Winning the Millennials
Posted on February 25, 2010
Andrew Kohut of the Pew Charitable Trust released an interesting snapshot of America’s youngest voters.
Calling it “A Portrait of the Millennial as a Young Adult,” Kohut says that voters from ages 18 to 29 are “confident, self-expressive, liberal, upbeat and open to change. They are more ethnically and racially diverse than older adults. They’re less religious, less likely to have served in the military, and are on track to become the most educated generation in American history. Their entry into careers and first jobs has been badly set back by the Great Recession, but they are more upbeat than their elders about their own economic futures as well as about the overall state of the nation.”
They are also the most connected generation. They are likely to sleep with their cell phones, and they’re pretty much all on Facebook. They loved Obama when he ran for president, but they don’t love him as much right now. While they are liberal in their orientation, they also are more respectful of their parents, and their No. 1 goal in life, according to Kohut, is to get married and have a family.
For Republicans, this poll is a roadmap for the political future. They can write the Millennials off (and hope that they don’t turn up in the next 20 elections) or they can adjust their rhetoric and rethink their strategic goals in order to come up with an agenda that can inspire younger Americans to vote for positive change.
Younger voters are the first truly on-demand generation. They were the first to embrace the iPhone world. Their television viewing habits have destroyed the old paradigms of media communication. They don’t read newspapers anymore. They are much more used to diversity in the workforce, diversity in school — and with their splintered media world, this more diverse world has more power to decide how it wants to be informed and entertained.
This on-demand generation expects the political world to respond to its on-demand demands. And if the politicians fail to deliver, the Millennials will move on.
The Millennials are used to change. In fact, they embrace it. They have collective attention deficit disorder. They also are confident about the future. Unlike many baby boomers who are going through a massive midlife crisis, the youngsters generally think the future will be bright for them.
Millennials are creative, and probably the most educated generation in American history. That is why they are the most confident about the future — because they know that we are moving from the information age to the creativity age.
Because we now have so much power at our fingertips to learn, to create, to share and to inform, creativity will soon be king (if that isn’t already the case). The Millennials are way ahead of every other generation when it comes to the Creative Revolution.
We saw the first glimpses of the Creative Revolution during the Obama campaign. You had the Obama Girl videos, the short-code revolution, the mass mobilization parties done through Twitter and Facebook.
Conservatives turned this revolution on its head with the Tea Party movement. It should have been no surprise that Ron Paul won the straw poll at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), because more than any other Republican politician, he has embraced the tenets of the Creative Revolution. His libertarian principles play well with an on-demand generation that simply wants the government to stay out of its bedrooms and private lives.
The Republicans should have a slight edge over Democrats in winning over the Millennials. While Democrats tend to stress their love of the creative class, in actuality, they favor older government structures and work rules that are out of date. Their view of the on-demand world is that the government demands how businesses and employees collaborate.
While Republicans may seem out of step with Millennials, especially because their social conservatives have such hostility to gay rights and insist so ardently for traditional values, the free-market principles of the party, which stress a light touch on regulation and more freedom to allow a rapidly changing marketplace to evolve on its own, should work well with younger voters who see all of the opportunities that come from the Creative Revolution.
Republicans’ challenge is to come up with a compelling issue matrix aimed at unleashing the Creative Revolution. That will give all Americans the best tools to cope and thrive in a rapidly evolving society, and perhaps give Millennials a better reason to vote for the GOP in the next election.
Feehery served for 15 years in the House Republican leadership, including six years with Speaker Denny Hastert. President of The Feehery Group, a strategic communications firm, he can be read at pundits.thehill.com and thefeeherytheory.com.