Just as America's political landscape shifted dramatically with the 1968 victory of Californian Richard Nixon's "law and order" campaign, the demand for change from a new generation is about to shift the center of political gravity, not just in this state, but across the country.
This year's political shakeup will result from the emergence of the Millennial Generation (Americans born between 1982 and 2003). When generations such as Millennials this year, Baby Boomers in 1968, and the GI Generation in 1932, enter the electorate in large numbers, they shift the balance of power between the parties, alter the nature of our nation's political discourse, and change the direction of public policy.
There are now one million more Millennials alive than Baby Boomers and twice as many Millennials as members of Generation X (born between 1965 and 1981). Almost 40 million Millennials will be eligible to vote in 2008. They are already voting in sufficient numbers to upset the prognosticators' predictions in the early primaries.
Millennials are rebelling against the divisive personal morality and alienation of Boomers and Generation X in favor of a revitalization of Americas' civic institutions. Right here in Hollywood, a dedicated group of over one hundred Millennials, gathered by mobilize.org, met the weekend before New Year's Day to finalize their own Declaration of Independence, entitled "Democracy 2.0." Citing a need to "upgrade" our nation's system of governance, the gathering identified the challenges that previous generations had failed to resolve, especially "economic inequality, America's role in the world, and the effect of money on the democratic process." But then, instead of condemning those in power for the nation's problems and walking away as Gen Xers might have done, or attempting to tear down the political system as some Boomers did, they asserted the need for their generation to fix each of those concerns. Their manifesto declared, "Our generation...is uniquely positioned to foster community engagement through social networks... It is our responsibility to use information and technology to upgrade democracy, transform communication, and advance political engagement and civic participation." Having assumed responsibility for solving America's problems, the group then generated a series of action plans to assure maximum civic participation by Millennials before adjourning to welcome 2008, the year that will mark the beginning of the Millennial era in American politics.
Millennials are the largest and most ethnically diverse generation in American history -- 40 percent are African-American, Hispanic, Asian, or of mixed race. Unlike any previous generation, Millennial males and females enter and graduate from college and professional schools at equal rates. As results from surveys by the Pew Research Center over the last year reveal, this experience of being diverse and not being bound by traditional gender roles makes Millennials a very tolerant generation. About six in 10 Millennials believe that homosexuality is an acceptable lifestyle and favor legalized gay marriage. Virtually all approve of interracial dating, have friends of a different racial group than their own, and reject a return of women to traditional roles. Two-thirds of all Millennials favor policies providing a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and 54 percent reject a fence along the Mexican border.
Millennials also overwhelmingly favor the expansion of the federal government, to deal with societal and economic concerns such as economic inequality, health care, and the environment. Pew survey data shows that almost three-fourths of Millennials believe government should take care of people who can't take care of themselves. An equal number support federally guaranteed health insurance for all citizens even if this requires raising taxes. Almost seven in ten Millennials interviewed in 2007 by Harvard University's Institute of Politics said that protecting the environment should be just as high a governmental priority as protecting jobs, and 43 percent favored environmental protection even at the cost of economic growth.
Not surprisingly, these attitudes cause Millennials to identify as Democrats by a margin of nearly 2:1. Recent surveys by media research firm, Frank N. Magid Associates, show Millennials to be the first generation in at least four decades in which more members call themselves liberals than conservatives.
Andy Sachs, the heroine in the first Millennial Generation "coming-of-age" movie, The Devil Wears Prada, exemplifies her generation in life style, career experiences and relationships. Unlike Benjamin Braddock, in The Graduate, a similar story but about Boomers, Andy is not a depressed, rebellious loner. Unlike Joel Goodsen, in the Gen X coming-of-age movie, Risky Business, Andy doesn't profit from her friends' sexual urges. She doesn't despise or lie to her parents either. Instead her friends and parents are her prime source of advice and support. More like Andy Hardy, the hero of the most representative GI Generation coming-of age movies, after some struggle, Andy Sachs lives for and by her ideals, even while managing and benefiting from her relationship with the Devil herself.
This spirit of "one for all" and concern for the group is the signature belief that distinguishes Millennials from Boomers or Gen Xers. As they bring this attitude into the electorate, America's public policy debate will shift way from limited government and lower taxes toward a new commitment to reinforcing the common good. While Democrats with their more societal, inclusive approach, appear to have the edge among Millennials, if the Republicans should nominate a candidate who responds to the attitudes of this generation, as did Abraham Lincoln to a similar generation in 1860, the GOP still can become competitive in the Millennial era.
At this early point in the presidential campaign, we can't be certain which candidate will be elected president and have the opportunity of leading America in a new era. Nor can we know for sure exactly what issues he or she will face in office. But, history does provide clear evidence that the path to success lies in understanding and gaining the support of America's next great generation -- the Millennials.
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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