"Co-Voters": The Newest Force in American Politics

05/25/2011 12:25 pm ET

The Democratic contests on Super Tuesday was the first test of a new phenomenon in American politics -- the ability of Millennial Generation kids to influence the voting decisions of their parents. When Caroline Kennedy began the string of Kennedy endorsements for Obama with her NY Times op-ed, she specifically referenced this new, "hopeful, hard-working, innovative, and imaginative" generation in America. She also said her three teenage Millennials had initiated the discussion of her publicly endorsing Obama, the first presidential endorsement she had ever given. And in the bellwether state of Missouri, Senator Claire McCaskill's key endorsement was also initiated by conversations between her and her 18-year-old daughter, according to this week's edition of TIME magazine. Similar scenes played out in families of every ethnicity and race as Democratic voters headed to the polls on Super Tuesday.

One of the defining traits of the Millennial Generation is the great relationship its members have with their parents. This leads Millennials to constantly interact with their parents in making key decisions about their lives -- such as what clothes to buy, what school to attend and what job to choose. Now this phenomenon of inter-generational decision-making is spreading into the political arena.

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.

The study also reveals how Millennial's more optimistic attitudes about politics are spreading to their parents and even grandparents, helping to cause the increased turnout in Democratic primary and caucus contests that continued right through Super Tuesday. 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.

Now that the results of Super Tuesday have left at least the Democratic outcome undecided, the contagious enthusiasm of Millennials for political participation will have an opportunity to reshape every state's political landscape just as much as the GI generation and FDR's infectious optimism changed America 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 next month by Rutgers University Press.