"Millennials are poised to have an outsized influence on our politics due to their sheer size. But their values and beliefs have been misunderstood, if not openly maligned, largely because they are not seen in the context of this group's unique generational experiences."
A study released last month by Michelle Diggles of Third Way, a democratic think tank, dives into the demographics and experiences of millennials to determine what impact their unique experience will have on the Republican and Democratic parties and the future of politics and policy in general. Her conclusion? The political loyalties of Millennials like myself are up for grabs.
If knowledge is power, then Millennials have been empowered at an earlier stage in life than any other generation.
Unlike prior generations, whose access to news and information absolutely pales in comparison to the real-time, non-stop, 24/7 news cycle, Diggles notes that Millennials possess "a network of connections and options" which makes them "self-reliant explorers seeking out solutions from any corner of the world." The ability to find the answer to any question at any time leaves them with little patience for the "behind-the-curtain" antics.
Carefully stage-managed personalities - in politics, entertainment, or any field - may alienate Millennials who crave immediate feedback and the truth behind the mirage.
Brand loyalty just isn't what it used to be.
At the moment, I can't think of one specific brand to which I am 100% loyal. For anything. If it works and I like it, I buy it. If I find something better, I don't hesitate to switch brands. Apparently, I'm not alone.
Much to the chagrin of many in marketing, Millennials are much more willing than previous generations to switch from even their most favored brands if they can get a better deals or more of the features they want. Millennials don't feel limited by brand loyalty - true in the marketplace of goods and services as well as politics.
Diggles chalks this mentality up to the "choice and personalization rule":
They expect brands to genuinely engage with consumers and won't be satisfied with simply being ignored or having someone sell them a pre-made product. Living in an a la carte world with unlimited options, Millennials don't feel they have to choose between two limited choices. if they don't like a product, think the price is too high, or don't agree with a company's role in society, they are likely to switch brands.
From a political standpoint, Diggles states that the a la carte lifestyle to which we've become accustomed makes us less likely than our predecessors to stick with the political party with which we initially aligned. In addition, not only are Millennials less likely to stay loyal to a political party, we are less likely to be happy with having a choice of only two.
Political strategists often assume that once a pattern of partisan voting is established, voters will stick with their party, regardless of substantive policy disagreements that may emerge. But Millennials are less brand loyal than other generations at the outset, less likely to be satisfied with two static choices, and more apt to be swayed to change their tune then the voters who came before them.
Translation: you can win us over, but you'll have to fight to keep us. And according to the stats, which indicate that "at least half of younger voters now refuse to associate themselves with either political party," both parties have some work to do.
We still think/hope that government can be effective and helpful...for now.
According to Diggles, the one characteristic that set Millennials apart from every other generation was "a deep belief that government can play a positive role in people's lives."
In a 2011 Pew intergenerational comparison, Millennials supported a bigger government providing more services (56%) over a smaller one providing fewer services (35%), a near reversal of their Baby Boomer parents, who supported a smaller government (54%) over a bigger one (35%).
Just a year earlier - the year of the Tea Party takeover of Congress, in fact - 53% of Millennials said the government should be doing more to solve problems compared to 42% who felt the government was doing too many things better left to individuals and businesses. No other generation cohort said government should do more.
Make no assumptions about where our loyalties lie.
As noted above, the days of lifelong party loyalty "just because" are gone. While it may seem that the political winds blowing towards the Democrats, we will have no problem whatsoever deserting if they don't deliver.
[The Democrats] must demonstrate that government can function effectively and make good on its promises, rather than just relying on an initial openness to a more activist government.
The extreme and exclusive rhetoric currently coming out of the Republican party is doing them no favors among Millennials. We came of age during the financial collapse which means we heard story after story after story about people who lost their entire life savings through no personal fault of their own as a result of the "market". Therefore, it should come as no surprise that we aren't particularly swayed by the traditional "bootstrap" rhetoric. We want solutions, not grand speeches on principle.
For Republicans, an anti-government agenda, lacking constructive suggestions to solve big problems, will likely fall on deaf ears with this generation. Millennials may be cautious about "big government solutions" in the wake of perceived failures and shortcomings by lawmakers or new programs. But an agenda based solely on individual responsibility and market solutions to the challenges we face will be unlikely to garner widespread support among Millennials or inspire a new generation of voters.
All we know about this magical "free market" is that we are in debt up to our eyeballs with nothing to show for it.
The Starbucks barista with a master's degree cliche exists for a reason, and Millennials aren't buying the "let the market decide" approach for now. According to the study, 72% of Millennials believe "that a free market economy needs government regulation to serve the public's interest."
With high levels of student loan debt and unemployment, the basic bargain Millennials were offered - work hard and earn a college degree so you can get a good job - has seemingly disappeared overnight....
The market appears to have failed Millennials, and they are unsure that corporations and large financial institutions are acting in the public's best interest.
We are "spiritual" but not "religious".
Millennial views on gay marriage and other social issues still maligned by the Church (and Republicans), have have a clear negative impact on both relationships.
The role organized religion continues to play in modern American politics - primarily concentrated on the far right with an increasingly vocal fundamentalist tilt - is squarely out-of-step with many of younger people's views...And the fusion of orthodox religion and Republican Party social conservatism has saddled both of them with the problems of the other in the minds of Millennials.
Diggles goes further and states that like the free market, "the church appears to have failed [Millennials] as well - protecting priests embroiled in scandal and devaluing their gay friends and family as unequal and unwelcome."
We are tolerant and super diverse, but can be somewhat naive about civil rights and gender equality.
It should come as no surprise that Millennials are more tolerant of other cultures and lifestyles than our predecessors. In addition to online globalization, which enabled us to explore and interact with different cultures from our bedrooms, changes in the 1960's to immigration policy led to a substantial increase in legal immigration.
Millennials are not just composed of a greater diversity of racial and ethnic backgrounds than older generational cohorts, they also have relatively higher levels of interaction with people of other backgrounds. This has exposed them to the unique political, economic, and socio-cultural traditions of communities not traditionally dominant in American political discourse.
While we are much more enlightened when it comes to gay rights and immigration policy, Millennials appear to take for granted other rights that many fought so hard to obtain, but which "do not necessarily resonate with today's younger generation." While overt racism and sexism have, for the most part, been eradicated from civil society, there are still many latent barriers for women and people of color to overcome. But many Millennials "see both racism and race-based affirmative action as relics of an earlier age."
Among younger Millennials, 63% do not believe that race or gender will impact their future career prospects. And only 23% of those under 40 years old supported using race as a factor in university admissions, with a whopping 62% strongly opposed.
We are a slightly less "America! F$@* Yeah!"
Pointing out that "the oldest Millennials were eight years old when the Berlin Wall fell," and that "few remember the Soviet Union," Diggles states
Millennial concerns with international engagement stem from questions of style and form. While 70% of Americans say that the U.S. is the greatest country in the world, only 58% of Millennials agree. Given their racial and ethnic diversity, access to information from all over the globe, and high proportion of immigrant parents, Millennials are less likely than others to claim superiority for their country.
Millennials prefer a case-by-case approach to determining if a situation warrants international intervention which Diggles describes as "cooperative engagement."
They want us to take allies' interests into account even if it means we have to compromise or emphasize diplomacy over military strength, and they worry that emphasizing military force breeds hatred and leads to terrorism.
I wonder how we came to that conclusion?
The bottom line:
Neither party can afford to take Generation Y for granted, and neither party should get comfortable. Each must grasp early on that they will be held accountable for any promises they make, because the tide has the potential to quickly turn against them if they fail to do so. Parties will be judged by their actions and not their words.
This means compromise, not stubborn adhesion to the status quo to protect an abstract political ideal. This means transparency, into process and people. This means flexibility and willingness to change if something isn't working.
Millennials are not interested in catchy slogans and feigned interest in issues that affect them. They are interested in getting results. If they don't get them from one party, they will simply move on to another.