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Role of Young Voters in Politics Continues to Grow

May 8, 2008 at 6:25 PM EST
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Young people are continuing to play a larger, more expanded role in politics, using new methods and networking technology. The authors of "Millennial Makeover: MySpace, YouTube and the Future of American Politics" examine the trend.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Young people are turning out to vote in record numbers and are poised to play a crucial role in the 2008 election. But who are these younger voters? And why are they interested in the election?

For that, we’re joined by Morley Winograd and Michael Hais, authors of new book entitled “Millennial Makeover: MySpace, YouTube and the Future of American Politics.”

Gentlemen, good to have you both with us.

MICHAEL HAIS, Co-Author, “Millennial Makeover: MySpace, YouTube and the Future Of American Politics”: Delighted to be here.

MORLEY WINOGRAD, Co-Author, “Millennial Makeover: MySpace, YouTube and the Future Of American Politics”: Glad to be here.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, I feel funny asking you this first question, because I just was involved in the last year or so working on two documentaries on the younger generation and what their interests are. But why the two of you? With all due respect, you may be over 30.

MORLEY WINOGRAD: Perhaps.

JUDY WOODRUFF: May be over 35. Why were you interested in writing about younger Americans, Morley Winograd?

MORLEY WINOGRAD: As we looked at the history of America, we saw these generational turning points or transitions, which have sometimes got the country in a great deal of trouble and sometimes have led the country to great new successes, because the young energy was brought into the civic and institutional life of the country in ways that really energize us, sometimes not so good.

We wanted to make sure, that this time around, people understood the millennials, older people, and welcomed them into the American political process.

The American youth experience

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, you do identify, Mike Hais, these -- every 30 or 40 years or so, there is this sort of turnover, if you will, in American politics. What makes you think we're poised for another turning right now?

MICHAEL HAIS: You're right, Judy. Every approximately 40 years, every four decades, in the United States, we experience what is political scientists call a realignment. We are using the term makeover, to be maybe a little more up to date with a term.

And these occur invariably for two reasons: one, because of the rise -- and they're interacting reasons -- but, one, because of the rise of a new large dynamic generation of young Americans, the coming of age of that generation.

In this instance, it's the millennial generation, who are Americans born 1982 to 2003, and also the rise and development of a new communications technology that that generation uses very effectively to mobilize itself and to have others help to mobilize them. And, in this instance, it's the Internet-based social networking communications.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, I know from -- from doing some work on this, that they are the most diverse generation in American history. What else distinguishes them?

MORLEY WINOGRAD: As you said, they're very large. There's about a million more millennials than there are baby boomers, twice as many millennials than the generation that preceded it, Generation X.

Their diversity is reflected in the fact that they do not recognize or care about racial and ethnic differences. They're also the most gender-neutral generation we have seen in American history. Females and males work together without thinking about who is the traditional role and what role should that be?

And, in fact, in college participation and professional school attendance, in a lot of different ways, the females are outachieving the males.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you characterize their -- their political views? I mean, you point out that they are voting more Democratic than Republican. But is there a way of labeling them?

MICHAEL HAIS: Well, we refer to them as a civic generation. And that means that they are a generation that is not intent on -- as other types of generations are -- not intent on implementing their own personal moral values, but rather in rebuilding civic institutions, in acting together as a group to resolve political problems, which we expect the millennials to do, problems such as health care that have really bedeviled the U.S. political process for the last 40 years or so.

MORLEY WINOGRAD: So, their parents raised them share. And they had them watch "Barney" and make sure that everybody was treated equally. And we came to win-win situations.

So, they come to the political process with a collective point of view, and therefore tend to be Democratic. And, in fact, this is the first generation in about five decades where a greater number label themselves as liberal, rather than conservative.

Technology and self-organization

JUDY WOODRUFF: Why is it -- what is it about Barack Obama that has turned so many of them out?

MORLEY WINOGRAD: Well, he has a unifying message, so it's -- that's important, because these are not a generation interested in the confrontational culture wars of the boomers.

But he -- and his background, which is very diverse in and of itself, so he sort of captures that nature of this generation. But I think maybe the most important thing is that he's combined that message with the right medium. He's really organized on social network -- around social network platforms to build the kind of support he's been able to demonstrate, at least in many of the states.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And what is it about this, because your title is "MySpace, YouTube and the Future of American Politics." What is it, Mike Hais, about this sort of explosion of communications technology that we're going through that sort of coexists with this younger generation?

MICHAEL HAIS: Well, it really fits with the lifestyle of this generation, with the style of the way this generation operates and lives.

It is not a generation that accepts things from the top down, kind of a -- really a broadcast model, but, instead, it's a generation where the members meet together and interact with one another in group settings. And it's not -- and it's in group settings obviously when they are dealing with one another face to face, but even more often perhaps, in group settings as they interact with one another through their use of their cell phones, their laptops, and so on.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And how does that translate into their interaction with politics, with the political world?

MORLEY WINOGRAD: Well, it allows a campaign to have its supporters self-organize. Sort of the dream of every organizational political hack is to not have to spend any money getting all those people energized.

And here's an opportunity to do so right on the Net, right all the time. So, now, you know, on mybarackobama.com, a million people, and Hillary's campaign generating more money from the Net than they have before. This causes people to suggest to each other that they ought to be active, as opposed to have the campaign tell them to be active or to take a particular position and point of view.

Youth bring own style to politics

JUDY WOODRUFF: To the extent this is a turning point, a makeover moment, as you call it, what should we expect from this generation? What are they going to do differently in the way -- when they get control...

MICHAEL HAIS: Well, I would say at least two things.

One will be the style and tone of politics. Instead of the confrontation, instead of a situation where, as we have seen, again, for the last four decades, where you have extreme liberals, extreme conservatives banging at each other, and very little is accomplished, this generation will lead a realignment in which people will get together and they will try to come up with common solutions, win-win solutions that essentially can be used to benefit all of society. So, the style of politics will be different.

But also I think the kind of politics, political public policy that we will see will reflect this. We will see a decrease in economic inequality, for example, because this generation is very concerned with the welfare of the entire group. We will see less emphasis on social issues that have concerned the public, the things...

JUDY WOODRUFF: By social issues, you mean abortion and...

MICHAEL HAIS: Abortion, gay rights.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Gay rights.

MICHAEL HAIS: It's a generation, for example, that two-thirds of its members have no problems with gay marriage. It just is a nonissue with them. And, so, they will move on to other, more basic economic and foreign policy concerns.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But real policy changes...

MORLEY WINOGRAD: Significant policy changes. The American political landscape will change completely over the next decade.

This election, only about 35 percent of the millennials are eligible to vote. They have already had a tremendous impact no matter how the Democratic primary contest ends. Now, think about in 2020, when 100 percent of this generation and its attitudes are in the electorate in those kind of numbers. It will be a completely different political scene.

Tuned in or dropped out?

JUDY WOODRUFF: Will this generation stay engaged if the candidate they like is not the nominee or is not elected in November?

MORLEY WINOGRAD: I think that remains to be seen. It depends upon whether the process was done fairly.

Remember, this is a generation that was also raised in young sports, where nobody keeps score and everybody gets a trophy for playing. And they're looking for fair dealings and due process. And the Democratic Party has really got a moment in front of us to decide whether it can do that in a way that satisfies this generation's need for fairness.

MICHAEL HAIS: If the Democratic Party can pass that test, then, yes, I would expect this generation to be engaged in very strong ways, because they are optimistic, because they are positive, because they do believe that, by interacting with their colleagues, with the other members of their generation, the other members of their group, that they can make a difference.

And, normally, what we have found in the kind of civic political realignments we are talking about is that voting participation stays high for the entire 40 years, four decades of the realignment.

MICHAEL HAIS: So, this surge is just the -- going to be the routine of the future.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, that's something to look forward to. More participation is a good thing for democracy.

MICHAEL HAIS: Absolutely.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right.

Morley Winograd, Mike Hais, thank you very much.

The book is "Millennial Makeover."

MORLEY WINOGRAD: Thank you very much, Judy.