Op-Eds


The Millennial factor

By Jennifer Granholm, POLITICO

The nation received lousy economic news last week and many pundits are predicting that the electoral sky is falling for President Barack Obama.

Hold the political obits, please. Every progressive should read — and every conservative should fear — a new book by Morley Winograd and Mike Hais, “Millennial Momentum: How a New Generation Is Remaking America.” It serves up a delicious slab of demographic-based optimism for an Obama victory in November.

Everyone knows that young people don’t vote, right? They are apathetic, the hardest to motivate, the most difficult to register, the toughest to rouse to the polls. Research by Hais and Winograd makes clear that whichever campaign cracks the code of mobilizing Millennials will be the one that wins the presidency.

Forget about Wisconsin. I know I’m a partisan but I’m just reporting the facts: It looks good for Obama. There are three reasons for optimism.

First, the numbers are stunning. In terms of electoral demographics: 20 is the new 60.

In 2008, only 40 percent of Millennials were old enough to vote. But each year since then, 4 million more Millennials — the generation born between 1982 to 2003 — become eligible. That’s 16 million more potential eligible young voters since 2008. And this new group supports Obama over Mitt Romney by two-to-one.

In 2008 — when a hearty 52 percent of Millennials voted — they provided a 7 million-vote bulge for Obama.

In 2012, even if a smaller percentage — say only 50 percent — vote, this could still be a 10 million-vote bulge for Obama. Put this growth in context with other electoral demographic groups, and it upends traditional political lore: Millennials will outnumber seniors in November. Four years ago, each group made up about 17 percent of the population. But Millennials even then had a slight edge in voting – 18 percent, to 17 percent for seniors (age 65 and up). Now, Millennials comprise about a quarter of the adult population, while seniors remain 17 percent.

The second reason for optimism: Team Obama’s youth mobilization is breathtaking.

Political veterans reflexively argue that young people don’t vote and 2008 was an aberration. But the Millennial turnout will remain strong, according to Hais and Winograd. They argue that the Obama campaign rewrote the rule book on Millennial motivation and mobilization in 2008. And Team Obama continues to dominate new media, spending far more effort and money than Team Romney in targeted online youth outreach.

Meanwhile, the Romney campaign, and its various affiliated super PACS, are spending vast resources on TV ads — which are much less effective with this generation. In addition to a hot social media strategy, the Obama campaign is doing in-person organizing in Millennial communities, like campuses and urban venues. The president has been visiting colleges in every swing state. Romney looks woefully, embarrassingly outmatched on campuses.

The third reason for optimism: Despite the economy, Obama’s message resonates with this generation. Winograd and Hais say that, by 55 percent to 39 percent , Millennials prefer an activist government to a smaller one that delivers fewer services.

This is a civic-minded, participatory generation — unlike the more individualistic Gen X-ers. Millennials prefer solutions like investing in infrastructure, innovation and particularly education. The GOP’s intentional obstruction of the president’s job proposals — not to mention the GOP’s same-old, same-old plans for cutting taxes and reducing education and student loan spending — are anathema to this group.

There is also youth passion around clean energy, marriage equality and expanded health care coverage, including contraception. A muscular Democratic jobs agenda in a second term — which the president must champion now — could do even more to channel this generation’s aspirations.

OK, that’s the good news for Obama.

The bad news: Republican-dominated state legislatures seem to have gotten the demographic memo too. They are furiously trying to pass laws that make it difficult to register new voters or permit them to vote. Roughly 180 voter-suppression bills have been introduced in 41 states since January 2011. Some states are even now pursuing eleventh-hour changes. Up to 5 million people will be targeted under these new, restrictive laws, the Brennan Center for Justice estimates, and these changes are likely to hit the elderly, the poor, Latinos and other minorities and younger voters the most.

The proof? Look at Wisconsin. While it would not have overturned the result, Millennial turnout was significantly down from 2008. Younger voters were only 16 percent of Tuesday’s electorate, down from 22 percent in 2008, according to exit polls.

These numbers collapsed in large part because the state Legislature passed a restrictive bill requiring college students to have lived at their residence for 28 days prior to voting. Since the five-largest Wisconsin colleges had their graduations only two weeks earlier, and many students had already moved, a potential 105,000 students were affected by this restriction.

But the Millennial generation is not stupid. It knows when it is being targeted. The ham-fisted efforts to deny Millennials their vote will simply add fuel to their fire. If there was a danger of apathy before, these efforts will stoke their determination to scale the barriers being placed in their way.

Or so I hope.

So here’s my plea to Millennials: If you have any generational defiance in you, if you feel outraged by cynical attempts to limit your most fundamental rights, if your inner rebel is twitching, then cast your vote. Do it despite the obstacles the Republican legislators are erecting. Or maybe because of them.

This is your moment. You have the juice. If you’ve ever wanted to stick a finger in the eye of the politicians in your parents’ generation — now is the time. (In the eyes of Republican legislators, of course.)

Your time is not unlike 50 years ago, when President John F. Kennedy, a young veteran of a swelling new generation, proclaimed: “In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility — I welcome it.”

Where will you lead our country at this critical juncture in its future — and in your own?

You’ve been eager all your life to be passed the baton. On behalf of a wounded nation, grab it and run.

Because if your generation votes, you will determine the outcome of the presidential election — pure and simple. 6/6/2012