Can Hillary Clinton Learn from her Mistakes in Iowa--or even History?

I saw this firsthand in the precinct I attended, what Morley is taling about in this post. Penn, I heard in an interview after the caucuses, acknowledged the strategic error. Jerome.

Morley Winograd is co-author with Michael D. Hais of Millennial Makeover: MySpace, YouTube and the Future of American Politics.

Despite all their efforts to put a positive spin on their Iowa showing on the plane to New Hampshire, the Clinton team couldn't avoid acknowledging the most important mistake they made in Iowa--discounting the youth vote.

Not only did Clinton lose to Barack Obama by an almost six to one margin among Millennial Generation (those under 25) caucus attendees, but also her weakness in this age group was the key to her overall loss among women. While Hillary carried the over 45 female vote 36%-24%, Obama won women under 45 by a 50%-21% margin and the surprisingly strong turnout among young caucus goers turned that margin into an overall defeat among the female constituency Hillary was counting on the most. Had she and her team only read their history, they wouldn't have been surprised by this outcome.

Every eighty years a "Civic" generation, like the GI Generation and now the Millennials, comes along with a determination to use their size and their facility with communication technology to change the political culture of America. 2008 will be the first election when Millennials, the largest generation in American history, born between 1982 and 2003, will be eligible to vote in sufficient numbers to tip the political scales to candidates who they favor, but they have already made their presence known to those analyzing election data, not just the latest poll results. They, along with the last remaining members of the GI Generation, were the only age groups to cast majority votes for John Kerry in 2004. The YouTube inspired involvement of Millennials in the Senate races in Virginia and Montana was the difference in those two close elections, returning Democrats to majority status in 2006. But those initial tremors are minor compared to the tsunami of change that Millennials will set in motion in the 2008 elections.

Jaded pollsters, like Clinton's Mark Penn, and columnists, like Thomas L. Friedman, who have been waiting for the emergence of a sizeable youth vote and youthful activism for decades, completely ignored this emerging phenomenon believing that today's youth would disappoint those hoping for any sign of political commitment, just as people under 25 had done ever since the 1970s. But that attitude, common among Baby Boomers who believe the entire world should think and act the way they do, represents a significant misreading of history.  Gen Xers, who adored and still revere Ronald Reagan and distrust government, were responsible for the decline in voter participation among young people in the 1980s and 1990s, but as studies by Harvard's Institute of Politics have demonstrated, ever since 9/11 today's youth have voted in increasing numbers, at a growth rate that surpasses that of all other generations. Now that they have a candidate like Barack Obama who appeals to this generation's partisan passion for changing America, their impact will reverberate across the country as loudly as it did in Iowa last week.

A careful observer of the Obama and Clinton campaigns' youth turnout efforts could have seen the results coming. Hillary's team were told to invite young people over for a night of watching TV shows like Gray's Anatomy or The Office, and use that opportunity to engage them in a conversation on the issues. Obama's team went about finding its cadre of supporters by using their website, built off of the FaceBook operating system or platform, in tune with Millennial's social networking habits. Once they found potential supporters, Obama's team didn't ask them to watch television, something Millennials do infrequently, unless it's on their laptop with shows downloaded from the Net, but to hang out at the local bar. There Michelle Obama, or "the closer" as her husband calls her, asked them to come out on caucus night and change America's politics forever.

Clinton's attempt to make her gender define the nature of the historic change in this election missed another important trait of Millennials. This generation is the most gender neutral, race-and ethnicity-blind group of young people in American history. Only sixty percent of Millennials are white; twenty percent have an immigrant parent; and, ninety percent have a friend of another race. While Baby Boomers are justifiably proud of their idealistic efforts on behalf of civil rights and women's rights, Millennials take diversity as a given and tolerance as the only acceptable behavior. That's why, on caucus night, young women voted for Obama and his message of hope, while older women felt motivated to support the first credible female candidate for President.  Once again, the Clinton's circle of Boomer advisors just couldn't understand why everyone wasn't thinking and behaving like they did. .

The generational differences in the two candidate's teams were embarrassingly obvious during their speeches to their supporters on caucus night. A collection of Silent and Boomer Generation former leaders, from Madeline Albright to Wesley Clark, not to mention Bill Clinton, was planted behind Hillary. Obama's backdrop was his kids, his wife and throngs of young supporters who knew that their efforts had created an historic moment for the country. Given this generational bias, really a blind spot in their thinking, it's hard to believe Hillary can fix her problem with Millennials before the final campaign showdown on February 5, let alone in the few days between Iowa and New Hampshire. But if she can't find a way to appeal to this emerging generation quickly and on its own terms, she will become the first, but certainly not the last, candidate whose failure to recognize the historical pattern of generational cycles in American politics has cost them their future.  

Morley Winograd is co-author with Michael D. Hais of Millennial Makeover: MySpace, YouTube and the Future of American Politics (Rutgers University Press, March 2008)

Tags: Baby Boomers, Barack Obama, Gen-X, GI Generation, Hillary Clinton, Iowa caucus, Mark Penn, Millennial Generation, NH Primary, Thomas Friedman, Youtube (all tags)



it seemed to me

that Obama pulled in a lot of the middle-aged women in my precinct as well as the young women.

I am really trying hard to understand why the youngest cohort is drawn so strongly to Obama. I listen to him, and I just don't get it. The message seems so transparently devoid of substance. Make me the vehicle for your hopes and dreams, fill in the blanks about what you think I will do.

I want to believe that Obama is going to make all these young people Democrats for life, the way so many of the Reaganjugen I knew in high school remained Republicans. It seems like it was a similar phenomenon--he had charisma and said things that made people feel good, and a lot of young people followed the crowd.

My fear is that these people are engaged in the Barack Obama movement and won't take the next step: absorbing progressive values and identifying as Democrats.

by desmoinesdem 2008-01-05 06:25PM | 0 recs
Re: it seemed to me

i've been waiting for someone to compare the obama effect to the reagan effect.  obviously, their viewpoints are very different, but i think their similarity is that they get people to change the way they think about government as a whole, rather than just about the people who are elected at any given time.  

i think this is what is needed to transcend the smaller give and take from election to election and effect a seachange in national ideology, much like the conservative ascent since reagan.  i'm hoping that in five, ten, and twenty years the "reagan democrats" will be displaced by the "obama independents".

by bluedavid 2008-01-05 07:17PM | 0 recs
Re: it seemed to me

Why wait, Obama's pollster Cornell Belcher said they were pursuing a Reagan strategy back in July. The difference is that Reagan was an extremely ideological Republican and explicitly built a campaign on movement conservatism before broadening his message. Obama claims to be post-partisan and has run from Democratic identity even before the General Election starts, he is building his campaign on Obama the symbol, not ideology.

by souvarine 2008-01-05 07:42PM | 0 recs
Re: it seemed to me

i disagree.  obama might talk about certain issues in an atypical way for a progressive, but he does not back away from a decidedly liberal agenda.  In much the same way that reagan got people to embrace a new way of thinking about government, i think obama can too.  (hopefully, with much better results this time!)  

Incidentally, reagan never would have had a political career had he not been a great actor.  i think much of the conservative reverence for him today has more to do with the "symbol" than the politician.  

by bluedavid 2008-01-05 07:53PM | 0 recs
Re: it seemed to me

Obama is a Democrat, but his message in the primary in not partisan. Reagan's message was always partisan. Conservatives revere Reagan because he brought the movement to power, only the media reveres him as a symbol.

I don't see how a post-partisan view of government will improve anything. We have real, substantive differences with Republicans over policy, process reforms won't make those differences go away. My fear, based on Obama's rhetoric in the campaign, is that he thinks we can get around those differences by listening to and compromising with Republicans, or by being less 'divisive'.

by souvarine 2008-01-05 08:29PM | 0 recs
Re: it seemed to me

This is exactly what I have been saying. Obama apears to be have a Reagan liek effect on voters. I know of many republicans who are planning to vote for Obama, not only by reregistering to vote in primaries but to vote for him in the GE if nominated. His voice is resonating with voters from both parties, gender, race, age etc. I am an Edwards supporter, I will stick with him to the end in this cycle, but if he doesnt get the nod, I pray Obama does and he wil get my support, and this is a conservative leaning Republican. The tme for change is now and either candidate can and wil bring it....Hillary is a washington politican, if gender is the only change she can bring.....its meaningless

by adbct 2008-01-06 03:30AM | 0 recs
Re: it seemed to me

Yea, I was rather taken back by it too, but then I started asking, and I think there's something there that could probably be related to those women who can be apoltical, but are also religious. The signs are what got me, "Hope" "Unity" that's pretty quasi-religious, but "Believe" and "Trust" wow, that blew me away, I had to grab those signs after the caucus. I remarked to someone today that Obama is the first mega-church candidate.

by Jerome Armstrong 2008-01-05 07:28PM | 0 recs
Re: it seemed to me

you know jerome, most americans are just not as cynical as you.  this is especially true of the politically ambivalent.  People want to believe that america can get better again.

by bluedavid 2008-01-05 07:31PM | 0 recs
Re: it seemed to me

Ohha, namecalling from the believers, yehaw.

by Jerome Armstrong 2008-01-05 07:34PM | 0 recs
Re: it seemed to me

not name-calling.  i'm not saying that i'm not cynical as well.  it's just very easy for political junkies to forget that we are a tiny tiny fragment of the voting public.  

i do support obama, but i wavered a good bit between he and edwards largely b/c i felt that edwards had more concrete plans.  at the end of the day though, i feel that in many ways obama's broad appeal could be what it takes to get this country to deal with the big problems that the last twenty years of tinkering haven't fixed.  

it takes more than 50% + 1 to do the big stuff, and i think obama could take us there.

by bluedavid 2008-01-05 07:37PM | 0 recs
Re: it seemed to me

I'm skeptical of Obama's chances still. Sure, the turnout of youth in Iowa was terrific, but he was very weak among older voters. And winning with 20% of the voting population isn't the same as with 50-60%. There's not a lot of weight in a prediction that voting habits are the same when you move from the excited to the casual, who each have one vote.

But I can be had, let me see Obama start winning majorities of older voters and win the nomination. I don't think it's gonna happen, but I'll set up an Obama mantle with my signs and start making offerings if that's what it takes for the general.

by Jerome Armstrong 2008-01-05 07:45PM | 0 recs
This is off-topic, but...

Jerome, in Breaking Blue, you mention that Obama's going to go on The Factor after the primaries are over. The article you cite does not mention O'Reilly or his show. Not once.

Do you have a source for the story?

by Kal 2008-01-05 08:14PM | 0 recs
Re: This is off-topic, but...

Ah crap, I put up the wrong link, thanks, I'l delete it. It's out there on msnbc, it's also on the WSJ article.

by Jerome Armstrong 2008-01-05 08:51PM | 0 recs
Re: it seemed to me

First of all, fantastic article.  Now, as far as what Obama's saying.  I wasn't that interested in Obama at first - like many others, I dismissed him as too inexperienced, no substance behind the charisma, etc.  Then I saw him speak - purely by accident, as he was stumping for my local Senate candidate in NJ and I was walking by.

First off, why he's a great campaigner.  He doesn't shout.  He doesn't talk in sound bites.  He just spoke, very conversationally, about American history, and the Democratic Party's place within it as the engine of positive social and political change.  He talked about how we're the party of good government; we're the party that stands up for the little guy; we're the party that wants to make good on America's still-unrealized ideals of equality and opportunity for all.  In other words, he actually articulated what the hell the Democrats stand for, which is better than any Democrat in my lifetime's been able to do.

That means a hell of a lot more to me than experience, which tends to mean lots of years spent in Congress capitulating to the Republicans.

by schroeder 2008-01-05 08:28PM | 0 recs
Re: it seemed to me

We think very much alike.  Reagan came across as a nice guy and had the twinkle in his eye, but every minute of every hour of every day, he was selling conservatism.  He couched it in common-sense appeals, sometimes he'd make up anecdotes like the famous welfare queen, but either way he was very explicitly trying to persuade Americans to a certain point of view.

I think Obama has the ability.  He clearly has the rhetorical styling, he knows how to frame a religious/moral appeal... he just, for whatever reason, doesn't do much of it.  I was really happy at the end of the debate tonight when he followed Hillary's lead in talking about the very clear difference between Democrats and Republicans in this election.

If we want him, or anyone, to be our Reagan then he's going to have to start making those progressive arguments.  Personal charisma alone won't transform a generation.

by Steve M 2008-01-05 08:56PM | 0 recs
Re: it seemed to me

I struggle with the source of his appeal, too, though I was impressed with his victory speech on Thursday, and got a feel for the emotional strength of his candidacy.  

In some ways, I think the Reagan analogy is a sound one, though one I'd never thought of before now, in that Obama is offering a vision of government to his supporters that is rooted less in policy issues and more in attitude.  Reagan's big push was for conservative policy but he emphasized the attitude that government was the problem.  Obama is, I think, interested in pursuing reasonably progressive policies, but his attitude is that partisanship is the problem.

I'm not surprised that young people would identify with that attitude, but the idea that it is partisanship in general rather than the corrupted and perverted notion of partisanship as practiced by Bush, Cheney, Delay, Cunningham, etc. that is the problem, doesn't give a proper perspective of recent history to a generation that has never experienced anything else.  More worrisome, it lends itself to the notion that Obama the man rather than a reformed and strengthened Democratic party offers the only hope for changing the country for the better.  What happens post-Obama, or if Obama fails to deliver change to the extent that Bill Clinton failed to deliver change?  Do all those newly engaged voters become disenchanted and disengage from the process - perhaps permanently?  What a loss and what a missed opportunity if this is really our moment for realignment.

by katerina 2008-01-05 10:15PM | 0 recs

Hillary offers MORE OF THE SAME.  She is offering the RESTORATION OF CLINTONISM.  

Obama is offering something new, but it's not clear what.  He is articulate, he is JFK with a dusky hue.

If I were young, it would be obvious which to take: Barack.  The young do NOT want more Clintonism.  They have heard, over and over, from the Repukeliscum, how evil the Clintons are.  I don't think they believe that, but the connotations have sunk in.

Obama offers new, Hillary offers old.  Why is this so difficult to understand?

by dataguy 2008-01-06 02:34AM | 0 recs

Even worse than that, for this generation's entire life it has been Bush, Clinton, Bush...  There really is no appeal AT ALL for continuing that progression.

This generation doesn't give a damn about the Baby Boomer's social wars and sees those wars as the source of all our problems.  Basically, they are right.  Those wars have done nothing but get people who would normally vote for more populist economic policies to join forces with the mega-wealthy.

Obama's message may not be Democratic partisan, but it is extremely liberal.  I already see some evidence of the Republican parting moving to the left, and I expect that will continue in spades of Obama is elected.  That's a good thing.

by Mark Matson 2008-01-06 11:26AM | 0 recs
Re: Can Hillary Clinton Learn from her Mistakes in

excellent post.  and also excellent comment from desmoinesdem.  I'm a boomer with the same problem listening to Obama--namely, what exactly is he talking about?  I'm not willing to fill in the blanks--thaqt's why I rank the big three Edwards, Clinton, Obama--but I'd also

by Thaddeus 2008-01-05 06:36PM | 0 recs
Re: Can Hillary Clinton Learn from her Mistakes in

I think this and Mike Lux's state of play post at OpenLeft are the best critiques of Clinton's campaign I've read. Maybe she can grind it out with her current strategy but I hope she listens and broadens her appeal.

by souvarine 2008-01-05 07:10PM | 0 recs
Re: Can Hillary Clinton Learn from her Mistakes in

"Gen Xers, who adored and still revere Ronald Reagan and distrust government"

Seriously?  You actually think we adored and revere the man we were scared to death of when we were in high school because we truly thought this dunderhead was going to destroy the world in a mine's-bigger-than-yours nuclear showdown with the Russians?

I mean...really?  That's actually what you think?


by BarmyFotheringayPhipps 2008-01-05 07:47PM | 0 recs
Re: Can Hillary Clinton Learn from her Mistakes in

Let me second that.  When I was 8 years old (during Reagan's first term), my friends and I used to sit at the cafeteria table in my elementary school and talk about, when the bombs fell, would it be better to be at the blast point and killed immediately, or to be further away and die of radiation poisoning.  That was my mindset when I was 8.  Because even then, I knew enough to be scared of what that senile old man with his finger on the button was capable of.  I have always hated Ronald Reagan and always will, and I know plenty of Gen-Xers who feel the same.

by schroeder 2008-01-05 08:13PM | 0 recs
Re: Can Hillary Clinton Learn from her Mistakes in

Reagan was the reason a lot of us are liberals today. Still, too many of our cohorts seemed lulled by the right's propaganda, and still swallow it to this day.

by Oregonian 2008-01-05 08:44PM | 0 recs
Re: Can Hillary Clinton Learn from her Mistakes in

Of course many of us disliked Reagan.  My parents were Dems and I never bought what he was selling.  But all you have to do is look at the numbers to see that we are part of the most conservative generation in memory.  A charismatic leader has that power.

by Steve M 2008-01-05 08:51PM | 0 recs
Re: Can Hillary Clinton Learn from her Mistakes in

I tip my hat to The Young Folks. As a not-really-Baby-Boomer and a not-really-Gen-Xer born in the mid-60s, I look with dismay upon my peers, who came of age under Reagan and seem most concerned with padding their portfolios, voting for Republicans, and playing golf (ugh).

These cool babes born in the 80s are liberal, hooked-in, and media- and Internet-savvy. They seem to be changing the world already.

You go, Millenials!

by Oregonian 2008-01-05 08:42PM | 0 recs
Re: Can Hillary Clinton Learn from her Mistakes in

Your analysis is excellent.  But I'd give a little more credit to the charisma and telegenic quality of Obama.

by moondancer 2008-01-05 08:52PM | 0 recs
Re: Can Hillary Clinton Learn from her Mistakes in

Something that's addressed in this post, that's still kind of baffling to me, is why more young women aren't more invested in electing the first woman President.  Whether they ought to be or not, it just seemed to me that they would be.

My wife is under 30 and a Hillary supporter and she can't tell me why this is, either.  Can anyone in that demographic at least speak to their personal perspective on this?

by Steve M 2008-01-05 08:58PM | 0 recs
Re: Can Hillary Clinton Learn from her Mistakes in

I think to this generation it is Obvious that a woman could be elected president.  It just isn't that big of a deal.  It's more like weird it hasn't happened before than a big deal it might happen now.

by Mark Matson 2008-01-06 11:31AM | 0 recs
Assertions, little meaningful evidence

Like any good Democrat and democrat, I am heartened by the surge of young voters in Iowa along with the increase in first-time attendees.  This can only be a good thing. Obama did very well among those under 30, and this, too, is a highly desirable development, especially if it is sustained beyond that state and is replicated in November.

Nonetheless, I think there is a great deal of wishful projection involved in claims to this effect, and nowhere more so than this post promoted to the front page.  The mere fact of increased participation by young and first time voters does not, by itself, explain these changes, especially in the absence of evidence carefully evaluated.  Increases in an election cycle are not necessarily lasting; only the passage of time affords one the position to render such determinations. A subtext of my argument is that it is at least possible a surge built on charisma and rhetorical mobilization, unless successfully channeled into institutional structures, will dissipate over time. For members of any demographic, including the Millennials, the notion they are part of a transformational generation is surely inviting, but self-congratulatory statements and analyses should not be taken at face value.  Evidence and logic are needed to assess such claims, and too frequently these are set aside in favor of preferred narratives, often by those asserting their own role as leading agents of change.  

1. Percentages can be very deceptive.  The post points out that Obama enjoyed a 6-1 margin among those under 25.  Fair enough.  Concluding this explains his victory requires an analysis of actual votes and voters. 12000 to 2000?  24000 to 4000?  Don't know, and this analysis says nothing on this question, nor does most reporting, for that matter. The picture is even more complicated when the post (and other reports) note a trebling of the number of young voters and observe younger voters are the fastest growing group of voters. There is literally nothing in politics that brings me greater joy.  But without knowing how many there were, on average, in prior cycles as compared to this cycle, the percentages lack the context we need to make a meaningful assessment of the change.  Also, given historic apathy, the rate of growth claim, standing alone, does not prove much.

2. In a post taking Clinton's team to task for ignoring history, both in the title and body, the total absence of historical analysis, let alone evidence, is highly ironic.  While obviously anecdotal in the extreme (though based on my interactions with students at two top American universities), I find a great many Millennials lack even a rudimentary understanding of history, even American history.  Worse, too many are shockingly disinterested in the topic (again, I make no claims of a generalized nature, this is merely my observation).  I am not one to look with nostalgia toward a glorious past, but without a basic understanding of history, it becomes all too easy to characterize unions as `just another special interest', to view politics through a putatively non-ideological lens, to view the motor of social change as emerging from fleeting expressions of preference, rather than the sustained work of institution building, both inside and outside parties and the electoral arena.  Perhaps most critically, in ignoring history, it becomes all too easy to imagine one's own time is the hinge of history.  While there is much I do not like about Senator Clinton, on this point at least, I think she is right.  Change is not expressing a preference, it is the hard work of institution-building, and commitment to collective, rather than aggregated individual, actions. In echoing Douglass, Edwards is right as well.

Consider this statement from the post:

Had she and her team only read their history, they wouldn't have been surprised by this outcome.  Every eighty years a "Civic" generation, like the GI Generation and now the Millennials, comes along with a determination to use their size and their facility with communication technology to change the political culture of America

WTF?  First, every eighty years?  Why is that?  Second, the GI generation to the Millenial generation is not eighty years.  Third, is this some sort of historical determinism?  What is the motor of this historical motion?  What was the new communication technology the GIs seized?  The atom bomb?

Then they proceed to attribute to youth voters the recent victories in Montana and Virginia.  Problem is, in a close election, every group is `key'.  This is the emptiest argument in politics.  Then they offer sweeping generalization about apathetic, GOP-voting Gen-Xers that is little more than warmed over conventional wisdom.

3. The unstated assumption that political tactics and messaging by a campaign caused the increase is open to challenge.  The war?  Economic insecurity?  Constitutional erosions and spying?  Nah.  It's Obama's Facebook outreach.  Please.  Also, even given that Obama is receiving a great deal of the youth support, it does not follow these mobilized voters would otherwise stay home or vote for GOPers.

Not impressed, though I am sure the notion is well-designed to sell their book.

by Trond Jacobsen 2008-01-05 09:02PM | 0 recs
Iowa History

Excellant analysis. I have been waiting for some enlightenment here.

It would seem Hillary is running an establishment campaign run by the village elders.

The Millenials (I prefer the label E-Tribe, We Never Eat Our Own) have finally built up momentum and are turning out, not for Barack, but for what he represents to them. I am quite concerned about his seemingly willingness to try to compomise with the minority party as I think any hand reaching out would return a bloody stump. It will take at least 12 years of successful progresive leadership to housebreak them.

Howard Dean started this snowball four years ago and it appears to be about halfway down the slope. I just hope it maintains some cohesion when it reaches hell.

I would feel comfortable with a Obama/Edwards ticket, but my first, populist choice is Edwards.

by Himself 2008-01-05 09:08PM | 0 recs
Re: Iowa History

You say your concerned about Obama's willingness to compromise with the minority party. But that is what we need in thic country, we dont have it know. Both parties have to be wiling to work for change, one cannot do it alone, it isnt possible.

by adbct 2008-01-06 03:32AM | 0 recs
Re: Can Hillary Clinton Learn

Baby Boomers who believe the entire world should think and act the way they do

Is this horseshit really necessary?

It is horseshit by the way, as well as totally extraneous to the theme of your post and a harsh attack on a large segment of the population.

by Trickster 2008-01-06 08:35AM | 0 recs
Re: Can Hillary Clinton Learn from her Mistakes in
thanks for all comments--positive and negative. One flaw that was pointed out correctly is that it is not exactly eighty years between 1776, 1860,1932 and 2008, but close. As we document in the book (with lots of the data requested by one poster)all the evidence suggests this will be a year with as much consequence for the country as those other three.
by Millennial Makeover 2008-01-06 08:54AM | 0 recs


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