The most decisive force in national politics today is the millennial generation (born 1982-2003). Millennials re-elected Barack Obama and will represent more than one out of every three adult Americans by the end of this decade. Yet, more than six months after the 2012 elections, Congress has moved fitfully, if at all, to address this generation’s political agenda.
The most promising effort in the current session of Congress to address millennials’ concerns was the bipartisan effort in the Senate that secured passage of a comprehensive, if somewhat overblown, immigration reform bill. Forty percent (40%) of millennials are non-white and Mitt Romney’s ostrich-like approach to this issue helped motivate Hispanic and Asian-American millennials to vote overwhelmingly for the president. Still, in spite of this lesson, two-thirds of the Senate Republican caucus voted against the immigration reform bill. The Republican House is even more hostile to the idea, even with their professed bête noire of border security addressed with massive new funding for enforcement in the just passed Senate bill. GOP opposition to the bill is so entrenched that House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has promised to not even bring it to a vote.
Millennials are a tolerant bunch and this continuing display of intolerance by congressional Republicans bodes particularly ill for the GOP’s chances of attracting the generation’s votes in the future. Tea Party-inspired efforts to pass a mean spirited, rather than a means tested, approach to food stamps, helped to doom the bi-partisan Senate version of the farm bill in the House as well. That same body did find the time and the votes to pass, for the 37th time, an irrelevant repeal of the Affordable Care Act, even though the passage of Obamacare was another key reason why millennials supported its namesake last November.
But probably the vote that was most out of touch with millennial attitudes and beliefs was the vote this month in the House to further limit abortion rights in this country. Perhaps the Republicans who forced that vote upon their colleagues missed Sandra Fluke’s spirited defense of women’s reproductive rights at the 2012 Democratic National Convention that resonated so positively with the Millennial women, two-thirds of whom voted for Barack Obama last year.
The failure of the current crop of older members of Congress to address the concerns of the millennial generation is not limited, however, to Republicans. The Democratic leadership in the Senate didn’t feel sufficient urgency, for instance, to prevent the interest rate on student loans to double before Congress adjourned for the July 4 holiday. Can anyone imagine them taking the same lackadaisical attitude if Social Security benefits were about to be cut? Even had the student loan issue been addressed in a timely manner, it still would not have dealt with the incredible burden of student debt, now over a trillion dollars, that is preventing many millennials from doing the things that young adults traditionally do, like starting a family or buying a house, that would contribute mightily to the nation’s economic recovery. The problem, however, goes ignored by members of both parties in both houses, most of whom were never asked, as millennials have been, to self-finance the education they and the country need to promote economic growth.
Congress is so out of touch with the beliefs and concerns of millennials that even the nine old men and women on the Supreme Court did a better job of addressing the generation’s agenda in their last session when the Justices declared the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional.
There have been other times in America’s history when Congress has stubbornly refused to deal with the needs of the nation’s newest generations. In 1868, one-third of a generation very much like today’s Boomers, the Transcendentalists, were booted from their congressional seats in favor of candidates from a younger, more modern generation. It was the largest generational landslide in the nation’s history — until now. If the current Congress continues to ignore Millennials, it risks suffering the very same fate — an outcome for which it will have only itself to blame.
While it is still fashionable for politicians in both China and the United States to prove their domestic leadership credentials by taking tough stances against their nation’s chief economic rival, the results of recent Pew surveys conducted in the two countries suggest that this type of rhetoric is a holdover from an earlier era. An examination of the beliefs among the youngest generational cohorts in each country shows a distinct lack of the ideological vitriol so common in the 1960s and 1970s. As a result, we might see a far more congenial relationship between the world’s two great powers --- at least once the older generations fade away.
Let’s hope so, because older generations sometimes seem more committed to discord than accord. During the 2012 US presidential campaign both President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney took full advantage of opportunities to criticize their opponent for the softness of his approach to China. Xi Jinping, who was named the General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party about a week after Obama was reelected and will become China’s Premier early next year, has been no less willing to rhetorically censure the United States.
Yet the Pew research indicates that the youngest generational cohort in both the US and China holds positive attitudes toward and favors contact with the other country. In the United States that youthful cohort is the Millennial Generation (born 1982-2003), America’s largest and most ethnically diverse and tolerant generation to date. Of the 95 million US Millennials, about four in ten are nonwhite and one in twenty is of Asian descent, with Chinese-Americans comprising the largest portion of that segment. By contrast, among U.S. seniors and Boomers, only about one in five is nonwhite and about two-percent of Asian heritage.
Generational theorists have not definitively named the Millennials’ Chinese counterparts. Some observers, however, have called at least their urban segment “Little Emperors.” Similar to American Millennials, this generation was often reared by their own hovering “helicopter parents” in a highly protected, hyper-attentive manner that reflected the importance of these special children—the product of China’s “one child” policy—and the great expectations their parents had and continue to have for their offspring. The result of this upbringing are cohorts of civic-minded, pressured, conventional, patriotic American and Chinese young people who revere their parents, are optimistic about their nation’s future, and open to the world.
In China, the Pew research, conducted in March and April, 2012, contained a battery of questions probing attitudes toward the United States, its interactions with China, and its influence on Chinese society. Across all of these questions, the youngest cohort (18-29 year olds) held significantly more favorable opinions about America than older Chinese. Given that Chinese who are 50 or older include generations that established the Communist regime in 1949, fought American troops in Korea, and were part of the ideological Red Guards of the 1960s, this is not altogether surprising.
Overall, a majority (51%) of China’s youthful cohort held a positive view of the U.S. as compared with only 38% of older Chinese. More specifically, majorities of 18-29 year olds said they admired American technological and scientific advances (77%), American ideas about democracy (59%), U.S. music, movies, and television (56%), and agree that it is good that American ideas and customs are spreading to China (50%). Across all of these dimensions favorable attitudes toward the United States and its influence were at least 15 percentage points higher among the youngest Chinese cohort than the oldest. In only one area, the American way of doing business, did less than a majority of 18-29 year old Chinese (48%) indicate admiration of the United States; even on this dimension there was a 12-point gap between the positive opinions of younger and older Chinese respondents.
Pew did not ask the same questions in its American surveys that it did in the Chinese study. However, it did examine many of the same dimensions permitting valid comparison of survey results in the two countries. In a November 2011 survey examining the large generation gap in U.S. politics Pew asked if it was better for the United States to build a stronger economic relationship with China or to get tough with China on economic issues. American Millennials, a generation corresponding to Chinese 18-29 year olds, overwhelmingly favored a policy focusing on building stronger trade relations with China rather than one based on toughness (69% to 24%). By contrast, a plurality of the two oldest American generations—Boomers and seniors—believed that a tougher approach instead of closer economic ties with China was best (48% to 45%). These results reflect the far greater support of Millennials than older generations for free trade agreements overall (63% to 42%).
In its April 2012 Values survey, Pew examined the openness of Americans to “foreign,” if not specifically Chinese, influences. In one question, respondents were asked to agree or disagree with the statement: “It bothers me when I come in contact with immigrants who speak little or no English.” Only 32% of American Millennials compared to 44% of all older generations agreed. In another item Pew asked for agreement or disagreement with this statement: “the growing number of newcomers from other countries threatens traditional American customs and values.” Only four in ten Millennials (41%) as compared with a majority (53%) of Boomers and seniors agreed.
American Millennials are a generation that seeks to resolve disputes and conflicts by searching for win-win solutions rather than absolute victories over their opponents. Recent research suggests that their Chinese counterparts share many of the same attitudes. This bodes well for relations between their two countries in coming decades. The big question for the more immediate future is whether older generations in America and China will be able and willing to set aside the attitudes based on the ideologies and policies of the past long enough for Millennials on both sides of the Pacific to forge a new, less contentious relationship.
In the countless commentaries focusing on the demographic factors shaping the outcome of the 2012 election, there has been virtually nothing said about the contribution of Asian-Americans to the electorate and to Barack Obama’s reelection. It will be hard to ignore this growing group of voters much longer.
Since at least 2009, the number of Asian immigrants entering the United States has exceeded that of Hispanics, and in 2012 Asian-Americans cast a higher percentage of their ballots for Obama than did Hispanics (73 percent to 71 percent). Members of this very diverse community accounted for about 3 percent of the electorate on Nov. 6. Since Asians continue to migrate to the U.S. in large numbers, and because about 30 percent of Asian-Americans in the country now are not yet citizens but are likely to become so in the future, their share of the electorate should keep growing.
The 113th Congress going into session in January will include a dozen Asian-American members, the largest number ever. Irvine, Calif., in the heart of the formerly solid Republican Orange Country, cast 52 percent of its votes for Obama, principally because Asian-Americans now make up almost 40 percent of the city’s population.
The presence of Asian-Americans in the 2012 election was not limited to candidates or voting; they were even part of its pop culture. Throughout the campaign, videos emerged depicting the presidential candidates dancing in “Gangnam Style,” a Korean version of hip-hop. One, featuring a dancer with a striking resemblance to Obama, came to the president’s attention causing him to remark that he might be able to repeat some of the dancer’s “moves,” but only privately for the First Lady and not at an inaugural ball.
Another was designed to inspire a trip to the polls by young Asian-Americans living in the 626 area code of California’s San Gabriel Valley, heavily populated by Asian-Americans of varied national backgrounds, especially Chinese. A June 2012 Pew Social Trends survey, aptly titled, “The Rise of Asian Americans,” demonstrates the increasing importance of Asian-Americans in U.S. politics, suggesting that they are taking their place in an emerging Democratic coalition that could dominate American politics during the coming four decades.
Some other observations:
Asian-Americans overwhelmingly identify as Democrats. Asian-Americans identify with or lean toward the Democratic Party rather than the Republican Party by an almost 2-to-1 margin (50 percent to 28 percent). Similar to Hispanics, among whom Cuban-Americans traditionally identify with the GOP while those of Mexican and Puerto Rican descent most often see themselves as Democrats, there are nationality variations in party ID among Asian-Americans.
Indian-Americans (65 percent Democrats to 18 percent Republican), Japanese-Americans (54 percent to 29 percent), Chinese-Americans (49 percent to 26 percent) and Korean Americans (48 percent to 32 percent) are solidly in the Democratic camp.
Filipino-Americans (43 percent Democrats to 40 percent Republican) and Vietnamese-Americans (36 percent to 35 percent) are evenly divided in their partisan identification. Like Americans generally, younger Asian-Americans and Asian-American women are slightly more likely to call themselves Democrats than older voters and men.
Asian-Americans tilt liberal. Asian-Americans lean more toward the liberal than the conservative side of the political spectrum. Among all Asian-Americans, 31 percent say they are liberal, 24 percent call themselves conservative, and 37 percent say they are moderate.
By contrast, in a Pew survey of the general public conducted at about the same time as its survey of Asian-Americans, 34 percent identified as conservatives, 24 percent as liberals, and 37 percent as moderates. Younger Asian-Americans are particularly likely to be liberal rather than conservative (39 percent to 17 percent).
Asian-Americans favor activist government. A majority of Asian-Americans prefer a “bigger government that provides more services” rather than a “smaller government that provides fewer services.” In this regard, they are the mirror image of the general public which favors a smaller rather than a bigger government by 52 percent to 39 percent. Asian-American women are far more positive about “big government” than men (61 percent to 49 percent).
Asian-Americans have more liberal views on social issues. The majority of Asian-Americans believe that abortion should be legal in all or most cases and that homosexuality should be accepted. On both of these social issues the beliefs of Asian-Americans are virtually identical to those of the general public.
As is the case with Americans overall, young Asian-Americans are substantially more likely to hold “liberal” beliefs on social issues. However, not surprisingly, as among Americans generally, social issue attitudes are shaped to a far greater extent by religion rather than demographics.
Large majorities of non-Christian Asian-Americans (Hindus, Buddhists and those unaffiliated with a faith) support tolerance of gays and relatively open abortion policies. Most Asian-American Christians take the opposite stance.
Asian-Americans approve of President Obama and are more positive about the direction of the U.S than Americans overall. At the time the Pew survey was conducted, 43 percent of Asian-Americans said they were satisfied with the way things were going in the U.S., more than twice the percentage of the general public that felt that way (21 percent). As a result, a majority of Asian-Americans (54 percent) approved of the way Obama was handling his job as president. That was 10 points higher than his approval rating among the general public.
Given their majority Democratic identification and liberal leanings on issues, the high level of Asian-American support for Obama in 2012 and 2008 (when 63 percent voted for him) is not surprising. Even more important, those identifications and attitudes suggest that Asian-Americans are likely to be a component of the Democratic coalition long after the president has left office.