The Importance of Generation Y

Generation Y, defined by the census as those Americans born between 1977 and 1994, is the largest American generation since the Baby Boomers. In fact, it is almost exactly the same size as the Baby Boom generation, and may soon be the largest of all. It also now forms the entire 18-29 year voting demographic that we see on exit polls. In 2006, Generation Y made up 12% of the electorate, and broke for Democrats 60%-39%. Democrats also hold an enormous, double-digit lead in partisan identification among this age group. In 2004, that advantage was 39%-28%. In 2006, it had increased further to 41%--28%.

This is important because if someone develops a voting pattern at a young age, that person is likely to continue voting that way throughout her or his life:Continuing a trend that began in the mid-1990s, young voters once again disproportionately identified themselves as liberals and gave a supermajority to Democrats. Unless basic findings of political science have been repealed, these formative experiences of early adulthood are likely to influence electoral behavior throughout the life of this cohort. Generation X (1965-1976), has pretty much passed the age where formative voting experiences are developed. However, it is a small generation, and while it leans Democrat (and is more liberal than older generations, as conservatives only hold an eight-hold ideological self-identification edge), it is nowhere near the level of progressive generation that is still under the age of thirty. In a rather stunning statistic, ideological self-identification among Gen Yers actually slightly favors liberals, despite a double-digit gap for conservatives within the nation as a whole. This is a generation that is also only 61% white, and less than 40% white Christian. In short, it does not cohere with the ideological or identity tendencies of the modern conservative movement at all.

Given its enormous size, if Generation Y grows to voting and political maturity with the same ideological and partisan tendencies it currently displays, it will entirely transform the national political environment by serving as the backbone of by far the most progressive governing majority America has ever experienced. How do we make that happen? The battle can actually be nearly won in less than two years time, if Democrats nominate a candidate loved by young people, and if that nominee becomes President. Consider the following:Speaking as a political scientist.... Generally speaking, the "you get more conservative as you get older" myth really is a myth. People's ideological/partisan identification don't change much after the age of 30. If someone votes for the same party three times in a row, they're hooked for life. It takes some earth-shattering to change after that.

People don't get more conservative as they get older, but they do get more rigid. What happens is that ideology acts as an informational screen - people shield out stuff that is inconsistent with their predispositions (which is why FOX News works). So as we get older, our attitudes get reinforced.

So liberals should NOT get happy if people who are under 30 are on the left, because the young are very volatile. But after thirty, it's smooth sailing. If the 2008 Democratic nominee becomes President, then that person will almost certainly be the Democratic nominee in 2012 as well. If that person is loved by young people, then that will make a long, 2004-2012 run where young voters broke heavily for Democrats, self-identified as Democrats, and self-identified as liberals. Thus, it will match the 1980-1988 run where young Late Boomers broke heavily for Republicans in the three Presidential landslides of that decade. When that generation grew to political maturity, it resulted in by far the most Republican-identifying generation in over half a century, the 1994 Republican landslide, and the general sense of creeping conservatism the country experienced through the 1990's and first half of our current decade. Generation Y holds the potential to do exactly the same thing for America, only in reverse, for the 2000 "teens," 2020's and 2030's. And much, if not most, of whether or not that happens will depend on what Democrats do over the next two years.

Realignments do not have to take place in just a single election. The Republican and conservative "revolution" was a slow climb, starting with the election of 1978 and ending in the election of 2002. In the 1930's, the New Deal coalition was built over the course of several elections, starting really in 1930 and continuing until 1938. Considering the demographic and political characteristics of Generation Y, the period starting in 2006 and ending in 2012 has the potential to forge a long-term, very progressive, solid-blue governing majority in America for a long time to come. Finding a potentially transformational Presidential candidate is an essential part of making this happen. Here is to hoping that at least one Democratic candidate will be able to step up and fill that role.

Ideological Shifts In the 110th Congress

Political Arithmetik has a couple of interesting pieces on the upcoming ideological shifts in the 110th Congress. First, Charles Franklin produces a graph showing the ideological shift among committee chairs:

Apart from the science committee, where apparently a conservative Democrat is replacing a liberal Republican, every single committee appears to be experiencing a strong leftward shift. This even goes for the Agriculture committee, where conservative Democrat Collin Peterson will be chair. Then again, since the National Journal ideological rankings that Franklin uses describe a given Representative's entire voting record, these score may not be all that relevant. For example, the Democrat chairing the science committee could be quite liberal when it comes to science, but generally conservative overall. At the same time, the energy and commerce committee could be moderate to conservative on those issues, while s/he is overall quite progressive. In other words, to understand the ideological shift, what matters most is how someone votes when it comes to the given policy area where s/he will have control, not someone's overall voting record.

Next, Franklin looks at the voting records of the 19 Republican incumbents who were defeated, and the one incumbent Democrat who was defeated (Cynthia McKinney). He writes: Republican losses fell along most of the ideological spectrum, but were a bit more common among moderates than among the more conservative members of the party.(...)

Republican incumbents who were defeated for reelection had an average conservatism score of 66.5, while those who won averaged 74.3, a statistically significant difference. (The average for all Republicans in 2005 was 73.2, and the median was 74.4.) So, the Republican caucus in the 110th Congress will be even more conservative than they were in the 109th. Given this, and that bush is still in the White House, I would expect the new Republican caucus to dig in, and serve as a particular nasty and vehement opposition over the next two years. At the same time, their reactionary nature may become even more visible to the entire nation. Expect the vast majority of this Republican caucus to vote against some really popular agenda items, such as investigating Iraq war profiteering, and raising the minimum wage.

I wish that Professor Franklin had looked at more than just the defeated members of each party, and also looked at retirements and resignations. In addition to the twenty Representatives who were defeated for re-election, another two or three dozen are leaving the House at the end of the 109th Congress without being "defeated" as such. To get a better sense of the upcoming ideological shifts, it would be nice to know where those Representatives fit into the overall picture.

In Defense Of The South, the Big Tent, and Democratic Solidarity

I really like Ed Kilgore. I always have, even before I met the guy and had breakfast with him last year. During my four years in the netroots, I have become a firm believer in coalition politics, and that it takes a wide range of people to form a governing majority. I also think that the conservative movement's belief in an all-powerful conservative base presents us with a tremendous opportunity to realign the national political landscape into an Indycrat, progressive-moderate governing consensus. All members of this consensus can get a lot of what they want a lot of the time, and its opposition will be an extremist conservative movement that finds itself with nothing because it believed it could stand alone.

One of the keys to building this coalition is that we work together, and not have the desire to throw each other under the bus for personal benefit. This is a problem I long viewed with the triangulation strategy, but it there is certainly a small, though real, minority element within the progressive movement that would like to see all moderate "DLC" types expelled from the party. A second key to pulling this off is to realize that the conservative movement, while having a higher concentration of adherents in the southern part of the country, is ultimately a diaspora spread throughout the country. Thus, while some regions may be more difficult than others, we don't throw any regions of the country under the bus either. The point is that we are opposing conservative extremism, wherever it may be, not that we are opposing the region with the highest number of conservative extremists. After all, the electoral and ideological difference between states as seemingly red as Alabama and as seemingly blue as Massachusetts are the views of only about 20-25% of the population.

Ed Kilgore is someone who recognizes these needs, and who leaves the bombastic declarations of some school of triangulation Democrats, such as Al From or Jams Carville, on the sidelines. Right now, he has a good piece in Salon that I think level-headedly explains how Democrats should approach the South:

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On House Ideological Caucuses: Part One Of a Series

Post-election, there has been a lot of talk of Blue Dogs, New Democrats and Progressives caucuses within the house Democratic Caucus. Much, if not all, of this talk has centered around the often overblown ideological debate within the Democratic Party, as well as around which sections of the Democratic Party deserves more credit for the Democratic victory two weeks ago. Now, I am not an expert on the House, and so any input on this from the comments would be appreciated. However, over the past two years, I have done a decent amount of work looking into the House ideological caucuses, and as such I think I am able to dispel some myths that have begun to swirl around them, and provide useful information that many not be generally available..

In this, the first part of the series, I argue that the ideological caucuses within the House Democratic Caucus are far less unified than people assume, and do not come anywhere close to serving as parties within parties. Read the extended entry for the entire piece.

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Historic Opportunity for Democrats and Progressives

I am going to weigh in on the whole ideology, Kerry vote percentage, Democratic performance and party ID debate surround Harold Ford. However, as is often the case with me, I am going to take a more abstract and long-term approach than looking at how individual candidates performed relative to the ideology, Democratic performance, or party-ID in a given state in a given year. Instead, I want to focus on how the next year provides Democrats with an historic opportunity to continue making large gains on Republicans in terms of partisan self-identification, and also provides liberals with an historic chance to continue to make smaller, but still very real, gains in terms of ideological self-identification.

Following the 1994 elections, conservatives made large, very substantial gains in terms of ideological self-identification. In fact, the calendar year of 1995 was the all-time high for conservatives in terms of ideological self-identification, as they held an enormous, 24 points gap on liberals (40% moderate, 40% conservative, 16% liberal). There can be little doubt that this increase was due in no small part to the Republican takeover of Congress the previous year, as conservatives were riding a very high tide around the nation. The 24% conservative advantage was 6% higher than in 1992, the year that Bill Clinton finally took back the Presidency for Democrats. The rise in conservative self-identification almost certainly was not helped by Democratic leaders in the 1990's, who did virtually everything they could to distance themselves from, if not actually overtly denigrate, liberalism. With no one left to defend liberalism as an ideology, and virtually everyone attacking it, it really isn't a surprise that the mid-1990's were the high-point of conservative self-identification.

However, in 2005, the gap between self-identified liberals and self-identified conservatives had narrow to just 14%, the lowest margin since 1977. Now that Democrats have retaken Congress, we have a terrific chance to push our advantage outward in partisan-self-identification (where we have gained 5% in the last two years), and to continue to narrow the gap in ideological self-identification (where we have gained 4% in the past two years. Both goals are important for all Democrats, even if you are a Democrat who self-identifies as a moderate, conservative or a libertarian instead of as a liberal or a progressive. Narrowing both gaps is crucial to long-term Democratic success, since self-identified liberals vote for Democrats more than 85% of the time, making them the second most loyal voting block within the Democratic Party, behind only African-Americans. The closer liberals are to conservatives in terms of ideological self-identification, the better chance Democrats of all kinds have of being elected to office in general elections. This is something that I hope the Ellen Tauschers of the world come to realize quite quickly. Thinning the ranks of our most loyal supporters by participating in a conservative Republican led attack on liberalism is not good for any kind of Democrat.

The same goes for attacking the Democratic Party in general. In the past two years, according to Rasmussen, Democrats have increased their lead on Republicans in terms of partisan self-identification by 5%. By taking over Congress, we can stretch that lead much further. Gallup also points out just how favorable the Democratic brand is right now:About half of Americans believe that the country will be better off with the Democrats in control of Congress. This is not a majority, but is higher now than prior to the election, when 39% held this sentiment. Now, only 16% of Americans say the country will be worse off under the Democrats, compared with 27% prior to the election. Currently, about a third of Americans perhaps somewhat cynically say that the change in control of Congress will make no difference. With only 16% of the country viewing the Democratic takeover as a bad thing, our opportunity should be clear as day, even to the most vehemently "bi-partisan" Democrat. If we have a good 2007, we can continue to make big gains for both Democrats and liberals, both of which will help everyone in the Democratic Party. A crucial key in making this happen will be that Democratic leaders in 2007, which will include a wide variety of Democratic Presidential candidates, absolutely cannot run against the party label. That will only help to push people out of the Democratic camp. Further, it is crucial that all Democratic leaders, even if they don't think of themselves as liberals or progressives, not attack and bash the liberal and progressive wing of their party, or attack and bash liberalism and progressivism in general. If you are a Democrat, and if you want to call yourself a moderate, a conservative, a populist, a libertarian, or whatever, that's fine. Just don't attack progressives and liberals in the process, since this will be our biggest chance to make gains in a long, long time. And these gains can only help the Democratic Party in both the short term and the long term. And that will, in turn, help both progressives and moderates alike.

I am all for the big tent. However, the big tent does not mean that liberals and progressives in the Democratic Party are required to be more welcoming and more open than are conservatives, libertarians, or moderates in the party. If we are going to work and fight together, it does not mean that conservative and moderate Democrats are allowed to openly bash and distance themselves from the left wing of the party, while the left-wing of the party gets thrown under the bus while it works to help elect conservatives, moderates and libertarians. I think, in the end, that is why there is a lot more angst against Harold Ford than other conservative and moderate Democrats: there was a strong perception that he wanted to throw liberals and Democrats alike under the bus in order to achieve a personal victory. That is bound to create friction. The big tent means that all Democrats fight for each other, and do not distance themselves form each other. That is something all of us need to remember and work towards, whether we are just typing away online, or whether we are running for elected offices in red states. We are all in this together, and if we start acting otherwise, we will be in a lot of trouble, even during our time in the majority. We can't squander this chance.


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