What Barack Obama’s Young Voters Really Want

Posted by: eric on November 12, 2008 at 1:33 pm

The media thrive on stories of conflict. Looking back at the 2008 presidential race, it’s easy to see how many of the narratives that dominated the news coverage and the punditry revolved around intergroup hostilities: white, rural voters versus multiethnic, urban voters; feminist supporters of Hillary Clinton versus male supporters of Barack Obama; blacks versus Hispanics; religious voters versus secular voters; Main Street versus Wall Street. Each of these supposedly intractable conflicts was declared, in turn, the key to the outcome in 2008.

In the end, none materialized to the extent imagined.

But as we look ahead to the next four years, there’s a new dividing line that some politicians will be eager to draw in the search for electoral advantage – a line based on a supposed generational rift. The reason? President-elect Obama won a two-thirds majority of 18- to 29-year-old voters, which ultimately helped propel him to victory. The youth vote also went 63% to 34% for House Democrats.

This is not a promising trend for Republicans. To try to blunt this movement going forward, some conservative defenders of the status quo will be trying to create a breach between those younger than 30 (the so-called Millennial Generation) and those above that age, using a supposed crisis in Social Security funding as the wedge issue.

In this new narrative, greedy Baby Boomers are said to be poised to bankrupt the Social Security system, leaving nothing for the younger workers who currently support the program through payroll taxes. It’s a theme John McCain sounded, at least briefly, during the 2008 campaign. In a Denver town hall meeting in July of this year, he declared, “Americans have got to understand that we are paying present-day retirees with the taxes paid by young workers in America today. And that’s a disgrace. It’s an absolute disgrace, and it’s got to be fixed.” (Of course, this “disgraceful” feature of Social Security is exactly the reason the system has always worked and continues to work today.) The only “fair” solution, according to this account, is to privatize the system, in whole or in part, so that the Millennials will be able to save for their own retirements and get out from under the crushing burden of supporting their idle parents.

There’s plenty wrong with this narrative, not to mention the fact that most people agree the Social Security system will be solvent for decades to come, and that only minor tweaking of tax rates and retirement ages is needed to maintain it for the foreseeable future. What’s more, the “solution” of privatization would actually create the crisis it’s supposed to avert, by diverting trillions of dollars out of Social Security.

Thankfully, there are good reasons to believe that the youthful Millennials will not fall for coming attempts to whip up intergenerational antagonism. In our book “Generation We,” based on exhaustive research on the Millennial generation conducted by the respected firm of Gerstein | Agne, including a 2,000-person written survey and 12 focus groups – the most in-depth study ever made of the attitudes and values of the Millennials – we show that the political and social changes now being spearheaded will not be about intergenerational conflict.

The fact is that the real-world members of this new generation have little interest in fomenting resentment, scapegoating or intergenerational battles. Every survey and attitudinal study – including our own – confirms that today’s young people respect and are eager to learn from people of their parents’ and grandparents’ generations. For example, in their massive study “Millennials Rising,” generational scholarsNeil Howe and William Strauss report, “Most teens say they identify with their parents’ values, and more than nine in 10 say they ‘trust’ and ‘feel close to’ their parents. The proportion who report conflict with their parents is declining.”

Remember the old ’60s saw, “Don’t trust anyone over 30″? Today’s youth seem to have, well, grown up.

And while Millennials tend to trust older Americans, they’re suspicious of those who seek to divide. They tend to see far-right dogmatists who espouse “traditional values” rhetoric as part of our nation’s problems, not part of the solution. According to our study, when it comes to lifestyle choices – whether we’re talking about sexual orientation, abortion, divorce or gay marriage or about gambling, drinking, drug use and church attendance – the all-but-explicit motto of the Millennials is “Live and let live.”

In voting for change on Nov. 4, the Millennials sent a very clear message – that they are fed up with leaders who seek to divide Americans against one another, whether along moral, ethnic, religious, geographic or generational lines. That’s an attitude our new national leadership should seek to encourage and build upon in the years to come.

7 Responses to “What Barack Obama’s Young Voters Really Want”

  1. Ásmundur (I live in Iceland) Says:

    So all I wanted to do is pitch an idea lets say that both groups you can vote for in the US are corrupt, since they all say we will do this and we will do that and most of the time they dont do what they said they were going to do. I just watched a video of Barack Obama saying that he would continue wars on terror meaning if correct he would probably start another war, so I say that alot more has to happen then just vote for the right people we all have to get rid off our money hungry politicians that help each other to get more rich and by getting rid off I do not mean kill or any violent way we just have to stop this nonsense going on everywhere not only in the US we have to see the big picture here we have to do this on a global scale.
    But when I saw the video for this group I just had to say something and I want to join but it looks like it is only for people in the US so I say go for Gen-We change the world make it a better place for everybody.
    P.s. sorry for any misspelling

  2. bigfuzzd Says:

    Wasn’t Obama just a divisive? I recall many comments, including, “bitter clingers”.

  3. Aaron Bishop Says:

    What do all you “We” kids plan on doing about our current government creating new diseases to wipe out specific segments of the world population? AIDS was created by Litton Bionetics at Fort Detrick, Maryland. It was deliberately unleashed via the Hepatitis B experimental vaccine in Manhattan between November 1978 and October 1979. 1083 gay men were innoculated. The same was done in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Denver and St. Louis between March 1980 and October 1981. AIDS is man-made, pure and simple! It was created to rid the earth of “undesirables” and in turn as a means of reducing the world’s population. What do you kiddies plan on doing about that???

  4. Jake Says:

    1) Eliminating divisions by telling everyone they agree with you and are liberals, whether they knew it or not, isn’t the same as actually being bipartisan.

    2) Eliminating differences is ridiculous and dangerous in any manifestation. Total unity is *total*itarianism. We should be celebrating our individuality and numerous personal differences, not subsuming them into this STRENGTH THROUGH UNITY crap. People are different, and have different interests and goals; getting everyone to agree to “tolerate” our more meaningless cultural and social-policy differences is incredibly condescending, first of all. Perhaps as a gay teen, or an African-American, or a political I want to be accepted and respected and celebrated, not just treated with the veiled normative judgment of “live and let live” tolerance?

    This feel-good cultural-respect hand-waving is NOT a good enough cover for getting us all to adhere to upper-middle-class, corporatist, neo-establishment center-left ideology in everything. Sorry, nice try.

  5. Jake Says:

    Also, I like the peer pressure bit – 90% of teens agree with their parents’ values, rebutting intergenerational disagreement, mocking the “don’t trust anyone over 30″ catchphrase, etc. Cute. Covering your ass for when rage at your generation’s mistakes comes home to roost? Surely *you* must not be expecting to depend upon Social Security.

    Don’t knock the catchphrase, man. We really *shouldn’t* trust anyone over 30 – no, screw 30, 25! 30 is far too late. Your generation has screwed too many things up too badly, and I’ll be damned if you’ll cost us our independence of thought and political self-determination as well.

  6. Kent Morris Says:

    Hi, first I want to say I bought the book, dig it…agree with it for the most part, and do consider myself a perennial millennial of 1982. However, for being so unique and different from previous generations (or at least as we are perceived) to me it seems we are already falling for the same traps as the baby boomers – this grandiose idea that “we” are it, and that “we” will solve “problems” or “issues” – just as the baby boomers or hippies thought in the late 1960′s. And you know what? Nothing changed.

    I agree a great deal of partisan conflict will get nowhere, ideology speaking, but as a political science major one thing I am sure of is one party dominance, specifically the Democrats, is not the answer…and I vote Democrat! There must be balance, but also pragmatism, alongside a great deal of the “hope” the book and this website preaches. Sadly i feel by already labeling something in a vain attempt to create a movement that has yet to really coalesce, “we” are already setting up for failure.

    I really, really…really hope President-elect Obama gets things right, but just because this generation put him in the White House does not mean this generation is going to like what happens…simply because Obama is behind it. Obama cannot control fate itself. Fact is the world, reality, is full of evil forces already in the works, and even all the pragmatism, hope, and change may not be enough to solve, or stop whatever is coming – internationally, or economically.

    Concluding, what happened to baby boomers in the 60′s is happening to us, already…as if this generation is just another political or marketing tool to sell products and put people to power. My apologies for the negativity – I don’t see it that way – and I want to believe. I really want to believe. But pride in ourselves as something generalized is not independent in the least sense of the word, nor I believe is a strategy to get anything done. Allowing me to voice this opinion is a good first step, but blocking it would be the worst. Once we get our fears or doubts on the table, then “we” can work together to eliminate them. Doubt is a common human emotion, and does not stigmatize what this generation is about. But blindly following or believing anything could lead to something worse. I like this generation and believe in it. Just don’t sell it out before the results are in.

  7. Jim Brown Says:

    Where are you from