How will Millennials Makeover American Politics?
Like the GI generation, the Millennials are coming of age during a time of crisis (Hero generations, both) and of a civic-minded bent. On page 231 of Strauss and Howe’s 2000 book Millennials Rising, they observe:
The fist Millennials have yet to cast their votes, so they’re still flying low under the adult radar, presumed to be alienated cynics who don’t care about voting, much less organizing. Yet adults who watch them perform civic tasks may sense something different brewing. Today’s school kids take the Pledge of Allegiance, and flag saluting, more seriously than Boomers or Gen Xers did. Growing Up Digital author Don Tapscott describes their “very strong sense of the common good and of collective social and civic responsibility.” Check out Kids Voting USA, Children’s Express, or the web world, and you’ll see kids discussing issues, participating in polls, and organizing mock elections, at times quite energetically.
But the very fiber of the political junkie in me believes in the conventional wisdom of politics that young people do not vote. During my entire adult lifetime, election after election, young voters have failed to participate in the political process to any significant degree. Thus, even though my research indicated that the Millennials could be the exception, I was highly skeptical of the Obama campaign’s reliance on turning out not just young voters, but new young voters to an Iowa caucus system that is highly intimidating to newcomers.
The following video features William Strauss discussing Millennials Rising on 11/14/00, prior to the Supreme Court deciding the 2000 election in favor of George W. Bush:
Barack Obama’s Youth Vote
Bucking conventional wisdom and history, Barack Obama did just that. As Time magazine points out, Obama’s campaign turned out voters 25 years of age and younger in record numbers: “while overall Democratic turnout jumped 90% [from 2004], the number of young Democrats participating soared 135%…According to surveys of voters entering the caucuses, young voters preferred Obama over the next-closest competitor by more than 4 to 1.” That gave Obama a net gain of 17,000 votes and he won with roughly 20,000 votes ahead of John Edwards and Hillary Clinton.
But even Obama’s victory on the backs of young voters didn’t fully dispel my skepticism of depending heavily upon the youth vote. That turnout could easily be explained by the fact that the Gen X candidate is a youthful, charismatic man who naturally appeals to young people. I would have easily accepted that explanation until I read a story on Saturday about a local election here in Minnesota.
In Northfield, Minnesota, we held a special election to fill a state Senate seat that was vacated due to a judicial appointment. The race pitted Ray Cox, a moderate Republican who had held a state House seat in the district against the DFL (the name of our state Democratic party) candidate, Kevin Dahle, a political newcomer.
“Dahle was boosted by the student vote at Carleton and St. Olaf colleges, despite predictions that few undergrads would turn out for a special election held just as they returned to campus from winter break,” the Star Tribune reported. “In the four Northfield precincts where most students vote, Dahle won nearly four times as many votes as Cox. His advantage there accounted for about two-thirds of his 1,600-vote victory margin.”
Add this to the data on Millennials’ civic-mindedness, and their votes for Obama, and I’m far more willing to believe that a fundamental shift has occurred in youth voting patterns. If young voters continue to consistently show up at the polls, then our nation’s political landscape will be fundamentally altered.
A very interesting article in today’s NY Times discusses the generational shift that is afoot at college campuses today–and no, I’m not talking about the hordes of young Millenials rushing in from high school; I’m talking about the late Gen Xers who are now taking faculty positions as the Baby Boomers begin to retire in larger numbers.
This article is a bit scant on the larger changes that have occurred at universities–including the dramatic shift in hiring of adjunct faculty rather than full-time faculty–but it does make the point that the ideology of these ‘youngsters’ is akin to Obama’s shushing of the Baby Boomers in his campaign positioning. Andrew Sullivan wrote a good piece about in December, 2007.
With Obama’s candidacy, we are witnessing a profound generational shift. Time and again, political analysts reflect on Barack Obama’s self-conscious departure from the psycho-drama of the Baby Boom generation, but nowhere have I seen a major political analyst reflect on Obama’s generational identity. How is it that we can endlessly discuss the Clintons’ relentless adherence to the Baby Boomer ideology of divisiveness of the 1960s that has managed to swallow politics for at least the last 20 – 30 years, but we see no serious discussion of Obama’s generation identity, except as it deviates from the Baby Boomer creed? In other words, analysts enjoy mentioning–as a kind of descriptive short-hand–that Obama was only a child during the Vietnam Era, which so heavily influenced the Clintons, and in the next breath, they describe is politics of inclusiveness as a kind of cultural response to the Boomer Hawk-vs-Dove.
Now, I understand that Obama did not grow up during the momentous, most-important decade of the 1960s and that he was too young to really remember Watergate, etc. etc.–which begs the question: What did influence him? Obama is a member of the generation that was labelled by their Baby Boomer and Silent Generation parents as Generation X. This was a generation of disorganized do-nothings, who were characterized as socially unaware and politically unmotivated. This is the generation to which Barack Obama belongs (allowing for his unique upbringing), and it is certainly the generation that most strongly supported (along with college-age Millenials) his candidacy.
I’ll pick apart the implications of this (and of its overall unimportance to the media) in the coming days. For now, it’s worth asking why Obama is consistently characterized only in terms of the Baby Boom? Is it simply because Hillary Clinton is such an iconic and loud public figure? Yes and no. I believe it is also the result of a epistemological foundation that was laid during the 1960s – 1970s, and which were perfect in the 1980s and 1990s. The fact of the matter is that we have handy historical cliches that can be readily applied to the generations of both Hillary (Boomer) and McCain (Silent). For a generation like Generation X, which was itself defined by its tendency to avoid definition (and even, by the way, by its rejecting of the label Gen X), this is proving to be much more complex.
So what does all this have to do with McCain and Obama? John McCain is of the Silent-Artist generation (b. 1936). What is his big appeal? He is an independent Republican who crosses party-lines to build consensus. He will supposedly draw independents into the fold and talks optimistically with straight talk, not moralistic sanctimony. Barak Obama is of the Gen X-Nomad generation (b. 1961) and seems likely to be the candidate for the Democrats. What is his big appeal? He speaks of hope and change with an optimistic vision of the future while trying to avoid rancorous behavior. In other words, the voters are applying the brakes to the political rancor of Boomer leaders and locking out the Boomers from the presidential office.
Generation Jones? Generation Jones, a term coined by social commentator Jonathan Pontell to convey both their anonymity and unfulfilled expectations, covers those of us who were born between 1954 and 1965. The group is often lumped in with Baby Boomers or Generation X, since statistically the Baby Boom runs through 1964 while the characters in Douglas Copeland’s novel Generation X would have been born the year after Senator Obama (although Copeland agrees that Jonesers are distinct from both Boomers and Xers).
Obama also recognizes that voters do not just want change — they want a new type of politics (a theme he has emphasized since ABC’s tabloid debate). This is why Obama has tried to steer away from the confrontational politics of the Clinton-Bush era, but has not dodged the taboos that the prior generation assiduously avoided from the death penalty to Social Security. Unlike his opponents, Obama understands that the method is part of the message — change.
There are tremors indicating such a shift is occurring today. Polls portray a huge wave of voter discontent with 83 percent of Americans believing the country is on the wrong track, confidence in Congress and the White House dropping 63 and 70 percent respectively since just after 9/11 and voters talking of “Bush-Clinton fatigue” (i.e., “Boomer fatigue”). Obama’s success comes from harnessing the power of this extreme voter disaffection which may ultimately enable him to build a new majority coalition, just as Roosevelt built a new majority that held the White House for 24 of the next 32 years.
John McCain was born on August 29, 1936 at Coco Solo Naval Air Station in the Panama Canal Zone , which was American territory from 1903 to 1979. McCain celebrated his 72nd birthday three days before the opening of the 2008 Republican National Convention that officially made him the Republican Party nominee for President of the United States. The GOP Presidential nominee is the first Republican of the “Silent Generation” to run for President on a major party ticket.
Sarah Palin was born on February 11, 1964 in Sandpoint, Idaho, the daughter of science teacher Charles R. Heath and his wife, the former Sarah Sheeran, a school secretary. When Sarah, Jr. was but a tyke, the Heath family moved to Alaska. Ninety sixty-four typically is considered as the final year of the generational cohort known as the Baby Boom Generation. Nineteen-sixty-four It is characterized as the high water mark of America’s post-World War II prosperity and affluence, a year that climaxed with President Lyndon Johnson’s landslide victory over Republican nominee Barry Goldwater, the godfather of the modern conservative movement of which Palin and John McCain (born August 29, 1936), her running mate on the 2008 GOP Presidential ticket, are members of. McCain, a member of the Silent Generation, occupies the Senate seat that Goldwater, a member of the G.I. Generation, once held.
Barack Obama was born on the cusp of Generation X. The differing experiences between those born early in the Baby Boom and those in the last part of the cycle (after 1959) have caused some demographers to lump the tail end of the Boom (1960-64) in with Generation X.
Since the youngest member of the Silent Generation will be between 67 and 70 years old in 2012, McCain likely is the last person of his generation to have a shot at the Presidency. If the Obama-Biden ticket fails in 2008, it is unlikely that a nearly 70 year-old Joe Biden will run for President in 2012.
MIAMI BEACH, Florida – America’s oldest citizens, who traditionally wield outsized electoral clout because they vote in the greatest numbers, are backing John McCain by nearly the same margin that the youngest voters favor Barack Obama.
Pollsters call it the biggest generation gap in decades and it’s all the more striking because voters in every age group agree overwhelmingly the economy is the top issue in the November 4 election to choose President George W. Bush’s successor.
Discover why Generation Jones is increasingly being viewed as key to the ’08 Election in this brand new video, which features numerous top political figures discussing GenJones and this election (everyone who appears in this video is a frequent guest on major national TV political shows)
500 U.S. adults born in 1961 were asked:
“Do you consider yourself to be a member of the Baby Boom Generation, Generation X, or a lost generation in-between (usually called Generation Jones)?”
22% chose: Baby Boom Generation
57% chose: Generation Jones
21% chose: Generation X