. 

Nor did Deeds put forward an alternative plan to provide a positive vision for the economic future of Virginia that would engage young voters and minorities. One self-described "Obama fanatic," who decided not to cast a vote for either candidate this year, put it best when she said, "I wanted to hear more from him [Deeds] about his plan to create jobs and address our taxes." (WSJ, Oct. 31, 2009, Corey Dade, "Virginia's Race Tests Obama's Staying Power). Some polls during the campaign even indicated that between a quarter and a third of African-Americans (a group that is normally 90%+ Democratic) contemplated voting for the GOP candidate.

As American politics enters a new era driven by the civic-orientation of the Millennial Generation (born 1982-2003) and the rising number of minority voters, each party must rethink the composition of the ideological and demographic coalition on which it will build to ensure future success.   One clear lesson that can be drawn from the results in Virginia is the need for both parties to base all four Ms (message, messenger, media and money) of their campaigns in the years ahead to reflect the new civic era America has entered. Candidates with a demonstrated desire to serve will need to deliver a message focused on greater economic equality and ethnic inclusiveness using all of today's new media in order to win. 

The results in Virginia are likely to provide a good example of how that winning formula can be used not just by Democrats, but also by Republicans who are able to unshackle their campaigns from the ideological straight jacket their party's base is normally so intent on imposing. The outcome will also demonstrate that for Democrats to simply raise the party banner without embracing Barack Obama's formula for victory will not be enough to carry the day. The political equivalent of Darwin's law of "adapt or die," remains the fundamental truth of American politics in this new civic era.

My Introduction of President Clinton at Netroots Nation

The folks over at Netroots Nation just released the video of my introduction of President Clinton from this year's conference.  If interested it is about 12 minutes, and in it I offer up some observations about the history, and future, of progressive politics. 

And be sure to see the former President's speech that night.  It was awfully good.

I first discussed some of the themes in these remarks in my foreword to Markos's first book, Crashing the Gate.  And I was lucky enough that night to get a little time with my old boss.  He was, as always, engaged, curious, inspiring.  In our brief time together I gave him a copy of Crashing the Gate, another book in what must be a huge library back home.

And if you haven't watched NDN Fellow Mike Hais's remarkable presentation about the politics of the Millennial Generation from Netroots Nation, be sure to watch it here.

Home From Netroots Nation

Just got home from Netroots Nation.  It was a very good event this year.   It had very little tension.   Calm.  Workmanlike.  In part a reflection of how this is the first gathering of the netroots since the historic 2008 elections, which rid the country of the force that in many ways brought the netroots to life, the failed conservatism of the early 21st century.  Amazingly 2000 or so people attended, as many as last year.  And Pittsburgh was a wonderful host city, pretty, clean, impressive.

NDN had a strong presence this year.  Not only were we a major sponsor of the event, but we managed a panel on the coming Millenial Age with Mike Hais; offered a screening of the incredible film about immigration, 9500 Liberty; participated on a panel about race, Beck and Dobbs; and I was fortunate enough to address the whole gathering in the moments before President Clinton's remarkable speech on Thursday night (NN has already loaded the Clinton speech up, and you can watch it here). 

A big Saturday night shout out to Raven Brooks and the whole NN team for pulling off another great gathering.  I, like many others, already have NN 2010 in Las Vegas July 22-25 on my calendar.

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