Millennial Generation



The Phenomenal Numbers Behind Young Voter Turnout

Rock the Vote just came out with a nice two-page fact sheet that lays out the essential numbers behind the surge in turnout for young people in the 2008 campaign. We’ve been talking a lot about this phenomenon, and we had a Rock the Vote person speak at our day-long event last Friday, but sometimes it’s nice to look at the cold, hard facts.

  • Young people from age 18 to 29 have doubled their numbers in the presidential primaries this year. This is the combined number of all youth in both parties and is measured against the last competitive primary (2004 for Dems and 2000 for Republicans).
  • If you look at individual state numbers, some of the states tripled the turnout of young people, and no state with valid numbers showed less than a 40 percent increase.

So you may say that, sure, youth turned out, but so did all kinds of groups. However, youth increased their turnout by much more than any age group. This is measured by the all-important percentage “share” of the electorate. If you consider all ages taking a slice of the pie of the electorate, the Millennial Generation’s slice grew by taking more of the pie from the slices of the other age groups.

  • In the average of all Democratic primaries, youth went from 10 percent of the 2004 primaries to 14 percent of the 2008 ones.
  • In every single state that held a Democratic primary so far, the youth “share” of the electorate went up. In Iowa, they went as high as 22 percent of the electorate.  Almost a quarter of all voters were Millennials there, in the state that started Obama’s rise.

The Republican numbers for increases in share of the youth vote are less dramatic, and in a few states they did not increase, but nevertheless, the general trend is playing out there too. Youth of all ideological stripes are more engaged in politics than we have seen in a long time, though that is particularly true on the Democratic and progressive side.

We at the New Politics Institute have been promoting this important constituency for years and it is incredibly gratifying to see this playing out so dramatically on the ground and so graphically in the numbers.

Peter Leyden
Director of the New Politics Institute

The Age Factor in the Race

With the Pennsylvania results looming, I thought I would point out a terrific story and graphic on the generation gap between followers of Obama and Clinton that might help explain results tonight.

In a campaign where demographics seem to be destiny, one of the most striking factors is the segregation of voters by age. In state after state, older voters have formed a core constituency for Mrs. Clinton, who is 60, while younger voters have coalesced around Mr. Obama, who is 46. Age has been one of the most consistent indicators of how someone might vote — more than sex, more than income, more than education. Only race is a stronger predictor of voting than age, and then only if a voter is black, not if he or she is white.

The graphic below gives the data to visually back up the claim. It’s striking how lopsided the Millennial Generation (the term we use for those voters under age 30) go for Obama, while older folks go for Clinton. Note that the numbers refer to the percentage point difference between what each candidate received. So young people went 75 percent to 25 percent for Obama in Virginia, while people over age 60 went 60 percent to 40 percent for Clinton in Ohio.

What does that mean for Pennsylvania? It turns out Pennsylvania is the state with the second highest proportion of people over 65 – behind only the perennial leader, Florida:

Age is likely to play a particularly strong role in the Democratic primary Tuesday in Pennsylvania. The outmigration of young people has left the state with the second-highest proportion of people over 65 in the country, after Florida. Fifty-eight percent of registered Democrats are older than 45, a consistent dividing line in the race.

Regardless of the result tonight, the generational lens continues to be a fascinating one to put to this election, as we consistently do at the New Politics Institute. Just think about what happens when the other candidate is the oldest one who has ever run for office...

Peter Leyden
Director of the New Politics Institute

Millennials Makeover the Four Ms of Politics

With the showdown primaries on March 4 over and the outcome of at least the Democratic contest still to be finally decided, it is a good time to point out what the 2008 primary campaigns have already made clear about the future of American politics. After this year, the four basic elements of any campaign-Messenger, Message, Media and Money-will never be the same. Those candidates who have adjusted all four of these dials and tuned them to Millennial Generation sensibilities and behaviors have been the most successful candidates in both party's primaries.

Millennials, those Americans born between 1982 and 2003, are the most diverse generation in American history. Forty percent of them are African-American, Hispanic, Asian-American or of some other mix of races and ethnicities. And twenty percent come from an immigrant family. A candidate like Barack Obama, whose bi-racial family and generational roots extend from slave owners in America to Kenyan goat herders and social workers in Indonesia, is not an oddity in their minds but has the model background for an American leader.

Eighty percent of Millennials have done some sort of community service in high school. . Eighty-five percent believe that directly contributing something to the community is an important way to improve it. When Senator Obama traces his experience to his days as a community organizer in Chicago, older generations tend to dismiss it as posturing and beside the point in gaining the experience required to government work. Millennials, by contrast, consider community service just the kind of experience they would like to to put on their resume when they apply for a job. Discounting its importance sounds to them like a dismissal of their own accomplishments. Indeed an examination of the biographies of many of the winning Democratic challengers in the 2006 Congressional elections shows this same penchant on the part of new voters to value a career of service over one spent learning the inner workings of the legislative process. It's also a reason why Senator McCain's service to his country in Vietnam and his stay in the Hanoi Hilton attracts rather than repels this new generation of voters, in spite of the attempts of a feminist icon of the 1960s to minimize the importance of that service.

Millennials have been taught since their parents first sat them down to watch Barney that the best way to approach problems is to find a solution that works for everyone in the group---since everyone is just as good and important as everyone else. The confrontational style of Baby Boomer candidates like Hillary Clinton or Mitt Romney strikes them as rude, enough to earn them a time out until they learn how to play nice. By contrast, the unifying message of Barack Obama who suggests, somewhat naively to the ears of older voters, that his solution to the problems of America will be to get everyone around the table to work things out for the good of the country is exactly in tune with the way Millennials have been taught to solve problems. When John McCain distanced himself from Bill Cunningham's typical talk radio ideological rant, he earned the enmity of many of Cunningham's colleagues. But he spoke directly to Millennials who are looking for candidates who refuse to engage in that kind of name-calling.

But McCain, like all of the 2008 Republican presidential candidates (with the possible exception of Fred Thompson) , remained unable to embrace the social networking technologies that are the lifeblood of Millennials' daily lives. Having their children text friends sitting in the same car or "friending" people they barely know on MySpace are common Millennial behaviors that drive parents crazy. But the two most important possessions of any Millennial are their cell phone and their laptop, devices that allow them to stay connected to the Net 24/7. That type of peer-to-peer communication is the center of Barack Obama's media strategy. It has been the key to the organizational strength that Obama has demonstrated in caucuses across the country. Political pundits who still follow the news on the television news shows or in the newspapers don't see the enormous volume of personal communication being generated on, built on the same operating system as FaceBook, until the electoral results once again seem to stun them on any given Tuesday night. Having ceded the lead in peer-to peer-media to the Democrats, especially Obama, rather than almost totally relying on older technologies, like talk radio and slick television commercials, the Republicans risk losing as badly in 2008 as they did to an earlier master of a new communication media, FDR, with his soothing radio voice, in 1932.

The same online engine that is generating all of the offline , grass roots enthusiasm for Obama is also raising money for his campaign in unprecedented ways and in unimaginable amounts. With one million of his friends on his website, Obama has now raised more money from more people than any candidate in American political history. Obama's use of this new media with appeals for small donations almost drove the Clinton campaign into bankruptcy and is likely to create a similar untenable disadvantage for John McCain in the general election. Ironically, it was McCain who first demonstrated the power of the Net to raise a lot of money fast in his aborted 2000 campaign. But that was long before broadband and social networks being accessed continuously all day long became the way of life for so many young voters. Now McCain and his party are forced to attempt to shame Obama into using public financing in the general election. That may be the only way they can avoid the kind of monetary deficits that Democrats and the federal government have experienced in the past.

The outcome of the Democratic contest, let alone the general election campaign is not pre-ordained. Events over the next eight months can cause public opinion to change direction. But the relative ease with which Barack Obama has woven a tightly knit strategy based on a new approach to what the profile of a Presidential candidate should look like; the fundamental appeal the candidate should make to the voters; the way that appeal should be communicated to all voters, but especially young ones; and the resources such an approach can bring to a campaign, makes his candidacy the most likely to succeed, with one possible exception. Hillary Clinton's success in most large states so far suggests that this new alignment of the four Ms of American politics has yet to be fully tested in campaigns requiring more complex organizational efforts over a longer period of time. In Silicon Valley terminology, it is not yet certain that this new configuration of the four Ms can "scale" to the size required to win a national campaign. Both the Democratic primary in Pennsylvania and the general election fight to come should provide the final test of this new approach to political campaigning and definitively establish a new formula for victory in the coming decades.

Morley Winograd and Michael Hais are the co-authors of a brand new book, Millennial Makeover: MySpace, YouTube, and the Future of American Politics. Come see them at NDN's event on March 12th, "A Moment of Transformation?"

Millennial Enthusiasm is Contagious

Big things are on the horizon in America. After decades of gridlock and disillusionment, a new and, in Caroline Kennedy's words, "hopeful, hard-working, innovative, and imaginative" generation is spurring massive change and renewal in our nation's political life. The first contests of the 2008 campaign have demonstrated that the increased optimism and excitement about politics of this rising generation has even begun to spread to members of other, older generations.

The massive increases in the Democratic vote, especially among young voters, in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina and even in this week's Florida beauty contest are, by now, well-known. But there are other early indications of the Millennial Generation-led resurgence in excitement about politics. According to the Nielsen television rating service, the national audience for the Myrtle Beach Democratic debate held just before the South Carolina primary was the largest for a primary debate in cable history. Viewing among 18-49 year olds, the demographic most coveted by advertisers, was also at record levels.

All of these indicators of Millennial Generation political excitement and optimism and the spread of those feelings to older Americans are confirmed in a January 2008 national online survey conducted by the Millennial Strategy Program of media research firm, Frank N. Magid Associates. A clear majority of all Americans (57%) and nearly two-thirds of Millennials (61%) say that this year's election is more important than other recent presidential elections.

Millennial attitudes are more optimistic than those of Gen-Xers or Boomers. Forty-percent of Millennials believe that the United States will be better off as a result of the 2008 presidential election; only 23 percent feel that things will be unchanged, and only nine percent think things will be worse after November. While about a third of both older generations believe that the outcome of the 2008 election will improve things, slight pluralities of both Xers (42%) and Boomers (43%) feel that the 2008 election will leave America unchanged or in worse shape.

But the politics of hope is beginning to infect Americans of all ages. In a December 2006 Magid survey, voters split evenly about whether Americans are too divided to unite and solve the country's problems or could come together with the right leadership and cause (45% vs. 47%). Now, a majority (50%) believes that Americans can unite and only a third (36%) remain doubtful. All generations have participated in this increased optimism, Millennials more than others.

As the campaign now spreads to twenty-two states on February 5, the contagious enthusiasm of Millennials for reinvigorating our civic institutions will reshape the nation's political landscape just as much as the GI Generation and FDR's infectious optimism did seventy-six years ago.

Morley Winograd and Michael D. Hais are co-authors of Millennial Makeover: MySpace, YouTube, and the Future of American Politics to be published in March 2008 by Rutgers University Press.

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