The Importance of Generation Y
by Chris Bowers, Fri Dec 01, 2006 at 10:01:52 AM EST
This is important because if someone develops a voting pattern at a young age, that person is likely to continue voting that way throughout her or his life:Continuing a trend that began in the mid-1990s, young voters once again disproportionately identified themselves as liberals and gave a supermajority to Democrats. Unless basic findings of political science have been repealed, these formative experiences of early adulthood are likely to influence electoral behavior throughout the life of this cohort. Generation X (1965-1976), has pretty much passed the age where formative voting experiences are developed. However, it is a small generation, and while it leans Democrat (and is more liberal than older generations, as conservatives only hold an eight-hold ideological self-identification edge), it is nowhere near the level of progressive generation that is still under the age of thirty. In a rather stunning statistic, ideological self-identification among Gen Yers actually slightly favors liberals, despite a double-digit gap for conservatives within the nation as a whole. This is a generation that is also only 61% white, and less than 40% white Christian. In short, it does not cohere with the ideological or identity tendencies of the modern conservative movement at all.
Given its enormous size, if Generation Y grows to voting and political maturity with the same ideological and partisan tendencies it currently displays, it will entirely transform the national political environment by serving as the backbone of by far the most progressive governing majority America has ever experienced. How do we make that happen? The battle can actually be nearly won in less than two years time, if Democrats nominate a candidate loved by young people, and if that nominee becomes President. Consider the following:Speaking as a political scientist.... Generally speaking, the "you get more conservative as you get older" myth really is a myth. People's ideological/partisan identification don't change much after the age of 30. If someone votes for the same party three times in a row, they're hooked for life. It takes some earth-shattering to change after that.
People don't get more conservative as they get older, but they do get more rigid. What happens is that ideology acts as an informational screen - people shield out stuff that is inconsistent with their predispositions (which is why FOX News works). So as we get older, our attitudes get reinforced.
So liberals should NOT get happy if people who are under 30 are on the left, because the young are very volatile. But after thirty, it's smooth sailing. If the 2008 Democratic nominee becomes President, then that person will almost certainly be the Democratic nominee in 2012 as well. If that person is loved by young people, then that will make a long, 2004-2012 run where young voters broke heavily for Democrats, self-identified as Democrats, and self-identified as liberals. Thus, it will match the 1980-1988 run where young Late Boomers broke heavily for Republicans in the three Presidential landslides of that decade. When that generation grew to political maturity, it resulted in by far the most Republican-identifying generation in over half a century, the 1994 Republican landslide, and the general sense of creeping conservatism the country experienced through the 1990's and first half of our current decade. Generation Y holds the potential to do exactly the same thing for America, only in reverse, for the 2000 "teens," 2020's and 2030's. And much, if not most, of whether or not that happens will depend on what Democrats do over the next two years.
Realignments do not have to take place in just a single election. The Republican and conservative "revolution" was a slow climb, starting with the election of 1978 and ending in the election of 2002. In the 1930's, the New Deal coalition was built over the course of several elections, starting really in 1930 and continuing until 1938. Considering the demographic and political characteristics of Generation Y, the period starting in 2006 and ending in 2012 has the potential to forge a long-term, very progressive, solid-blue governing majority in America for a long time to come. Finding a potentially transformational Presidential candidate is an essential part of making this happen. Here is to hoping that at least one Democratic candidate will be able to step up and fill that role.