Commentary Magazine


Topic: millennials

Obama’s “Coalition of the Ascendant” Is Collapsing

National Journal’s Ron Brownstein has written that it was a “coalition of the ascendant”–minorities, the millennial generation, and college-educated whites, especially women–that powered his 2008 and 2012 victories. That’s true enough–but as Brownstein’s colleague Ron Fournier points out in his column, that coalition is crumbling.

In particular, Fournier writes, young Americans are turning against Barack Obama and ObamaCare, according to a new Harvard University Institute of Politics survey of millennials, people between the ages of 18 and 29.

Here’s his summary of the findings:

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National Journal’s Ron Brownstein has written that it was a “coalition of the ascendant”–minorities, the millennial generation, and college-educated whites, especially women–that powered his 2008 and 2012 victories. That’s true enough–but as Brownstein’s colleague Ron Fournier points out in his column, that coalition is crumbling.

In particular, Fournier writes, young Americans are turning against Barack Obama and ObamaCare, according to a new Harvard University Institute of Politics survey of millennials, people between the ages of 18 and 29.

Here’s his summary of the findings:

Obama’s approval rating among young Americans is just 41 percent, down 11 points from a year ago, and now tracking with all adults. While 55 percent said they voted for Obama in 2012, only 46 percent said they would do so again.

When asked if they would want to recall various elected officials, 45 percent of millennials said they would oust their member of Congress; 52 percent replied “all members of Congress” should go; and 47 percent said they would recall Obama. The recall-Obama figure was even higher among the youngest millennials, ages 18 to 24, at 52 percent.

While there is no provision for a public recall of U.S. presidents, the poll question revealed just how far Obama has fallen in the eyes of young Americans.

IOP director Trey Grayson called the results a “sea change” attributable to the generation’s outsized and unmet expectations for Obama, as well as their concerns about the economy, Obamacare and government surveillance.

The president’s approval ratings among millennials are below 40 percent on the economy, health care, ObamaCare, Syria, and Iran–and below 30 percent on the budget deficit.

“The results blow a gaping hole in the belief among many Democrats that Obama’s two elections signaled a durable grip on the youth vote,” according to Fournier. “Indeed, millennials are not so hot on their president.”

More broadly, according to an Institute of Politics analysis, “Millennials are losing touch with government and its programs because they believe government is losing touch with them.”

The results of this survey, like virtually every other one over the last month or so, ought to alarm Mr. Obama. The problem for the president is that the collapse he’s experiencing isn’t isolated to one issue or one area; it’s across the board, on matters of policy and character, and seems to be accelerating.

Reality is finally catching up with Mr. Obama, and it looks to be wrecking his presidency.

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Young Voters Give Obama “A” for Effort

It’s no secret that the Republican Party is struggling with its message–and appeal–to millennial voters. Yesterday the College Republican National Committee released a new report written principally by a research analyst with the Winston Group, Kristen Soltis Anderson, with the aim of explaining how the GOP got in a rut with young voters and what it can do to dig itself out. Anderson and her associates conducted extensive focus groups nationwide with various populations, spanning the ethnic, educational and wealth divide. There’s no magic bullet for Republicans to win the majority of the youth vote back (the CRNC report reminds readers of the fact that George W. Bush lost young voters by more points than he lost seniors).

At Outside the Beltway Doug Mataconis has a good roundup of the report’s findings and the issues the GOP clearly has to take on in order to remain relevant. Many of the points are no surprise: gay marriage is viewed as a deal breaker for many young voters who might otherwise be almost entirely on board with the GOP with other major issues. Young voters are less likely to view the GOP’s strong record on defense as a net positive, as many have little, if any, memory of the tragic events of September 11, 2001. 

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It’s no secret that the Republican Party is struggling with its message–and appeal–to millennial voters. Yesterday the College Republican National Committee released a new report written principally by a research analyst with the Winston Group, Kristen Soltis Anderson, with the aim of explaining how the GOP got in a rut with young voters and what it can do to dig itself out. Anderson and her associates conducted extensive focus groups nationwide with various populations, spanning the ethnic, educational and wealth divide. There’s no magic bullet for Republicans to win the majority of the youth vote back (the CRNC report reminds readers of the fact that George W. Bush lost young voters by more points than he lost seniors).

At Outside the Beltway Doug Mataconis has a good roundup of the report’s findings and the issues the GOP clearly has to take on in order to remain relevant. Many of the points are no surprise: gay marriage is viewed as a deal breaker for many young voters who might otherwise be almost entirely on board with the GOP with other major issues. Young voters are less likely to view the GOP’s strong record on defense as a net positive, as many have little, if any, memory of the tragic events of September 11, 2001. 

One issue that pops up in the report several times, however, is the notion that while President Obama and his party haven’t come close to solving the major issues on the minds of young voters, namely the economy, jobs, student loan debt and, to a lesser extent, healthcare, voters were willing to give the president an “A” for effort. Soltis explains:

Despite those poor marks for Obama and the Democrats on the economy, Democrats held a 16-point advantage over the Republican Party among young voters on handling of the economy and jobs (chosen as the top issue by 37% of respondents). For those respondents who said they approved of the job Obama had been doing as president, the number one word they used? “Trying.” He was trying. Young voters were disappointed in Obama’s performance, but gave him credit for attempting to improve the situation.

Millennials seem particularly susceptible to this “participation trophy” mindset, which is one indication of the extension of certain markers of childhood well into adulthood. Yet parents are far from blameless. A recent piece in Psychology Today, entitled “A Nation of Wimps,” describes just how devastating the trendy brand of parenting known as “helicopter parenting” can be for the offspring of the most well-intentioned of parents:

The end result of cheating childhood is to extend it forever. Despite all the parental pressure, and probably because of it, kids are pushing back—in their own way. They’re taking longer to grow up.

Adulthood no longer begins when adolescence ends, according to a recent report by University of Pennsylvania sociologist Frank F. Furstenberg and colleagues. There is, instead, a growing no-man’s-land of postadolescence from 20 to 30, which they dub “early adulthood.” Those in it look like adults but “haven’t become fully adult yet—traditionally defined as finishing school, landing a job with benefits, marrying and parenting—because they are not ready or perhaps not permitted to do so.”

Using the classic benchmarks of adulthood, 65 percent of males had reached adulthood by the age of 30 in 1960. By contrast, in 2000, only 31 percent had. Among women, 77 percent met the benchmarks of adulthood by age 30 in 1960. By 2000, the number had fallen to 46 percent.

The reelection of Barack Obama, however, highlights another unfortunate side-effect of parents who insist that every child, regardless of merit or achievement, receive a participation trophy. When these young people “grow up” (while they may not necessarily be adults, they are at least of voting age), they consider any effort, even with dismal planning and execution, worthy enough of a trophy–in this case, reelection. Soltis discusses how this translated for her focus group participants in terms of the health-care reform law:

Despite these concerns about the law, the general sentiment seemed to be that at least Obama had attempted to change things. Few felt like the current health care system was working well, and thus even with their concerns about how Obamacare might turn out, they once again gave the president credit for trying. As one participant in our focus group of young men in Columbus put it, “at least Obama was making strides to start the process of reforming health care.”

Research, including that of Psychology Today which linked higher rates of anxiety to helicopter parenting, indicates that children who aren’t given the opportunity to fail are disadvantaged for life. While the focus has thus far been on how this increasingly popular form of parenting affects individuals and their development, Soltis’s CRNC report contains frightening indications of how the “participation trophy” mindset could seriously damage our national political landscape. If young voters are content to elect anyone who appears on MTV and messages to them effectively, regardless of any proven record of success, the future of America is in more danger than it seemed in the immediate aftermath of the November election. 

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Obama’s Threat to the Millennial Generation

In his National Journal article, Ron Brownstein, in commenting on President Obama’s State of the Union address, wrote this:

Especially striking was how much of it seemed targeted directly at the massive and diverse millennial generation, born between 1981 and 2002. Obama addressed them repeatedly: by insisting that entitlement spending on the old must face some limits to prevent it from crowding out investment in the young; by framing climate change as a generational challenge; by pledging to provide young people with more training and to confront rising college costs; and by closing with a paean to citizenship that reflected their civic impulses. “They are the leading edge of where the country is headed ideologically as well as demographically,” one senior White House aide said.

Brownstein, a master of political data, points out that Obama won re-election by a comfortable margin despite “historically weak numbers among the older and blue-collar whites who traditionally anchored the conservative end of the Democratic coalition.” The president won because of his strong support from what Brownstein calls “the Democrats’ new national coalition” – including, importantly, the millennials.

I don’t doubt that in 2012 Obama won in part by his appeal to younger votes and that he’ll spend his second term trying to lock them in for future elections. But there is a substantive point that needs to be made regarding Obama’s appeal to millennial voters, and it goes something like this: the Democratic Party, because of it’s dogmatic resistance to serious entitlement reform, poses a tremendous risk to the millennial generation.

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In his National Journal article, Ron Brownstein, in commenting on President Obama’s State of the Union address, wrote this:

Especially striking was how much of it seemed targeted directly at the massive and diverse millennial generation, born between 1981 and 2002. Obama addressed them repeatedly: by insisting that entitlement spending on the old must face some limits to prevent it from crowding out investment in the young; by framing climate change as a generational challenge; by pledging to provide young people with more training and to confront rising college costs; and by closing with a paean to citizenship that reflected their civic impulses. “They are the leading edge of where the country is headed ideologically as well as demographically,” one senior White House aide said.

Brownstein, a master of political data, points out that Obama won re-election by a comfortable margin despite “historically weak numbers among the older and blue-collar whites who traditionally anchored the conservative end of the Democratic coalition.” The president won because of his strong support from what Brownstein calls “the Democrats’ new national coalition” – including, importantly, the millennials.

I don’t doubt that in 2012 Obama won in part by his appeal to younger votes and that he’ll spend his second term trying to lock them in for future elections. But there is a substantive point that needs to be made regarding Obama’s appeal to millennial voters, and it goes something like this: the Democratic Party, because of it’s dogmatic resistance to serious entitlement reform, poses a tremendous risk to the millennial generation.

Here’s why. The refusal by Democrats to reform entitlement programs in general, and Medicare in particular, means that we will continue to take money from poorer younger people to give it to wealthier older people. Consider: the Pew Research Center reported that over the past quarter-century, households headed by older adults have made dramatic gains in economic well-being relative to those headed by younger adults. In 2009, the average net worth of households headed by adults aged 65 and older was a record 47 times that of households headed by adults under the age of 35. In 1984, the ratio was 10-to-1. What explains this phenomenon? In part it’s because both Social Security and Medicare are open to virtually all American 65 and older, the programs are not means-tested, and their benefits are accruing to a demographic that is growing both in size and in wealth. 

Moreover, if no structural changes to Medicare are made, we will face a debt crisis that will harm the millennial generation above all. They will not have anything like the benefits the older generation has enjoyed. On top of that, our fiscal imbalance is getting worse, not better. The most recent CBO report, for example, predicts the 10-year cumulative deficit is forecast at nearly $7 trillion. This is both generational theft and a factor in our anemic economic growth and job creation, with the younger generation bearing the brunt of it. (The unemployment rate for the millennial generation is over 13 percent, significantly higher than the overall unemployment rate.) As a friend of mine put it, “The millennials are getting by far the worst deal out of Obama and they will suffer the consequences for the rest of their lives; while people over 55 are getting the best deal.”

The challenge the GOP faces, and the opportunity it has, is to explain to younger voters why conservatism is in their best interest; to cut through the Obama cant and demagoguery and obfuscations and explain – in a calm, persuasive, and empirically-grounded manner – why reforming the liberal welfare state is an urgent task, and for the millennial generation more than others.

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