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February 18, 2009

the "Millennial Generation and Politics" event

C-SPAN II broadcast yesterday's event at the New America Foundation. The video is here.

Neil Howe and Reena Nadler first present their broad overview of the Millennials as a poilitical generation. I then summarize our new study that argues that (a) where a generation begins politically affects its political orientation for decades to come, and (b) the Millennials are starting more liberal than any generation for at least 40 years. (The slides from our report are a lot easier to see in the PDF). At the end, I raise some cautions about viewing the Millennials as a homogeneous group or simply comparing the average young person today to the average young person of decades past. There are enormous social and political differences among Millennials.

Scott Keeter from the Pew Research Center then makes some very astute remarks about the papers and his organization's findings. Hans Riemer, who was Obama's Youth Director in the primaries, reminisces about the campaign. (By the way, I agree with Hans that young voters won Iowa for Obama and thereby determined the election.)

In the question-and-answer, Howe and I debate a little the question of whether working-class youth fit generalizations about the Millennials as coddled, risk-averse, optimistic, high achievers. I try to emphasize that working-class youth will participate if offered constructive opportunities. There's nothing wrong with them as people. The problem is that society offers them very few opportunities to serve, lead, or create. Implicit in this mild debate is a slight difference in theoretical orientation. I believe that people in general react similarly to opportunities, but that opportunities vary with time and with socioeconomic status. I don't think of the character of a generation as an important causal factor in history, but I do recognize that different cohorts have different formative opportunities. (And opportunities always vary for people who happen to be born at the same time.) As an example, I don't believe that my generation--Generation X--has failed to obtain political office because we always lacked intrinsic interest or commitment. Many of my Yale college classmates wanted political careers desperately. I think we lacked opportunity in an era of gerrymandered electoral districts and out-of-control campaign spending.

February 18, 2009 10:17 PM | category: none


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