The Coming Democratic Earthquake Part II: Can the Millennials Save Us From Ourselves?

cross posted from DailyKos

Well Granny calls us purity trolls, PsiFighter says we should just grow up, Olberman is telling Obama how to do his job, to read this blog lately you'd think the entire progressive movement is about to crumble to dust because our latest patron saint of progress has declared a measure of independence from us, the "righteous" left, or perhaps the "self righteous" left is apropos.

From the perspective of a generational researcher it all comes off like some kind of self indulgent comedy, like so many brilliantly argued theses on how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. We become trapped by our own ideology, shouting into the echo chamber that is our own little corner of the blogosphere.

We wring our hands in fret, some because our once saintly anointed leader has spurned us, and others because now that we have entered meltdown mode he is surely to crumble amidst the loss of our once united support.

Grief and Fear
Some of us can't get past our sense of grief over the notion that we have been abandoned by Obama's seemingly sudden rightward shift. And so we threaten to take our toys and go home. Others cower in fear because we believe Obama has lost the netroots so all must be lost. Still others descend into despair because of a few ill chosen words by a rare and otherwise highly admired general.

The fear, the dread, the trepidation may all be for naught. If my generational research has taught me anything, it is that the tiny fraction of voters most ardently devoted to progressive purity are at this point virtually powerless to alter the course of this upcoming election. Our anger, our fear, our indignation will in the end amount to very little in the scheme of things.

Idealism vs Pragmatism
You see, we on the leftward edge of the blogosphere are a highly idealistic lot. And while this in and of itself is not a bad thing, it is a very different thing from what motivates the largest generation in US history. Millennials certainly have ideals, but they are not willing to sacrifice themselves on the altar of utopian chastity for them. They are in fact, a rather pragmatic group.

This might explain why they don't seem to be attracted to the blogosphere. The fact is, they communicate, organize, and come to consensus through other types of new media, particularly through social networking and viral video.

Dkos Demographics vs Millennial Demographics
Now that Millennials have grown from 10% of the voting age population in 2004 to 17% in 2008 their influence is likely to be felt in a profound way. As I diaried last month Millennial turnout is growing dramatically as a percentage of voting population.

Millennial Turnout 200 vs 2004
Should the pattern continue, and there is no reason to expect it to do anything but, the turnout ratio for Millennials should grow even further this year.

If we examine the age distribution from within the microcosm that is DailyKos we see that according to demographic polling courtesy of DrSteveB the subset of Millennials within the the 15-29 age group make up only 21% of the Dkos population, whereas the typically more idealistic Baby Boomers here make up 43%, more than twice the percentage of Millennials.

But let's take a look at those same age groups within the general population (source US Census Bureau). Here we see the same age groups distributed very differently. Millennials in the 15-29 age bracket make up a somewhat larger chunk of the population at 26% up 5 percentage points from 21% on Dkos, but Boomers only make up 32%. A rather significant 11 percentage point drop from the 43% proportion on Dailykos.

Finally, let's take a look at those same age groups as represented on Facebook, the social networking site of choice for adult Millennials totaling some 27 million registered users in the US. Baby Boomers comprise a mere 3 percent of Facebook users, even combined with Gen-Xers both groups only amount to 15%, whereas Millennials make up a whopping 84% of the users there.

Clearly Millennials are far more attracted to social networking than are Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers, and far less to the blogosphere. Indeed, during a series of interviews I did with Millennials at the Colorado state Democratic convention, 100% of those interviewed were frequent if not daily users of Facebook, Myspace or both. Conversely, only 29% reported reading any kind of political blog and only one of the seven I interviewed reported ever actually participating in a political blog.

If you think about it, it makes sense. The blogosphere is a place where idealism and pontificating abound. This is not what motivates Millennials. Rather than blogging, Millennials are far more interested in social networking, in part because it represents a method of keeping up with each other in a more direct and personal way. This lends itself to the pragmatic realities of real grassroots organizing, rather than the just talking about it that abounds here in the blogosphere. They are about action not words, at least not in the same sense as we tend to be here.

Consensus and Collaborative Decision Making
They are not as interested in parsing the fine points of a specific argument than they are in judging an entire package of ideas and either accepting it in the main or rejecting it outright. In an ironic twist, they seem to benefit from the wisdom of the masses. That may sound strange, but according to Winograd and Hais, as demonstrable through the success and accuracy of Wikipedia this kind of collective decision making is very nearly as accurate as well sourced professional journalism. And it benefits from a lack of skewing through the lens of an ever increasingly self-interested corporate media.

From Millennial Makeoverpage 238 (on collaborative editing of Wikipedia)

While any page can be added or edited by anyone who wishes to, more than 75,000 volunteer editors, using a completely transparent "edit history" for that page, police acts of vandalism or questionable insertions. The result is a product whose size dwarfs the 120,000 subjects available from the experts recruited by the editors of Encyclopedia Britannica. And, according to at least one study, the wisdom of the group is about equal to that of the experts. Wikipedia's error rate is 3.9 errors per article compared to 2.9 for Britannica (McNichol 2007).

In a recent Obama campaign meeting in Arapahoe county, the campaign staffers dispatched to conduct the meeting informed us that Colorado would be receiving about 130 Obama "fellows" whose job it would be to organize at the grass roots level, and that these were mostly young people who were expert in the use of social networking technology. Clearly, the Obama campaign knows which side it's bread is buttered on, and though it may disappoint more than a few people here, it's obviously not with us.

Obama's rise has been no accident, it is and has been a well planned, carefully coordinated, and skillfully executed effort, the bedrock of which is comprised of politically engaged Millennial activists. That's not to say that older volunteers are not also an important component, indeed we are. But make no mistake, a lot of the heavy lifting within the campaign is being taken on by the youthful fellows and staffers.

They are energized, engaged, and they actually know what they are doing. They are not about to let this thing slip away. They won't be stopped or even slowed down by a few cranky middle aged political purists, nor deterred by a corrupt republican party or a complicit media.

Tags: 2008, Baby Boomers, Barack Obama, blogging, Consensus Building, Millennials, Social networking (all tags)



A well-written diary with extensive sourcing.

Wouldn't it be nice to see one of these on the Rec List?

by Shem 2008-07-02 09:18AM | 0 recs
Re: The Coming Democratic Earthquake

Political earthquakes are caused by ideas followed up by action. They are not caused by a change in style, generations or even by a clean up of Washington. These kind of changes were heavily advocated by both Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.

Realignments are caused because a new president shifts the country in a new direction and makes sweeping changes in public policy. In turn, the country perceives these changes as beneficial long after these changes go into effect. Abraham Lincoln, FDR and Ronald Reagan were strong partisans with bold agendas.

The problem with the Democrats is that they still believe that ideologically they are the minority party. You can tell because the Republicans are still confident about their conservative ideology, while the Democrats continue to run toward the center of the political spectrum. This is bad for Democrats in the long run because swing voters usually believe that the truth lies somewhere in between two sides of the debate. Thus, this creates a vicious cycle where the Democrats run toward the center, causing swing voters and then the whole electorate to shift toward the right. This in turn causes the Democrats to run toward the center, which then causes the electorate to shift toward the right.

The term "pragmatic" can be different concepts to different people. One can be pragmatic in a policy sense. That is, they pursue policies that can actually work. I believe that progressives tend to be pragmatic in this sense. One can also be pragmatic in a political sense. While in the short run being pragmatic by running toward the center may be helpful, in the long run as demonstrated above, it can be detrimental. It can also be detrimental because politicians lose credibility with the public if the positions they take are poll driven.

I believe that Obama risks losing the enthusiasm he has received from the Mlllennials by running toward the center.

by Zzyzzy 2008-07-02 09:23AM | 0 recs
Re: The Coming Democratic Earthquake

New presidents change direction in response to the changes being demanded by large numbers of voters. Realignment does not and never has occurrred from the top down, it is always from the bottom up.

For example we do not yet have a new president, but we have already seen political realignment in Colorado, Virginia, Ohio, Mississipi, Missouri, and Montana to name a few. No new president has caused that.

I respectfully suggest that you read Millennial Makeover to gain a better understanding of this dynamic.

by Phil In Denver 2008-07-02 09:36AM | 0 recs
I've Read The Book

And I don't completely agree with the authors. Fundamentally, I don't agree with the deterministic nature of their model. The model was created by looking at patterns of old data, but has yet to show predictive value.

On a more specific point. If you believe in their model, you must believe in the absurd notion that the average person born in 1961 has more in common with the average person born in 1981 than with the average person born in 1960. Why? because peoople born in 1960 are of the Baby Boom generation while people born in 1961 and 1981 are of Generation X.

As for cause and effect of what causes realignments, causation does not have to go strictly one way. They can be "co-intergrated." That is A can cause B, which then can cause A.

Although, a politician must always win the plurality of the votes to get elected, leaders are important. According to most polls, most people disagreed with Ronald Reagan's policies while he was implementing them, yet overtime, his policies and his ideas prevailed. This is a case where the leader persuaded the public. Moreover, I would argue that Lincoln and FDR also persuaded the public. In Lincoln's case, the abolision of slavery was not even popular in the Union States.

by Zzyzzy 2008-07-02 10:00AM | 0 recs
Your dates are off

Baby boomers run through 1964, not 1961. But if you actually read this book then you should be aware that agreement on generational cutoff years is an approximate thing. There is no universally accepted agreement.

How do you define old? 50 years, 20, 2? Where is the magical cutoff that would meet your criterium delineating old data from current data? By definition, all extant data is old. No predictive model can be based on anything else, unless someone finds a way to produce data for events that have yet to pass. Your argument is spurious.

by Phil In Denver 2008-07-02 10:23AM | 0 recs
Re: Your dates are off

I've read two separate readings so I'll have to double check this one. One has a cutoff of 1961 and the other 1964. The proponents of 1961 use culture as the basis of their arguments, while those who argue for 1964 use demographics as their basis.

I also find your above comment personally very offensive and out of line.

by Zzyzzy 2008-07-02 10:43AM | 0 recs
Re: Your dates are off

Here in the blogosphere, when you make a claim based solely on opinion with no linking or sourcing you can expect to be called on it. If you take offense at that then you need to either develop a thicker skin or choose a new passtime, becuase it's going to happen over and over.

My arguments are all well documented with links and sourcing. That is how one constructs  an effective argument in this medium. You can disagree of course, but without some kind of documentation your argument carries little demonstrable validity, it is therefore legitimately described as spurious. That's not meant to offend, simply a reflection of the character and quality of your argument as I or any experienced bloggwer would see it.

by Phil In Denver 2008-07-02 12:30PM | 0 recs
On Missouri, Colorado....

No, we have not seen political realignments in Virgina, Missouri, Colorado, Mississippi etc.... Political realignments can only occur if they are permanent in nature.

For example, Bill Clinton won states such as Montana, Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada that hadn't gone Democratic in generations. Yet a realignment did not occur because these states reverted back into the Republican column in subsequent elections.

I repeat, a realignment in the Democrat's favor can only occur if: (1) Obama is elected president, (2) He makes sweeping changes in public policy, (3) the public perceives these changes as beneficial, (4) the electoral changes in the Democrat's favor become somewhat permanent.

Yes, Obama has to get elected first and some policies he enacts must be initially be popular. But he also must persuade the public to pass big legislation that the public may not be familiar with or even initially reject.

by Zzyzzy 2008-07-02 10:13AM | 0 recs
Absolutely incorrect

You place far too much importance on the figurehead of the presidency. Several of the states I have mentioned have gone from majority republican control to majority democrat controlled. Governorships, senate seats, state legislatures, congressional districts have all changed hands in several of these states.

It's true that in some, the result to date is just based on polling, but by no means all, and the trend lines in those obviate the realignment when viewed against the backdrop of what has already occurred in the others.

by Phil In Denver 2008-07-02 10:30AM | 0 recs
You are absolutely incorrect

Control of government can change hands and often do without political realignments. The key is if change is permanent. As I mentioned above, I believe that it takes both leaders and followers to cause change. You tend to dismiss the roles of leaders.

One thing about the author's theory is that it will take hundreds of years to prove their theory valid or invalid since one cycle is approximately 80 years. The old argument use to be that realignments occurred every 28-36 years when the theory was first proposed about 50 years ago. But now it's approximately 40 years since (like waiting for Godot) we are still waiting for the next realignment to occur.

But even if you use their old data, can there even be agreement when the realigning elections occur? Why is 1968 a realigning election rather than 1980 or even 1964? Answer: because if you don't use 1968 as the last realigning election, the timing becomes off. Even the authors acknowledge that the Civil War seemed to occur 10 years too early and that the Civic Generation was skipped over in that cycle.

A better model would be stochastic in nature. I reject their generations model as being overly deterministic.

by Zzyzzy 2008-07-02 11:05AM | 0 recs
Old Data

I refer to old data as data used before the theory was created. Generally, researchers look at past data and then develop the model based on that data. But the real test of the model is to see if the model holds as new data comes in.

Reading the author's books, it appears that the political cycles pertain to England, the United States and countries that were once under the domain of the British Empire. However, that's hard to tell. It would be interesting to see if their models hold up cross-countries.

by Zzyzzy 2008-07-02 12:32PM | 0 recs

just curious, why use 15-29 age bracket rather than a 18-29 age bracket. is the first more representative of millenials in general?

by alyssa chaos 2008-07-02 09:45AM | 0 recs
Re: question-

Because that is how the available data for the demographics on DailyKos was segregated. The census data was significantly more flexible of course, but I wanted to compare apples to apples.

by Phil In Denver 2008-07-02 10:13AM | 0 recs
Re: The Coming Democratic Earthquake Part II: Can

"I repeat, a realignment in the Democrat's favor can only occur if: (1) Obama is elected president, (2) He makes sweeping changes in public policy, (3) the public perceives these changes as beneficial, (4) the electoral changes in the Democrat's favor become somewhat permanent."

I don't think that's quite right.  First, a side point.  Clinton's ability to win many red and bluish states might have depended upon the fact that Perot was in the race (this gets overlooked by many, but this is probably why Clinton won states like Georgia, Montana, Nevada, etc., the indie vote got siphoned off, my key point being that the map during the 1990s wasn't really that much different from the one which existed in 2000, Clinton, in some sense, lucked out).

Political realignments can result from demographic shifts, though.  They aren't always driven by policy or social developments.  Part of what handicapped the Dems during the past twenty years, for instance, is simply the fact that the "New Deal" generation started to die off, and they were replaced by (ironically enough) baby boomers who tended to be more conservative (despite the stereotype).  Two rules of thumb: a person's party affiliation is generally inherited; whether this solidifies, though, will depend upon the first 4 or so elections where the person votes (someone who votes for a party four times will generally stick with that party).

Two things seem to be happening.  First, the electorate is now seems past the influence of the Reagan/Bush juggernaut (the GOP, remember, won three blowouts in a row, whereas the last Dem to score over 50%, period, was LBJ in '64).  Someone who was just shy of 18 in '88 (when Bush trounced Dukakis) is now 38 years old.  It doesn't surprise me that these voters are more willing to vote for Democratic candidates (they, I'll suggest, were never the problem, curiously, it was the voters in the two generations before them who went GOP in a big way, and I suspect as a group they're likely to do so this time around, though one can hope).

Second, the emergence of the Hispanic vote during the past 10-20 years could lead to a political realignment if the Dems are able to win them over in large numbers (and this, I predict, will be the big story of the 2008 election, Latinos turn out for the Dems by 2-1 or more).  Depending upon how turnout goes, the Dems might be getting 40% of their ballots from non-white voters this year (in '92 they got approx. 25%, and that was in an election where Clinton got 43% of the total, again, because of Perot).

Not disagreeing with you completely.  Obviously, if Obama is elected his first task will be to seal the deal (convince those who supported him this time around that they got something for it, the Dems better represent their interests, etc.).  It's possible that many of these voters, btw, now regard the GOP as a tarnished brand, so this might not require the sweeping changes some think (which isn't an argument against bold changes, btw, just noting that the GOP now has some big problems on its hands).

If the Dems are interested in building their own brand, though, think job one, if Obama is elected, is locking in this party preference among younger voters (the only age cohort which Kerry won, and by 9 points, is the 18-29 vote, but this is the group which is backing Obama bigtime), and the Latino vote (who also seem ready to support the Dems this year 2-1).  Do that and we might get a bona fide realignment (what's the iron law of political demography? the electorate will get older).  

by IncognitoErgoSum 2008-07-02 11:04AM | 0 recs


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