Help is on the way

Posted on June 8th, 2009 in Culture,Politics by Robert Miller
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Millennial Support for Obama 2008 (Center for American Progress)

The Center for American Progress has released a poll showing the voting patterns and behavioral preferences of the Millennial generation, those born between 1978 and the year 2000. This analysis includes in-depth evaluation of the their voting preferences for the 2008 election, for which they played a major role in pushing through Obama’s impressive victory and further establishing Democratic majorities in the House and Senate. The 2008 election was the first in which the entire pool of the 18-29 year old voters were all from the Millennial generation.  This group is increasingly important in our electoral process and by the year 2020, the first presidential election will occur when all of the Millennial generation will be of voting age. In that year an estimated 90 million Millennial voters will constitute nearly 40% of the electorate. Increasingly their influence on our elections will be profound because, if they continue to vote in a manner consistent with the current polling data, and,  as expressed in the election of 2008, they will help transform American politics, perhaps more so than any other generation has achieved. When you look at their voting pattern for the 2008 presidential election and realize that their influence will only grow, you can see how some of the more progressive ideas kicking around today, like a single payer health care system, which doesn’t seem to get much traction at the moment, will become something of a no-brainer (see below) as the Millennial generation increasingly impacts on our elections and policy-making decisions.  We still have too many corporatist Democrats to get the kinds of legislation  passed that the majority of Americans view as important and appropriate for  government intervention. It may be that true reform of our political system, including restoration of our social contract and reconstructing our social safety net can only be done by reforming campaign financing and eliminating the influence that wealthy corporations have on our political decisions.

So, given the anticipated dramatic influence on our future elections projected for the Millennials,  what are they really like? What do the Millennial generation think and how will they vote? First, we have to recognize that this generation will begin the process of inheriting the global climate change phenomena that we leave behind and they are aware that a generational difference in attitude will be required if we are going to seriously address the economic and environmental implications projected for our political and planetary future. The Millennials believe in evolution and they believe in the science that is forecasting a more cataclysmic planet if we don’t begin to seriously address the world’s looming carbon footprint. Let’s face it, our current generation doesn’t have the right stuff to deal with these problems effectively, and, our lack of resolve shows up in many ways. The current economic downturn will almost surely delay action on our coming global crisis.

A quick summary of the Millennial generation’s preferences shows that they are perhaps the most progressive generation ever to evolve in America. Their impact was already demonstrated in the 2008 election, where Millennials of all races overwhelmingly voted for Obama. The racial breakdown of their voting pattern was as follows (illustrated in the upper graph): Blacks 95/4 for Obama; Hispanics 76/19 for Obama and Whites 54/44 for Obama. Overall, the impact of the Millennial generation in voting for Obama was a decisive 66-32 margin. Obama won both Millennial college graduate and non-college voters, something not often achieved (by a 16 and 6 point margin respectively) by a Democrat. This latter voting pattern is especially intriguing, since Obama lost the white working class vote  by 18 points in the 2008 election. This difference may mean that as the Millennial generation comes more fully into voting age,  the more progressive preferences of young (non-college) white workers will dilute the more conservative voting pattern of this group as expressed in 2008. In other words, “the Reagan Democrats” may be singing their last hurrah and Joe the plumber will become increasingly irrelevant, if he isn’t already.

In comparing the Presidential election of 1988 with that of  2008, one can see substantial  gains in progressive ideals that were evident in most states in the 2008 election and often by wide margins. This progressive surge is likely to become a more dominant theme.  In many states, the overwhelming popular vote for Obama was provided by the youth of our country, from whom he continues to receive strong support. Obama received 60 percent or more of the youth vote in every swing state with the exception of Missouri, a state which he also nearly won. If the election of 2008 was determined by the 18-29 year old vote, the map of the country would be almost entirely blue and Obama would have received 448-475 electoral college votes (two different estimates by different pollsters). There are 538 total electoral college votes up for grabs for the Presidential election. The blue state map illustrates the impact of Millenials by showing state colors as a reflection of the majority vote  of Millennials in each state, with a few undetermined.

If you have an interest in the political bias of those who are just coming of voting age, you might want to read the report, which is about 38 pages, but there is an executive summary and both are available as pdf downloads. In a nutshell, here are the features of the Millennial generation that most caught my eye:

  1. By 58 to 35 they support the rights for gays to marry, as opposed to 60 to 31 against for the older generation.
  2. Nearly 1/4 of Millennials (23%) had no religious preferences or were agnostic/atheist.
  3. By a 63 to 33 margin, Millennials believe in evolution.
  4. By a 64 to 19 margin Millennials agree that religious faith should focus on promoting tolerance, social justice and peace in society and less on opposing abortion or gay rights.
  5. By a 77 to 22 margin, Millennials disapprove of the war in Iraq. They also strongly support a multinational effort at solving problems, not the go-it-alone views of the Republican Party (maybe full restoration of funds for the United Nations might come about someday).
  6. With a 69 to 27 majority, Millennials believe that the government should be doing more to solve our social problems; this number compares with a 51 to 43 agreement when all voters are sampled.
  7. More than any other age group, by an 88 percent majority, Millennials believe in quality affordable health care coverage for all Americans and by 71 to 16, they favor a universal, government-supported health care system (compared with 65 to 23 for the entire population–not ftoo much of a difference here).
  8. As far as paying for these new social initiatives, the Millennials do not have their heads buried in the sand–by 74 to 26, they favor a progressive taxation system and they expressed more concern about giving the wealthy and big corporations too many tax breaks rather than too few.
  9. Another important preference for Millennials relates to affordable, quality education. By an 81 to 12 margin, Millennials favored investment in quality public education for all, as opposed to the other option of using vouchers so that parents can move their children away from failing public schools to private schools (that was a well-stated, thoughtful, unambiguous question).

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    Millennials Voted in Majority of States for Obama: Poll by Center for American Progress

I didn’t cover every feature of this poll, but several other polls have demonstrated similar kinds of preferences for this important age group. Of course there are many things that could cause some of these young people to change their preferences. Perhaps a terrorist attack could change the perspective of some. But I don’t think there is anything that GW Bush or Dick Cheney could say that would sway the opinions of Millennials on the major issues that they now see in a very different light than that prosyletized by the current iteration of the Republican Party. It seems to me that the most likely source of rebellion against the current views of the majority of Millennials would be if Obama and the Democrats didn’t step up to the plate and begin to deliver in a serious way on the promises that they gave out to these young people that brought them onto the Obama band wagon beginning last year. In Robert Kuttner’s recent book “Obama’s Challenge” he points out that Obama has the political gifts to be a truly transformational president, like FDR and Ronald Reagan before him (I believe that Reagan was the most disastrous President we had in the 20th century, but I can’t deny that he was a transformational president, as he did more than any other Republican President to unravel the Federalism of  FDR). I think the jury is still out on Obama, as it should be so early in his Presidency. It isn’t clear yet whether he will  simply be a comfortable Clinton Democrat or whether he will truly transform the country and remake it in highly beneficial ways for the majority of Americans. God knows this country needs a remake, a start-over and a reprogramming of the fundamentals. And, Obamba sounds like the person, perhaps the only one on the horizon right now that has the gifts and vision necessary to remake the country and quite possibly begin therapy for our ailing planet. But we may be asking too much of Obama and not enough of ourselves. Obama will be transformational only if the public demands and insists on a transformational presidency. So far that doesn’t seem to be happening, but the country is still in a state of economic shock. In the meantime, the bankers and financiers have won round one–the bailout. Round two is coming up over regulatory reform and round three will likely be the debate that is shaping up now on health care. Unfortunately, the simplest system to initiate, that of a single payer, government sponsored system–“Medicare for All”–does not seem to be getting any traction in the Senate, although a bill supporting this option is going through the House, but it will only see the glimmer of day if Obama supports it and campaigns on it and it doesn’t look like that will happen. I for one do not believe it is possible to reform health care companies that are used to the huge profit margins that they now enjoy. Without a dramatic change in our health care policy, that virtually eliminates the excessive charges and waste of these for-profit health care institutions, we may see universal coverage at a cost that cripples the future of the country. Our system is so badly broken and health care is so poorly distributed that we need a reset, a new start from scratch. We need to pretend it is 1947 and ask “what would Harry Truman do?”

Let’s face it:  Obama is now sitting at the tiller of our ship during the most exciting but worrisome time we have experienced as a country in the last 50 years. Right now, like it or not, we are in the process of determining the kind of economic system we will have for the foreseeable future (all taking place on a timescale of months, not years) and, quite likely, we are determining the kind of economy we will have and whether we will become an innovative country again, home to countless, agitated inventors, who can do a lot better than improving on mouse traps. Add to that kind of uncertainty, the additional problems we face in the form of global climate change and it makes you want to live another hundred years just to see how all of this comes out. Will we or won’t we–survive, I mean? Of course during that 100 additional years of living through high expectations, with intermittent traumatization from the  frequent   reality strokes of insufficient water, excessive forest fires, giant storms and food source challenges, we will want to continue to renew our annual membership in the Hemlock Society.

RFM

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