New Book Explores How Millennials Shape American Life, Culture

September 26, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT
The new book, "Millennial Momentum: How a New Generation Is Remaking America," explores how young people coming of age are reshaping American life and culture. Judy Woodruff speaks with authors Morley Winograd and Michael D. Hais.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, young people coming of age and reshaping American life and culture.

Judy Woodruff has our book conversation.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How much can one generation tell us about the direction of the country? A lot, according to a new book.

“Millennial Momentum: How a New Generation Is Remaking America” examines the way in ways in which young people are changing the way Americans learn, work, vote and even entertain themselves.

I’m joined now by its co-authors. They are Morley Winograd and Michael Hais. I talked to them in 2008 about their first book that was focused on this particular generation, “Millennial Makeover: MySpace, YouTube, and the Future of American Politics.”

Morley Winograd and Mike Hais, thank you both and welcome back.

MORLEY WINOGRAD, “Millennial Momentum: How a New Generation Is Remaking America”: It’s delightful to be back.

MICHAEL HAIS, “Millennial Momentum: How a New Generation Is Remaking America”: Wonderful to be back, Judy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, I think I already know the answer to this question, but, Morley Winograd, let’s just put it out there. Why is it so important to focus on this generation do you think?

MORLEY WINOGRAD: Well, as you were one of the first to say with generation next stories, this is the largest generation in American history. There’s 95 million millennials born between 1982 and 2003.

They are all becoming adults and which will have a major impact on our politics, but also on all of the institutions of America. They’re the most diverse generation in American history. And their unified beliefs are going to change the way America thinks.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Other than diversity, Mike Hais, how are they different in ways that are relevant for what we’re talking about?

MICHAEL HAIS: They are different because, unlike earlier generations, they are oriented toward one another, toward the group, towards society. They are not driven by individual desires or individual values.

It’s true they have very strong, passionate beliefs, but they are also highly pragmatic. They work with one another to solve their own problems as a group, but also writ large the problems and concerns of society and the nation.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Morley Winograd, what you write about in this book is how this generation will be remaking America. What are some of the important things you see them doing to change the direction of this country?

MORLEY WINOGRAD: The most important thing is this generation’s ability to generate change from the bottom up, and to do so with individual action at the local level.

They are absolutely committed to improving the country and perfectly happy with the country setting goals and laying out ambitions of what it wants to accomplish. But when it comes to actually doing those things, millennials will provide the same kind of disruptive energy that we have seen in the Arab spring, that we saw in the Napster revolution of the music industry.

This is a generation that is going to shake up every institution that thinks it can be run top-down.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mike Hais, give us a couple of examples of changes you see this generation making.

MICHAEL HAIS: Well, in all sorts of areas, in entertainment, for example, the style and tone of American entertainment is going to change from kind of the harsh, rap-oriented type of music that we’re used to, to a softer, but much more optimistic kind of music.

In sports, we are going to see a generation that’s going to change from kind of the individualism of, say, a Barry Bonds to the team play of a Dustin Pedroia in baseball.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What about in terms of the workplace?

MORLEY WINOGRAD: In the workplace, they present enormous challenge for those who think that this is a place where you control what happens and you supervise closely.

They’re interested in opening up corporate life, in involving their friends in those decisions, whether they work for the company or not. And they’re not about to respect authority or command-and-control in the workplace any more than they do in other parts of their life. And so this generation is already creating great challenges, but also bringing great energy to the work force.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We are, of course, in a major economic disruption right now in this country. We have come out of a recession, but times are tough, high unemployment. How does this generation see the role of government and how do you see them handling dealing with, Mike Hais, high unemployment, just tough economy?

MICHAEL HAIS: Well, first of all, with regard to government, they certainly see a role, a major role for government. They believe very strongly — a majority of millennials believe, for example, in a government that provides important services, that is not withdrawn from the economic system.

But they don’t see government providing big, huge bureaucracies. Rather, they see government almost as a parent providing guidance, overall policies, which as millennials, they will work with one another and more at the local level to figure out a way of implementing those policies. So government provides guidelines. It may provide resources, but millennials will work with one another at the local level to implement those policies.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Morley Winograd, quickly, remind us how you can be confident of these observations. I know you did a lot of research, a lot of polling. But what makes you think you’re right?

MORLEY WINOGRAD: Well, we did a lot of survey research. We had cooperation from your friends at Pew, as well as Mike’s former company Frank N. Magid Associates.

But the generational cycles that we have used to predict the outcome of the 2008 election when we wrote a book in 2007 are just as applicable to how they change society. Every 80 years, we have this enormous debate, the one we’re in the middle of right now, that tears the country apart about what kind of government we should have, what civic ethos we should have.

And in every case, from the Revolutionary War, to the Civil War, to the New Deal, this kind of generation has come along and provided the country the directional and guidance it needs. And amongst this generation, we’re going to see people as powerful in their adulthood as the founding fathers, some of our founding fathers and members of the G.I. generation.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Wow. That’s quite a — that’s quite a prediction.

Mike Hais, what about voting behavior and their view of politics? We know this generation went overwhelmingly for the Democrat, Barack Obama in 2008. What does it look like they’re thinking now?

MICHAEL HAIS: They are still leaning Democratic, maybe not quite as strongly this time as they did in 2008.

But the most recent Pew party identification numbers for millennials still show a majority of millennials, about 52 percent, identifying as Democrats and 39 percent identifying as Republicans. They tend to have liberal beliefs on economic issues, on social issues, on issues relating to race relations and ethnicity.

So they — and they still very much like Barack Obama. They have very favorable attitudes towards him and they’re more — more positive about his job performance than are other generations. So I would count them in the Democratic coalition, but they still must be asked by the Democrats and by the president to support him.

MORLEY WINOGRAD: And they should be asked because they’re one out of every four voters in 2012, much more…

JUDY WOODRUFF: But, traditionally, politicians have not looked to the younger voters because they don’t vote in as high numbers…

MORLEY WINOGRAD: Well, hopefully, they learned their lesson in 2008. The turnout amongst this generation was tremendous. There were as many of millennials voting in 2008 as there were senior citizens. And that was before so many more of them turned 18.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we know that Republicans also observed what happened in 2008. And they seem to be trying to go after…

MORLEY WINOGRAD: Well, you have seen people like Margaret Hoover and Sen. McCain’s daughter talk about the Republicans’ need to address the millennial generation, but both of them have warned their party, out of loyalty, that they cannot take the rigid, intolerant social issue positions they do and still win millennial votes.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Last question to the two of you. Why are you so passionate about this question of the younger generation? I mean, three of us sitting around this table, with all due respect to the two of you, we’re not in that generation. What drives your interest?

MICHAEL HAIS: Well, we are Americans. We have optimism and confidence in our country.

And, quite frankly, we believe this generation is going to solve — because it does work together, because it is optimistic, it is going to solve and get us past some of the problems that perhaps older generations have left for them and for us.

MORLEY WINOGRAD: And we are passionate about it because we believe that the current leadership, the generations providing leadership in Washington in particular, do not understand the future like this generation does and are unwilling to compromise in order to accomplish what this country needs to do.

So we’re passionate about the generation, so that older folks will get out of the way and let these folks take over and provide guidance.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You see them as willing to compromise?

MORLEY WINOGRAD: Absolutely, pragmatic and idealistic at the same time, very high support of compromise to get something done in the survey research we did.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, I know some people listening to that will take heart at hearing that.

MORLEY WINOGRAD: We bring a message of hope.


JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, I know many people will take heart at hearing that.

Thank you very much. The book is “Millennial Momentum.”

Mike Hais, Morley Winograd, we appreciate it.

MORLEY WINOGRAD: Thank you for having us.

MICHAEL HAIS: Thank you.