Millennial Makover: Millennials and the 2008 Election
by Jerome Armstrong, Wed Apr 30, 2008 at 10:19:24 AM EDT
This is the second of three parts in review of Millennial Makeover: MySpace, YouTube and the Future of American Politics
Part I: About Political Makeovers
Part II: Millennials and the 2008 Election
Part III: Millennials and Public Policy
Millennials and the 2008 Election
What is the new coalition that would support the Democrats in 2008?
Political realignments have historically resulted in the creation of a new majority voter coalition for the emerging dominant party. The 1932 realignment produced the famous New Deal coalition comprised of urban industrial workers, Catholic and Jewish voters in the Northeast and Midwest, African-Americans, and the white South. The 1968 realignment and the years that followed made the GOP a party based on the white South, well-to-do economic conservatives, and Evangelical Christians. We would certainly expect significant changes in voter coalitions in 2008 and in the coming civic era, especially if the Democratic Party leads the realignment.
While it's still a bit too early to forecast general election outcomes with certainty, primary and caucus results suggest that an Obama candidacy may bring about the sharpest coalition changes. His strong support among Millennials of both sexes and all ethnicities squares with the pattern of previous realignments, all of which have been based on partisan strength within a large, emerging generation. Beyond this, Barack Obama has demonstrated solid appeal among upscale, highly educated professionals, especially in suburban areas. He appears to be uniting Millennials and upscale professionals with already strongly Democratic African-Americans. Geographically, Obama seems to have greater appeal than has been recently normal for Democrats in Southwestern and Mountain states such as Colorado, New Mexico, and Montana and in states in the upper South such as Virginia and North Carolina. At the same time, Obama clearly has work to do to retain the support of such previously important Democratic support groups as working class whites and Baby Boomer women.
Based on the patterns of her primary and caucus support, Hillary Clinton will rely on a much more traditional Democratic coalition, one that includes Boomer women, older Latinos, and working class white voters--groups among which Obama is weakest. However, should Senator Clinton receive the Democratic presidential nomination she will have to shore up her support among Millennials and African-Americans. The extent to which she is able to do that will depend largely on the circumstances of her nomination.
You write that "one of the most distinguishing characteristics of civic realignments is the highly partisan nature of the electorate during such eras" (p. 114) which I believe is correct. Given this, is Barack Obama framing of his candidacy as "post-partisan" a failure on his part of fully understanding the political climate? Or, as you describe later in the book (p. 251) is this the talk of the "transition" before "whichever party best adapts to the new political era" becomes solidified?
We believe it is more of the latter than the former. Obama does risk losing some of the partisan zeal for his candidacy among Democrats if he is perceived to be too bi-partisan in his approach. Other realigning presidential candidates in civic eras, such as Abe Lincoln and FDR, were fierce partisans who rallied their previously unsuccessful supporters to national victory by the power of their ideas and their commitment to a new vision. At the same time, these very same candidates, once they were elected, went out of their way to absorb some of the defeated party or factions into their governing coalition, including giving them Cabinet posts. Any successful candidate in a civic realignment election needs to portray what we call in Millennial Makeover, "positive partisanship." This approach combines a positive message of hope and change with a fiercely partisan approach to the campaign battle itself. Clearly Obama has the first part of this formula for victory down pat. We won't know until the primary battle is over and, assuming he is successful, the general election campaign begins whether he also has an equally formidable grasp of how to execute the second half of the formula for victory in a civic era.
Of what generation is John McCain a part and what are his strengths and weaknesses as a "civic" era candidate.
John McCain is a member of the Silent Generation (born 1925-1945). To date, no member of this generation has been elected to the presidency, making it the only American generation to hold this dubious distinction.
In answering another question, we previously wrote about McCain's strengths and weaknesses. On the plus side, are McCain's clear national security credentials. These seem to have obvious appeal in an era of international tension and fear of terrorism. In particular, McCain's strength on national security issues should aid him in appealing to the Millennial Generation and providing a unifying message built around his life story of patriotism and personal service. Beyond this, McCain's more moderate imagery on economic and social issues put him in position to appeal to Millennials and other groups distinct from the normal "Red State" Republican coalition of recent decades. His "straight talk express" and other attempts to portray himself as a truthful politician, willing to buck his party's establishment if need be, are also designed to appeal to Millennials who value authenticity in a candidate.
On the downside, McCain's primary weaknesses are his Republican affiliation, and a potential inability to dissociate his candidacy from the unpopular policies of the Bush administration. John McCain is first and foremost a Republican in a year when that party faces a widening deficit in party identification while, at the same time, voters are increasingly voting a straight, partisan ticket. With Millennials identifying almost 2:1 in favor of the Democratic Party and representing an increasing share of the overall electorate, the task of any Republican trying to win the presidency is the need to capture the vast majority of independent voters. However, McCain emerged from the Republican primaries and caucuses with a perceived need to shore up his conservative Republican base. If he follows that strategy he is likely to associate himself with the negative imagery of the GOP among independents. Being a Republican in an election when many factors--the distribution of party identification among voters, particularly negative perceptions of the GOP, an increase in the percentage of voters holding positions on issues compatible with those associated with the Democratic Party, a weakening economy, the continuing unpopular Iraq war, and highly negative perceptions of George Bush--make McCain's task particularly difficult. Who he chooses for Vice President will be one early sign of whether he is pursuing a base strategy or an independent voter strategy. Another signal will be whether McCain exiles President Bush to his Texas ranch during the Republican convention, in the same way Hubert Humphrey exiled LBJ to his own ranch in 1968, or invites Bush to speak at the convention. Such decisions will tell a lot about what general election strategy McCain will be pursuing and whether he will have any chance at all to win over the large number of independents he will require for victory.