On one level, the 2012 presidential election is a battle between two distinct party coalitions: a Republican coalition heavily centered on males, people over 50—especially seniors—and whites; and a Democratic coalition built around women, younger voters—especially Millennials—and minorities. But it is also a dispute over policy and program, because the party that develops a winning majority coalition will also determine America’s new civic ethos and answer the fundamental question of U.S. politics: What should be the size and scope of the nation’s government?
An August national survey of nearly 3,300 Americans ages 18-85, conducted by Frank N. Magid Associates, suggests that President Obama’s reelection prospects are underpinned by a distinctive demographic voter coalition, whose beliefs will also shape America’s next civic ethos in the years ahead.
According to Magid, a clear majority of Americans favor “a government that actively tries to solve the problems facing society and the economy,” while only 31 percent prefer “a government that stays out of society and the economy to the greatest extent possible.”
Since the New Deal, the belief in an activist government has become so ingrained in the American political psyche that a majority of most major demographics now support this concept. Still, not surprisingly, support for governmental activism is greatest among key demographics that also make up the core of the Democratic Party’s 21st century coalition: women (55 percent), minorities (59 percent), and Millennials (55 percent).
It is a bit lower within groups that comprise a disproportionate share of the GOP coalition: men (50 percent), whites (50 percent), and seniors (48 percent).
Together, these demographic building blocks result in 70 percent of Democratic identifiers and 35 percent of Republicans favoring governmental activism (although 53 percent of Republicans do prefer a hands-off approach).
The Magid survey indicates that a clear plurality, 47 percent, believes that “the best way to protect America’s national security is through building strong alliances with other nations” rather than by “relying primarily on its military strength” (37 percent).
Once again, the demographics that comprise the core of the emerging Democratic Party coalition also favor the position with the greatest support among voters. Majorities of women, Millennials, and minorities all agree that U.S. foreign policy should rely on alliance building.
By contrast, groups that tend toward the Republican coalition more strongly favor relying on U.S. military strength as the basis of the country’s foreign policy: men (41 percent), seniors (43 percent), and whites (39 percent).
As a result, a majority of Democratic identifiers favor an approach focused on alliance building, while most Republican identifiers prefer a foreign policy centered on U.S. military strength.
An Economic Safety Net
The Magid survey indicates that close to half of the electorate believes that “the best policy is to ensure that all Americans have at least a basic standard of living and level of income, even if that increases government spending,” while about one-third say that “the best policy is to let each person get along economically on his or her own, even if that means some people have a lot more than others.”
Majorities within left-leaning groups such as women, Millennials, and minorities believe that government should guarantee at least a minimal level of economic well-being. Less than half of groups inclined toward the GOP such as men, seniors, and whites concur.
As a result, perhaps more than any other, this issue separates those who identify with each of the parties: two-thirds of Democrats believe that government should provide a basic standard of living to all Americans, while 59 percent of Republicans are in favor, instead, of allowing each person to get along on his own.
On Nov. 6, voters will not only elect a president and decide which party controls Congress. They will also determine anew just how and to whose benefit government will intervene in the economy and how the country will interact with the rest of the world. While it is too early to know the details of the nation’s new civic ethos, recent survey research suggests that these policy issues will be decided based the beliefs of an emerging new majority coalition in American politics centered on women, minorities, and Millennials.
Is technology hurting or helping Millennials and future generations?
Recently, Pew Research published the findings of its survey of over 1000 technology experts on the possible effect on the Millennial Generation of growing up in a media saturated, hyper-connected world. We were flattered to be included in their sample of experts, but would nevertheless urge caution in over-interpreting the results.
Pew was careful to point out that the results have no statistical validity since the survey was not a random or probability sample of the population. In survey research terms, Pew used a “Delphi survey” approach, where, just as the ancient Greeks did in seeking guidance from that oracle, questions were posed to the experts in the hope that they would divine the right answer. To allow for ease of tabulation, the questions asked tended to be in pairs with each respondent asked to agree with one of two contradictory choices. Even with those constraints, many experts, including us, responded with long explanations of why they either didn’t pick one of the two choices presented, or did so with caveats and disclaimers. Fortunately, Pew reproduced all of these comments in an appendix to their report for those who wanted to explore the answers to each question in more depth. As if that weren’t enough to mitigate the impact of the findings, on most items the experts were about evenly split between the two alternatives from which they were asked to choose.
There have been a few, more statistically reliable studies of the impact on Millennial personalities or thinking patterns of specific elements of the digital technology revolution now occurring. Those that have focused on video games have uncovered results that directly contradict the conventional wisdom about one of the Millennial Generation’s favorite forms of entertainment.
For instance, a study by cognitive neuroscientist, Daphne Bavelier, found that the type of violent games that most worry parents had the strongest beneficial effects on the brain. As psychologist C. Shawn Green points out, “videogames change your brain,” but so does learning to read or playing a musical instrument and the vast majority of the research doesn’t attempt to compare the impact of gaming to other forms of intense, mental activity.
One study at Michigan State University’s Children and Technology Project did find that the more middle school students played games the higher they scored on standardized tests of creativity. By contrast, the same researchers found that using cell phones or getting on the internet using a PC had no effect on creativity, which would make playing games the preferred hyper-connectivity environment for Millennials’ parents to immerse their children in if they want them to become more creative.
Pew itself has done research on the impact of another aspect of hyper-connectivity, social media, on personality and behavior and reached different conclusions than some of the experts in this Delphi survey.
While 42 percent of the experts surveyed agreed with the proposition that Millennials will “lack deep-thinking capabilities; face-to-face social skills; and depend in unhealthy ways on the Internet and mobile devices to function by 2020,” the other 55 percent of the Delphi experts chose the opposite proposition. The answers of the optimistic majority seem to be more aligned with the findings of other Pew surveys on the nature of those who constantly check their Facebook page.
One Pew study, for example, found that someone who uses Facebook several times per day averages 9 percent more close, core ties in their overall social network compared with other Internet users. Pew also found that heavy users of Facebook get about half the emotional benefit that someone might get from being married. Internet users in general score three points higher in total support, six points higher in companionship, and four points higher in instrumental support than the average American on a scale of 100 for each social dimension.
But a Facebook user who uses the site multiple times per day tends to score an additional five points higher in total support, five points higher in emotional support, and five points higher in companionship, than Internet users of similar demographic characteristics, including age. While this data is not exclusively focused on Millennials or how their brains function, it does suggest that so far, at least, the pernicious effects of hyper-connectivity that so many older people fear may have more to do with their own reaction to the technology than any solid research-based findings.
One major impact of the rise of social media, however, is directly reflected in the opinions of the experts interviewed by Pew. Unlike the broadcast media architecture of radio and television that older generations have grown up and experienced for a lifetime, Internet based social networks do not depend on gatekeepers at the center of the communication process to determine what or when people should hear or know something. In the world in which Millennials were raised, anyone can share any information with anyone they choose, however they wish to do so and whenever they want to. This has caused Millennials to prefer the opinion of the group, even when it is made up mostly of strangers, to the opinions of experts, regardless of their credentials or position of authority.
For the youngest generation of Americans, the wisdom of crowds is something in which they believe and practice. Perhaps, that is why so many of the experts Pew interviewed were so worried about the impact of all this new technology. What’s not clear is if they were more worried about Millennials’ future or their own as “experts.”
In 2008, as Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton fought for the Democratic presidential nomination, many baby boomer women did not understand how a majority of their millennial daughters and granddaughters could support a man against the first woman in history with a realistic chance of winning the White House.
In reality, the readiness of these young women to base their votes on something other than the sex of the candidates was a sign of their strength and self-determination. Bolstered by legislation such as Title IX, which required equality of the sexes in the administration of public education, those boomers created a cohort of high-achieving, confident young women.
Already millennial women are taking their rightful place among America’s leaders. Soon they will begin to help redefine what it means to be an effective leader in the 21st century.
Millennials have overwhelmingly turned their backs on conventional notions about the place of women in society, making their generation the most gender neutral, if not female driven, in U.S. history.
A 2009 Pew survey indicated that 84 percent of millennials disagreed that “women should return to their traditional roles in society,” with two-thirds (67 percent) completely disagreeing with the idea. Last fall 82 percent of Millennials told Pew that the trend toward more women in the American workforce has been a “change for the better.”
Their generation is the first in U.S. history in which women are more likely to attend college and professional school than are men. Women are also more likely to receive bachelor’s degrees than men. By 2016, they are projected to earn 64 percent of associate’s degrees, 60 percent of bachelor’s degrees, 63 percent of master’s degrees, and 56 percent of doctorates. But despite of their greater representation in the student body, the number of women holding college student government office continues to lag behind men. “At the 50 colleges ranked highest by U.S. News & World Report, less than a third of student presidents are women.”
In the end, however, the greatest contribution of Millennial women to American leadership may not be simply in holding formal positions, but in helping to redefine its very nature.
In 1964, Warren Bennis and Philip Slater, argued that corporate leadership characteristics would have to be altered to survive in a period of increasing social change in their Harvard Business Review article titled, “Democracy is Inevitable.” They cited five traits that would define corporate success in the future:
- Full and free communication, regardless of rank and power.
- A reliance on consensus to manage conflict.
- Influence based on competence and knowledge, not personal whims or prerogatives of power.
- An atmosphere that encourages emotional expressions as well as task-oriented acts.
- A human bias, willing to cope and mediate conflict between the organization and the individual.
In the intervening fifty years, Boomer parents have raised a generation of women whose attitudes and beliefs are best suited to exercising the style of leadership Bennis accurately predicted would come to dominate organizations in the future.
As social media technology constantly drives down the cost of communicating and increases the freedom and flexibility of each worker, hierarchical top down, command and control organizations are being increasingly supplanted by horizontal structures in which effective leadership depends on creating trust, coordinating innovation, cultivating creativity, and building consensus.
Warren Bennis has called Mike and Morley's book, Millennial Momentum, "Extremely useful, readable and important...the only recent book I have been eager to blurb, it's THAT good."