Millennial Makeover: Is there a Lincoln or FDR in the 2008 race?

Lincoln and FDRThis evening, as I finished my work at Cooper, I took a walk over to the Great Hall to listen to Dr. Fred Shapiro introduce Morley Winograd and Michael Hais discuss their new book, “Millennial Makeover: MySpace, YouTube and the Future of American Politics” with a talk asking the question, “Is there a Lincoln or FDR in the 2008 Presidential Race?”

Interestingly, the talk seems to have been a combination of the premise of the book creation, as well as an attempt to answer the question posed at the start of the talk. [Suffice it to say, I think they would say Obama is the next Lincoln/FDR – more on this later] But what was most interesting to me was the discussion of the impact of technology and generational demographics and their impact on American history – which goes to the heart of two of my posts ([1], [2]), “Would social networks impact the 2008 election?”.

At the time, I answered in the negative.

After last night (and this book), I might have a different point of view…

Impact of Technology and Generational Swings

Note: I have only started to read the book as of yet, but I was entranced with the discussion by both speakers and their premises. I must say that I agree with much of what they said and suggest, though I do not completely agree (yet) with some of the mechanisms.

From the start of the talk, Morley drew the obvious parallels with Lincoln and Obama, Steward (Lincoln’s “primary Republican” adversary) and Clinton and the issue of race during the election cycle. [Note: I promise to go into the parallels that exist].

But, what perked my ears and interest was the discussion of generational impact and the advent of technology and the impact it had on campaigns and their hypothesis on how it has, on 40 year cycles (give or take some years) cause a civic realignment in terms of political parties and fundamental populational relationship with government and civic duty.

Winograd and Hais’s basic premise is that civic realignment – where they characterize it by the “enhanced party identification and straight-ticket voting, rising voter turnout or stable turnout at high levels, positive attitudes towards politics and political institutions, and a focus on broader societal and economic concerns rather than social issues involving personal morality”. [p. 27] They argue that this civic realignment is a predictable phenomena that occurs every forty years in America due primarily to:

  • political coming-of-age of a large dynamic generation, and
  • emergence of a new communication technology

which results in clear changes in:

  • electoral results: major parties change power
  • voting behavior: South going Democratic, after being Republican and back, and
  • public policy: from a laissez faire foreign policy to a force-projection policy in 1932

With this premise, Winograd and Hais posit that this generation – the Millennials – will cause another major civic shift and cause a new outcome in our government that focuses on the societal and economic issues of the day, rather than the divisive issues of our time.

I could short-circuit the discussion with the final statements that:

  • likely winner of the Presidential election: Barack Obama
  • movement of civic involvement in a more responsible fashion: college for public service (as in AmeriCore and Kerry’s National Service program)
  • redistribution of wealth from the top 1% to a more even spread
  • acceptance of programs that require group sacrifice, rather than blind ignorance of the hidden cost of inaction

I must say that I am pleased this is being painted, and hope that it does come about – which we will see what happens in the coming months. I believed it as the time with Kerry and Dean (as Winograd and Hais said that the Millennials and the Boomers did vote overwhelmingly for), but the weight of the Millennials were not felt until this year – and this cycle. And for that, I look forward to seeing the outcome.

After the fold, I give a short summary of their premise.

Millennial MakeoverStart with Generational Analysis

Based on generational analysis (which I knew very little about except
that I was a GenX-er that acts like a Millennial), there are essentially four generational types that break down into ten year groupings. They are:

  • The Hero/Civic Generation – the last one was the one in 1932 (the “Greatest
    Generation”) who brought about the change that we saw in the election of FDR and WWII – a very dynamic group that tends to be quite large
  • The Nomad/Reactive Generation – this generation spends time trying to respond to the impact of the Civic Generation’s efforts
  • The Prophet/Idealistic Generation – this is essentially the Baby Boomers, where trusting government and involvement in civic responsibilities are throw aside for their self-needs, and then the focus on maintaining that independence – another lare and dynamic grouping of people
  • The Artist/Adaptive Generation – currently, GenX is representative of this generation – latch-key kids who had to fend for themselves and provide support for themselves and their families

What is interesting is that the generational breakdowns map interestingly to technological advances in communications, communities and collaboration. For instance:

  • 1820 – the growth within America of improved transportation (canals and steamboats) and then railroads which gave rise to the first political convention in 1828
  • 1860 – the invention of the telegraph which allowed for the spread of news from one geographic location to another in the form of regional newspapers
  • 1896 – the expansion of the telephone allowed for greater collaboration and coordination of the Republican party
  • 1932 – the invention and expansion of the radio – and in particular the treatment and growth of its use (which is quite similar to the growth of iPods in this generation)
  • 1968 – the invention and expansion of television and its ability to “shrink” the world
  • 2008 – social networks and the peer-to-peer communications that exist with mobile telecommunications

What surprised me is how the generations breakdown into these groups quite consistently (based on the past 200 years of research and history – which Wikipedia and the Strauss and Howe book (Generations: The History of America’s Future) support. Based on this – and the incredible similarities that history and our time show – I am quite certain they are right, but not sure I completely agree with all of the mechanisms they discuss.

Social Networks Impacting the 2008 Election?

I have written two posts on this topic – and specifically the fact that the campaign that makes use of the social networks will find their success assured, but my skepticism that the campaigns have yet to utilize them. Winograd and Hais speak of the “Facebook platform” that the myBO is built upon, but it is my understanding that this is a tool from Blue State Digital and not an extension of the Facebook platform. Additionally, I am (normally) not a supporter of the YASN (yet another social network) mentality, since I think that the hyper-segmentation of networks will continue to be met,
with increasingly lower costs and new communities will be built up.

But, in the course of writing this post, I realize that I have discussed the needs for in-person connections and “tabling” is quite important. I also school my clients (both political and commercial) that the keys of success are found in using the networks to spread the message via word-of-mouth, or “word-of-network”. And, the myBO is actually what I have been asking for IF the campaign is seriously using it to rally the supporters and the “influentials”
as discussed in the 2004 campaigns.

Process Behavior and Social Capital

Since people have self-selected and become members of myBO, and a large enough community has formed on the space – and IF the campaign has been communicating AND allowing others to communicate across the network, then the natural word-of-network flows happen into these other social networks since the nodal people (“influencers”) have allowed for the crossing of physical (and URL) boundaries. Interestingly enough, the viral nature of the message (as in Dean AND Obama was “vision and empowerment”), coupled with the stateless nature and ease of “travel” from one social network to
another (via your browser), which allows for the rapid distribution and aggregation of people into events and communities.

Since these nodal people are about building social capital in informing and educating others on the issues and situations, it is a natural effect. And with a large community (such as the Millennials)
who have been raised on Napster (sharing copyrighted music) and MySpace (personal expression/exposure at young age), YouTube (peer-to-peer visual connection) and Facebook (who are already conditioned to tracking the state of their personal social network), I think that social networks as a transport medium have impacted the 2008 election – which goes into my BarCamp discussion on the speed of memes in various communities.

Hmmmmm….18 months since my first post on this topic, could it be I could be mistaken?

More than happy to entertain the concept.

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