A Terrible Tie

October 31, 2008

By Stephen Noriega

This could possibly happen, so I’m going with it in my election predictions. It would be tantamount to betting that the top three horses in a race will fall but I think the odds are actually better than that. Due to some unusual provisions in our Constitution, this election could result in an Obama / Palin Administration. Don’t batter me with hostile question marks and laughter, yet.

McCain could surge and wins every battleground state except Colorado, Pennsylvania and New Mexico (and he has a great reputation for comebacks). The Bradley Effect could help him in certain states like Virginia, Ohio and Nevada. Voter suppression efforts could help him with North Carolina and Florida. Colorado and New Mexico have filled with liberal migrant voters and are turning blue. Pennsylvania has Philadelphia and Pittsburgh to make it safe for Obama. This would result in a 269 – 269 tie.


So, per Article II of the Constitution, the choice for President goes to the House of Representatives. Each state has one vote in this procedure, so states with more of one party will vote along those party lines. Currently, there are 27 states with more Democrats in the House of Representatives, 21 states with more Republicans and 2 that are tied. Thus, Obama would win that vote and would become the 44th President.

However, it is not the House of Representatives that decides who is Vice President. It is the Senate. Per the Twelfth Amendment, each member of the Senate gets one vote to decide the V.P. Currently there are 49 Democrats and 49 Republicans in the Senate. One person, Bernie Williams, would vote for Biden. One Independent, Joe Lieberman, may vote for Palin as he has campaigned for the Republican ticket all along. This would result in a tie in the Senate. Guess who breaks ties in the Senate? That’s right, Vice President Dick Cheney would break the tie and Sarah Palin would be the choice.

I know there are variables even within this probability nightmare. Chuck Hagel, an occasional Democrat sympathizer could swing the vote I the other direction. Joe Lieberman might decide to abandon his love of Republicans once his friend McCain is no longer the winner.

Naturally, this scenario is remote from its inception. However, it sure is wild to even see it as a possibility. Remember, the last time there was a tie in our obsolete Electoral College, a similar coupling resulted and our first Treasury Secretary was shot to death by said Vice President (Aaron Burr) over it! Duels are illegal now but what a sitcom to have Barack Obama and Sarah Palin trying to run a country together.


Markey vs. Musgrave: How Women Would Change Politics – Not

October 23, 2008

By Stephen Noriega

I have asked many women, from third wave feminists to conservative traditionalists about how gender would affect politics. Most women have told me that if women had more influence at the spigots of power, the environment would be less hostile and more collaborative. Disagreements, although longer in duration because congresswomen have never physically assaulted another lawmaker, at least here in the United States, would be settled through understanding and consensus. According to feminism, the patriarchy, the constant need to be the Alpha Male and the following aggression, especially in campaigns, creates a lot of the negative framing we see today. I agree with this assessment. Politics is a shadow cast by the object of our real institutions. We are trained to act this way and to observe the male-centered ways of how we select our leaders. The traditional way to present our candidates is in an adversarial format. We pit them against each other, focusing on strength of character, willingness to confront the other, physical attractiveness and their control of their wives (the only first ladies to draw controversy were the more assertive ones like Hilary Clinton or Teresa Heinz Kerry). All three waves of feminism have grappled with this issue. I will not speak to the history of this struggle but the current system is not what most third wave feminists want.


So to make a long story longer…

One would think that Betsy Markey would take a cue from her own feminist roots and look for ways to shift the paradigm so as to not recreate the patriarchal election tradition but to compete without spears and missiles, mostly in the form of negative ads. Elizabeth Helen (AKA Betsy) Markey has attributes that could appeal to both sides of the aisle, again, giving her an opportunity to change her own small universe of politics. Markey has a rich academic background, receiving a Masters degree of Public Administration from American University. In business, Markey made a modest fortune co-founding Syscom Services (http://www.syscom.com/software.htm). She also established Huckleberry’s in Fort Collins and sold it for a profit. Markey also worked with and served as an officer with the Food Bank of Larimer County. Markey has also worked on many issues relating to communities, families and women’s issues. Betsy Markey, even though coming from a Catholic family, elected to keep her original name when she got married, something very feminist to do these days and hooray for her! I am quite aware of the patriarch name argument as my wife chose to keep her name and it is the logical thing to do. My wife then honors her family through time as well and keeps her professional brand consistent. Following is a photo of Betsy Markey, not my wife.

Courtesy of Betsy Markey for Congress

So what problem could I have with this person? My issue is that Betsy Markey is falling into the same old crap that white men have been practicing since they seized power a long time ago. The fight for the 4th Congressional District has become a bitter, slicing contest, snowing under many concerns. Quoting 9News about the October 9th debate they held, “Both Republican incumbent Marilyn Musgrave and Democratic challenger Betsy Markey were emotional when asked about misconceptions voters might have about them from the heavy negative advertising in the race.” http://www.9news.com/news/article.aspx?storyid=101504

This is not to say that Marilyn Musgrave has run a thoughtful, sporting campaign. Musgrave has linked Markey’s business with corruption and has inferred that she is a liar, a manipulator and (gasp) a liberal.

Betsy Markey could have risen above this but she chose not to.

It is not to say that scurrilous attacks should go undefended. Some of the accusations that Musgrave’s campaign brought up were absurd and vicious. These can be addressed while not launching equally serrated sorties. In fact, in this particular election, the less one must attack, the better. This is the election to begin realizing that political cockfighting is not the only way to campaign. Betsy Markey can be a transformational character because of what she has accomplished so far and how she continues her political success. Watching the national elections is indicating that perhaps the general public is finally getting tired of the negative attacks and perhaps wants more discussion. Less patriarch warfare and more presentation of comparable values might be the cure of the day. Betsy Markey has held a slight advantage over Musgrave since August and no negative campaigning on either side has helped. It is perhaps an election where we seek the challenge of working on solutions rather than the comfort and tradition of fighting over them.

Progressive Women Rising in Power; Palin Off the Mark

September 3, 2008
Women's Suffrage March, 1912

Women's Suffrage March, 1912

Celebrating Women’s Power in Denver

Tuesday, August 26th, was the 88th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, granting women the right to vote—and here in Denver it was quite a celebration.

During the Democratic National Convention (DNC), Emily’s List (a PAC dedicated to building progressive women’s power in politics) shared the news that 55% of the electorate will be women this year—the highest ever. The DNC Women’s Caucus met in a sprawling ballroom filled with a thousand energized delegates and fellow travelers, celebrating the fact that about 60% of the overall Democratic vote every year is women.

Die-Hard Hillary Supporters Take To the Street

At that very same moment, that same sentiment was sweeping down Denver’s Colfax Avenue.

Just as thousands of Convention women celebrated their power and role in the Democratic Party, hundreds more women gathered to march down Colfax. Out in the streets passionate Hillary Clinton supporters had traveled to Denver from across the Country to celebrate the woman who nearly claimed the presidency. They filled Colfax sidewalk to sidewalk, banged drums, chanted Hillary’s name, and promised to put a woman in the Oval Office within ten years.

Some of the marchers were adamant that they would never support Barack Obama, because he had stolen the nomination from the experienced and prepared Hillary Clinton when she had already put in her time, and because Obama was allegedly sexist for paying his male Senate staffers more than his female staffers. To get a sense of the flavor of the march, including some interviews with the Hillary supporters in the street, go here and scroll down to audio reports on the August 26th Hillary Clinton supporters march. Or you can see what some of the delegates inside the Convention Center hall had to say here:

And to cap it all off, on Tuesday night, Hillary Clinton addressed an adoring crowd of thousands in the Pepsi Center, in a moment that will be be remembered through history in the same breath as suffragette Elizabeth Cady Stanton herself.

Rising Women’s Power = Rising Progressive Power

The growing power of women in American politics is big news for politics and big news for progressives.

Progressives take heart in the growing political power of women, because women vote Democrat. Since 1992, Democrats have enjoyed about a 10 point “gender gap” in presidential elections as women have preferred Democratic candidates by an average of 10% over the Republicans.

This gender gap is present as well in 2008 pre-election polling. Obama enjoys a 12% pre-convention lead among all women voters—while younger Millennial women voters give Obama an incredible 30 point lead.

chart source: http://www.emilyslist.org/programs/powerpoint.pdf

Here’s more good news for progressives. Younger women, are now 57% of all college students. And as college graduates are increasingly female—they are likely to grow their civic participation even more.

The future female powerhouses of the country are even more liberal than senior women. 46% of young women believe that America’s growing racial diversity is entirely a good thing—only 30% of senior women think that. 36% of young women believe that it is good that the Christian tradition is declining in strength—since there are traditional notions of patriarchy embedded within it. Only 26% of senior women shared this idea. And 53% of young women believe in full acceptance and inclusion of Gays, Lesbians, Bisexuals and Transgendered in the community—while only 26% of senior women agree.

Sarah Palin Pick Misses the Progressive Boat

This is the heart of the trouble for the McCain pick of Sarah Palin as his running mate. Although Palin made an explicit appeal for Hillary Clinton supporters and women of all stripes to vote for McCain since a woman was now on the Republican ticket

“It was rightly noted in Denver this week that Hillary left 18 million cracks in the highest, hardest glass ceiling in America. But it turns out the women of America aren’t finished yet, and we can shatter that glass ceiling once and for all.” — Sarah Palin’s Vice-Presidential announcement speech

It is becoming clear that women voters are not lining up behind the McCain/Palin reasoning. The Palin reasoning seems to be that Hillary Clinton’s advantage with women, is driven more than anything else why women’s desire to vote for a woman, not matter who she might be. Even though Palin’s politics are profoundly different from the liberal politics of Hillary Clinton (e.g., Palin is pro-life, believes in teaching creationism in schools, is opposed to gay rights, and is a fiscal supply-sider), and even though Palin has no national experience and is only 44 years old, she asserted that Hillary Clinton supporters would be excited to support her in order to advance female solidarity against the “good old boys” network.

But come to find out, women are voting for Democrats not because the Democrats run more women, but because women align more closely with the progressive values and policies of the Democratic party. That is why early polls show women LESS likely to vote for McCain after the Palin pick. Palin’s conservatism, her lack of experience, and perhaps the “insult” that some women feel with McCain’s transparent attempt to woo women voters with an arguably inexperienced female candidate just isn’t appealing to female voters. It shouldn’t be that great a surprise. Polls from some time ago have shown that Hillary’s strongest supporters were more attracted to her politics and her experience than to the fact that she was a woman. This is why the leader of a PAC dedicated to enhancing women’s power in politics (Ellen R. Malcolm of Emily’s List) spoke out so strongly against the Palin nomination.

“How ironic that, on his 72nd birthday, McCain has raised the question of whether his running mate is prepared to be Commander in Chief and lead the country. Governor Palin and John McCain are a good match because they both want to overturn Roe V. Wade, they both want to continue the failed economic policies of the Bush administration and they both offer more of the same that has led this country down the wrong path. McCain clearly sees the power of women voters in this election but has just as clearly failed to support any of the issues that they care about. His choice for vice president only reinforces that failure”

Though Sarah Palin has not been welcomed by a mass movement of women voters—Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party has been. That’s because women voters tend to have Democratic/progressive political values—far more so than men. And these progressive women are rising in power. As Hillary Clinton addressed the American people during the Democratic National Convention, she represented a real and fundamental transformation in American society. Like never before, the future of American politics is in the hands of women, and especially young women—progressives can take heart in the future these women will build.

Democrats Ascendant in the Rocky Mountain West

August 12, 2008

It’s been a long exile for Western Democrats. The last time Denver hosted a Democratic National Convention was over one hundred years ago, with the William Jennings Bryant Democrats of 1896. Since those heady days for Western Democrats, the Western path to the presidency has been something of a lost El Dorado. Rather than looking to the interior mountains, Democrats have conventioned in Chicago, New York, San Francisco, Dallas and Miami, avoiding altogether the flyover states of the Rocky Mountain West.

But the tectonic plates of American politics shifted in 2004, when several Western states elected Democratic state houses, governors and Members of Congress; followed by the big electoral earthquake of 2006, which shattered the old mold and revealed a new electoral geography.

The West is turning blue.

Democrats are suddenly running and winning in races from Arizona to Montana, all across the once reliable eight-state Republican region. Leading strategists (here, here or here are advising the Democrats to drop their southern infatuation and follow the Western route to the presidency, and once again the Democrats are bringing their national convention to Denver.

“I have long believed that the essence of a Democratic victory goes through the West,” Party chair Howard Dean has noted.“If we are going to have a national party, we are going to have to have Westerners to vote Democratic again on a reliable basis.” The demconwatch.blogspot.com website presents a plethora of insider excitement over rising Democratic prospects in the West: “In the West, it is our time,” stated Denver’s DNC host committee president, Councilwoman Elbra Wedgeworth, upon learning that Denver had been chosen to host the 2008 DNC. Colorado Senator Ken Salazar added that “Colorado is an ideal site to showcase the Democratic Party’s resurgence and our hopes for the future,” while Harold Ickes (deputy chief of staff for President Clinton) weighed in that “I think Denver, Colorado and the Rocky Mountain West are an area that’s increasingly in the Democratic focus and out to be”.

Colorado is the showcase of the changing West, electing a Democratic state legislature and a Democratic Senator in 2004, choosing a Democratic Governor in 2006 and sending a Democratic delegation to the U.S. House

Montana, a state that hadn’t elected a Democratic House and Governor for decades, recently turned its state house and Governor’s office over to the Democrats, and sent a Democrat to the U.S. Senate.

Five years ago, the eight-state Rocky Mountain region boasted eight GOP governors. Today, there are only three. Even Wyoming has a Democratic governor.

And that’s why the Democrats are coming to Denver for their convention. Win Colorado or New Mexico, and Al Gore wouldn’t have needed Florida, back in 2000.

What accounts for the Democrat’s Western strength? Some point to the Latino surge—Latinos are rapidly growing in the West, and they vote Democrat. Certainly party strategists and scholars are focused on the behaviors of this growing Latino vote.

Some point to the Cowboy Democrats as the source of western change—its all those libertarian rural cowboys, fed up with a GOP that has lost its way; they’re turning Dem or sitting it out.

And, some (here or here) point to the Californians—its all those new creative class liberal transplants pouring in from the Coast—they’re Californicating Colorado.

I’m part of a research team covering this subject, and we’ve run the numbers for a forthcoming article, and here’s what I can tell you. It’s the Californians. The engine of liberalism in the West are those migrating in from other states—with California the biggest contributor.

What about the other two theories? Latinos are indeed growing in the west, and they tend to vote Democratic, put the fact is that Latinos post very low voting rates (many of them are ineligible to vote, and many others have simply not yet been mobilized into dependable political participation). Every year, this group grows as an electoral force, but to date it cannot be said that Latinos are voting at high enough levels to be the driving force behind change in the West.

As for the Cowboy Democrats—the actual voting data shows that the cowboy counties (those most sparsely populated and most dependent on agriculture, especially in states like Idaho, Utah, Wyoming and Montana) are actually NOT trending towards the Democrats. The more cowboy the county, the more likely it is to buck the Democratic movement in the West and actually be trending towards the Republicans. So it’s not the Latinos and it’s not the cowboys driving the West left-it’s the Californians.

Interstate migrants into the West hail most often from California counties that are substantially more Democratic than the Western area they are moving into, they are more likely to be single, childless and white-collar than existing residents, more likely to work within the “creative class” sector of the economy; and they catalyze rising Democratic strength wherever they show up.

When new migrants pour into once isolated rural counties by the thousands, moving into the West from the coastal regions, bubbling into the rural hinterlands out of Democratic powerhouses like Denver, and bringing a new, creative economy with them—they are announcing an electoral transformation that is shaking the foundation of the existing geography of political power in America.

And that’s why Obama is coming to Denver—to ride the Californians to the presidency.

Demographic Disaster for the GOP

August 4, 2008

The Disappearing Republican Voter

Ronald Reagan dreamed of turning the GOP into America’s permanent majority—but his dreams were designed for a different time, a different people.

Republican voters are disappearing. The Republican Party built its power on the white vote, the church-going vote, and the male vote. But each of these groups are shrinking as a share of the electorate, while groups with little taste for the GOP are exploding. Consider the chart below: voter groups colored red tend to vote Republican for president, while blue colored voting groups are Democratic—sometimes by immense margins (for complete 2004 data, see CNN exit poll archives).

Which of these sets of voting blocs are shrinking and which are growing? It’s quite basic—whites, men, and weekly church goers are all shrinking as a share of the electorate every year. White, weekly church going men are shrinking fastest of all. And there’s the heart of the problem for the GOP

A demographic disaster awaits the Republican party. Barack Obama represents a fundamental transformation in the American electorate. The GOP majority built on white, church-going men is collapsing as new voters reduce the Republican party to the status of bewildered minority.

GOP Struggles with Southern Strategy Legacy

It was back in the 1960s that the tectonic plates of today’s electoral landscape were forged when the two parties took their stands on the politics of the day. The Democratic party stood with the civil rights movements, with the rising force of feminism, and with a “counter-cultural” vision of a non-religious state.

On the other hand, The Republican Party followed what Nixon called a “southern strategy.” Republican strategists measured the demographics and concluded that they could stand with the white south against civil rights, with patriarchs denouncing feminism and with evangelicals defending the role of Christianity in schools and in public life—GOP leaders concluded back then that such a strategy would win elections.

One of the architects of the southern strategy, key Nixon advisor Kevin Phillips, described the GOP’s strategic choice to repudiate black voters and welcome southern whites back in a 1970 New York Times interview (James Boyd, May 17, 1970, “Nixon’s Southern strategy: ‘It’s All in the Charts,'” The New York Times).

“From now on, the Republicans are never going to get more than 10 to 20 percent of the Negro vote and they don’t need any more than that… but Republicans would be shortsighted if they weakened enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. The more Negroes who register as Democrats in the South, the sooner the Negrophobe whites will quit the Democrats and become Republicans. That’s where the votes are. Without that prodding from the blacks, the whites will backslide into their old comfortable arrangement with the local Democrats.”

Following a 1981 interview with Lee Atwater (another key Republican advisor, and Bush the First’s campaign manager), New York Times reporter Bob Herbert summarized the heart of the GOP’s continued reliance on the “Southern Strategy.”

“The truth is that there was very little that was subconscious about the G.O.P.’s relentless appeal to racist whites. Tired of losing elections, it saw an opportunity to renew itself by opening its arms wide to white voters who could never forgive the Democratic Party for its support of civil rights and voting rights for blacks.”

Today’s Diverse Electorate Going Democrat

The southern strategy might have worked back then, when whites were 90% of the electorate, and male and rural churchgoing voters outpaced their counterparts. But today, The “Southern strategy” electorate has become a minority, and the most rapidly growing groups are voting Democratic.

In the 2006 elections, 69% of Latinos, 57% of women, 90% of blacks, 60% of voters under 29 and 57% of independent voters voted Democratic.

Today, only 2% of all GOP voters are Latino. Only 1% of Republicans are Black. Barely 15% of GOP voters are under 35. The GOP is built on an aging, dying electoral coalition.

Chart Source: http://online.wsj.com/public/article/SB118895742058917747.html?mod=blog

When Obama rolls into town, the largest demographic in American history will be people aged 18-29 (see previous posts on “Millennials Rising” and “The Obama Generation”)—and they will vote Democratic in record shattering numbers. The Latino vote will be the largest in American history—and it will be about 70% Democratic. Women and Black voters will be in Obama’s camp.

Newsweek’s Michael Barone and other observers have made the counter-argument that demographics are actually tilting in the Republican party’s direction, by pointing to the fact that red states that tend to lean Republican in their presidential votes are growing more rapidly than blue states, and that they will therefore receive more electoral college votes (and seats in the House of Representatives) following the next U.S Census.

Here’s the list of states that are predicted to gain and lose House seats and Electoral College votes following the 2010 Census.

But this kind of analysis misses the possibility that pro-Democratic demographic transformation that may be sweeping through these traditionally red and blue states, just as it is the rest of the country. Some red states like Utah and Texas are likely to remain reliably Republican. But “red” states like Florida, Ohio, Iowa, Nevada, North Carolina and Arizona are brimming with new Latino voters, increasingly educated “creative class” voters, and other such demographic changes that point the states towards the Democrats—not the Republicans.

Facing demographic disaster in 2008, the Republican party may pursue new variations on the Southern strategy, trying to maximize the ever-shrinking conservative white vote. Expect familiar demonization of immigrants, tired broadsides against black welfare-queens, and continual Rush Limbaugh denunciations of femi-nazis and gays as destroying the American way of life.

In the short run, The GOP can count on the old Southern strategy to keep its grip on white, male, frequent churchgoers—but the problem for the GOP is that these same voter groups are losing their grip on America.

The Two Americas Duke it Out in the Democratic Primaries

April 24, 2008

Image: Chad Crow, Wall Street Journal

The Pennsylvania Primary: Urban vs. Rural Once Again?

The results from Pennsylvania are in, and its déjà vu all over again. In round 12 of what looks to be a 15 round split-decision boxing match, Obama did well enough to maintain his substantial lead over Hillary Clinton in the delegate count, while Clinton did well enough to support her argument for going forward into the next primary battles (North Carolina and Indiana in two weeks). The closely divided battle grinds on, and except for more bloodied lips all around, not much looks different than it did six weeks ago , after Ohio and Texas.

And something else in Pennsylvania looks very much like it did six weeks ago, in Ohio and Texas—the geographic breakdown of the vote itself. A stark and undeniable division has emerged among Democratic primary voters, and although Obama likes to talk about how we are “one America,” more united than divided, that’s not how America seems to be voting. In fact, Americans are clearly divided in their voting. There are a variety of divisions that could be highlighted: white versus black, young versus old, college-educated versus not. But one of the most significant divisions of all is the geographic division vividly evident in a large number of Democratic primary states—urban versus rural.

Barack himself commented on this very division in his famous “bitter” Americans commentary of a few weeks ago. Speaking at a fund-raiser in big-city San Francisco, Obama was asked why he had such trouble in rural areas like small-town Pennsyvania. Obama’s reply and its fallout dominated the media for a full week:

“You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing’s replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration…And it’s not surprising then that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them.”

Whether Obama was right or wrong in his exploration of the motivations of small town voters, he was certainly correct to suggest that something is very different about the values and voting habits of small town and big-city America. Those very real differences show up in state after state, as Obama and Clinton capture almost equal shares of a fundamentally polarized Democratic electorate.

The fact is that very few counties in the Pennsylvania primary were closely contested. The counties tended to be blowouts for either Obama or Clinton—with urban Philadelphia going for Obama 65%-35%, while rural counties averaged a mirror-image 66%-34% Clinton edge. Michael Barone of Newsweek notes that

“In 53 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties there was more than a 20 percentage point difference between the two candidates. In only one county — Montgomery, a suburban county northeast of Philadelphia — were the two candidates within five points of one another. Nearly 60 percent of Pennsylvania’s Democratic voters lived in counties where Obama and Clinton were separated by more than 20 percentage points.”

Urban Pittsburgh did indeed vote for Clinton, but in general in the this year’s primaries, the more urban a county, the more pro-Obama it has voted, while rural areas have been Clinton’s base. “The farther you travel from large cities, the greater the vote for the New York senator,” Bill Bishop writes in the Daily Yonder. “The Democratic Party may be divided between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, but it’s divided rural and urban, too.”

The Urban-Rural Divide in Election Maps

In addition to Pennsylvania, the urban-rural polarized pattern has replayed in vital states like Ohio, Missouri, and Texas. The rural-urban divide is abundantly evident with a look at some election maps (taken from CNN’s election center).

Consider this map of Pennsylvania election results. Obama’s vote is concentrated in the urban Philadelphia area, while Hillary sweeps the rest of mostly rural Pennsylvania.

The results were similar in Texas, where Obama won urban centers like Austin, Dallas and Houston, but lost across vast rural swaths.

In Ohio Obama won the four large urban centers of Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton and Cincinnati, while Clinton swept the small towns and farmlands.

And consider this map of Missouri that I produced myself. In this map, the height of the blue bars indicates the size of the vote victory in each county. The blue bars are Obama counties, and red are Clinton. Though Obama narrowly won Missouri, he only did so by racking up a massive vote victory in urban St. Louis, while Clinton won much smaller vote victories across the rest of mostly small town Missouri.

A Historic Divide Evident in the 2004 Presidential Election

This pattern isn’t always the case (for example, Obama won Colorado, including many of its rural counties quite handily,while Clinton has won some urban centers like Pittsburgh), but it is generally and increasingly true. The pattern is hardly surprising to observers of American politics—the rural/urban divide goes back to the Federalist/Jeffersonian division of the early 1800s, it was evident in the Jacksonian revolution in the 1830s, it was the centerpiece of the great WJ Bryan/Warren Harding battles of the 1890s, and it was replayed recently in the Bush/Kerry election of 2004.

Consider for example, the urban-rural divide as displayed in these maps of the Bush Kerry election. This first map shows popular vote margins, with the larger margins shown with larger bars. Blue bars are for Democrats, red are for Republicans. The map reveals just how concentrated the Democratic vote is in large urban centers, and how dominant the Republicans are across rural America.

The USA today map below reveals the same pattern, but displayed a bit differently.

The Two Americas: Real and Enduring

When a political division is replayed throughout 200 years of American history, when voters line up in landslide proportions behind different candidates based on their urban or rural place of residence, when dozens of political election maps reveal clear and bright demographic dividing lines—it is no stretch to say that there really are “two Americas.”

Of course, this divide is about much more than simple rural or urban geography—it is about an entire host of values and demographics that go with this divide. Rural voters in fact tend to be different in a wide variety of ways than urban voters (for example, rural voters are more likely to attend church regularly, to be married with children, to be white, and to own a gun). Political observer Michael Barone has argued that these differences have profound and enduring political consequences, which is why the Democratic primary is a re-staging of America’s long “tribal war” between “Jacksonians” (who tend to be more rural, less educated and less affluent) and the “Academics” (who tend to be urban, college-educated, and more affluent).

As another angle on the two Americas, consider this chart that I put together based on U.S. Census data and polling data from the Zogby polling company. It shows the very real differences between “red states” (which tend to be more rural and to vote Republican) and the “blue states” (which tend to be more urban and to vote Democrat).

There really are “two Americas.” These two nations fight it out every year in presidential elections, with the familiar results of Republicans tending to win over heartland rural America and Democratic dominating the cities and the coasts. This time around, the two nations are duking it out for control of the Democratic party itself. Two great tribes, closely divided, are lining up behind two historic candidates, each of titanic strength and locked in a kind of death grip, neither able to fully claim title to the soul of a divided nation. “We are all one nation,” Obama tells us over and over, but for all his talk of something new, something united, and something beyond the political divisions of old, the electoral fracture lines growing up around him look hauntingly familiar.

Millennials Rising: The Challenges of a New Politics

April 8, 2008

Obama For Yo Mama

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The Youth Movement: A New Political Majority?

Move over Baby Boomers—the largest American generation in history is moving onto center stage. Born in the 1980s and 1990s, the Millennial generation is approaching 30 million eligible voters in 2008, and will make up 30% of the entire electorate by the presidential election of 2016.

Observers Peter Leyden and Ruy Texeira conclude that members of this younger “creative” generation are now larger than the Baby Boomer generation, are more engaged than young people of previous generations, are significantly more Democratic in their voting patterns and are “a hugely disruptive force in politics.

Already no generation is able to compete with the Millennials for sheer size, their political influence will grow in the future as they grow older and vote more regularly, and we are already seeing them flex their political muscle in their surprisingly high turnout levels in the 2008 primaries and in catapulting Barack Obama to presidential front-runner status. Just like when the Baby Boomers began to hit their prime in the 1960s, changing American society forever with their demographic weight and young energy, American politics may be in for something of a youth movement in the decade to come.

Overturning the Conventional Wisdom about Youth Apathy

Such predictions run counter to standard lessons in political science texts of recent years. More often than not, textbooks have highlighted the declining influence of the younger generation, based on such data as persistently low turnout rates and political interest levels among 18-29 year old voters. One leading (and representative) political science textbook by George Edwards, et. al., (Government in America) highlights the substantial political knowledge and voter turnout gaps between 18-29 year olds and voters over 65, and concludes that:

“Fewer young Americans are heading to the polls compared to previous generations…even the most pessimistic analysts could not have foreseen the record-low participation rates of young people in recent years…It has become particularly difficult to convince a generation that has channel surfed all their lives that politics really does matter.”

But 2008 seems to be putting an end to all that old conventional wisdom. The youth vote in the primaries is at an all time high. The Cornell Sun reports that

“According to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Living and Engagement (CIRCLE), youth participation in the New Hampshire primary rose sharply — jumping to 43 percent in 2008 from 18 percent in 2004 and 28 percent in 2000. A similar trend was apparent in the Iowa caucuses as the youth turnout rate rose to 13 percent from 4 percent in 2004 and 3 percent in 2000, and in Florida, where the youth turnout rate of 13 percent more than tripled the 2000 rate. In South Carolina, the number of young voters tripled from the 2004 election as well.”

Results from Super Tuesday states and beyond are continuing this same pattern. : Youth turnout is tripling and even quadrupling in numbers, compared to the 2000 primaries.

Youth voting patterns in 2008 are no fluke. Turnout among 18-29 year olds was up dramatically in both 2004 and 2006. If the patterns from 2008 primaries continue through the fall election, youth turnout will have grown three elections in a row. Overall youth turnout in 2008 may end up being close to the highwater mark of 55% set in 1972, the year 18-21 year olds first obtained the right to vote; such a result would require a rethinking of all those poli sci textbook conclusions about the apathetic and declining youth vote.

Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch Changes…”: A New Political Culture?

“Oh very young, what will you leave us this time?” Singer Cat Stevens asked this question to the baby boomers of his time, when they were upending the world in the 1960s and 70s—it is a question that has become important once again.

As the millennials become a driving force of politics, what will they give us this time?

One thing they are giving us is a new form of political communication and a new political culture. Heavy on the internet and on the do-it-yourself videos of Youtube, and light on television news, the millennials are constantly introducing new forms of political communication and different ways to taking on old political issues . Morley Winograd and Michael Hais call this process the “Millennial Makeover and attribute it with reshaping American politics from top to bottom, in a profound repudiation of the angry and overly-ideological battles of previous years.

Here’s how the Winograd and Hais describe the “Millennial Makeover,” in a Washingpost Post essay.

Millennials’…aren’t confrontational or combative, the way boomers (whose generational mantra was “Don’t trust anyone over 30”) have been. Nor does the millennials’ rhetoric reflect the cynicism and alienation of Generation X, whose philosophy is, “Life sucks, and then you die.” Instead, their political style reflects their generation’s constant interaction with hundreds, if not thousands, of “friends” on MySpace or Facebook, about any and all subjects, increasingly including politics. Since they started watching “Barney” as toddlers, the millennials have learned to be concerned for the welfare of everyone in the group and to try to find consensus, “win-win” solutions to any problem. The result is a collegial approach that attracts millennials to candidates who seek to unify the country and heal the nation’s divisions.

Unlike the young baby boomers, millennials want to strengthen the political system, not tear it down. According to a study last year by the Pew Research Center, most millennials (64 percent) disagree that the federal government is wasteful and inefficient, while most older Americans (58 percent) think it is. A 2006 survey by Frank N. Magid Associates indicated that millennials are more likely than older generations to believe that politicians care what people think and are more concerned with the good of the country than of their political party.

Maybe it is just something of this kind of spirit that lies behind the popularity of that “Yes We Can” Obama video—which spread like a super-virus in the days after its release on Youtube.

We also see some of the surprising power of the rising Millennial generation in the Democratic primary. It is the rising youth voter that has turned the Democratic primary upside down, with Barack Obama upending presumed nominee Hillary Clinton on the strength of his massive victories among the under 30 year old voters (Obama typically posted a 10-30 point victory among these voters in Super Tuesday states) . It is these same voters who see Obama as “one of us,” and who may be poised to give America its first black president.

A black president??? Yes. What would be shocking to their parents seems natural to Millennials. The page may be turning in American politics. While John McCain represents an older generation, the generation that fought in Vietnam and battled bitterly over race and feminism in the 1960s, the youth of today have their own war, and their own stand on race and gender that has little to do with those old battles. As Harvard’s Elaine Karmarck notes, “Millennials are the most racially diverse and racially integrated generation in American history. They are civic-minded and post-partisan…They are inclined to cooperate, not fight.”

Karmarck is right to a point. Millennials may not appreciate some of the political bickering of their parents’ generation, but let’s not kid ourselves that the rise of the Millennials will be all kindness and light. The reality is that Millenials certainly have their own values that they are willing to stand and fight for—and these are values that are likely to change American politics in profound ways. This upcoming generation has profoundly different views on Iraq, global warming, same-sex marriage, illegal immigration, and economic issues than middle aged and older voters, who tend to support Republicans–and these values are likely to result in a coming political upheaval as the political clout wielded by Republicans since the 1980 election of Ronald Reagan is wrested from their hands.

According to a Democracy Corps poll, “young Americans have become so profoundly alienated from Republican ideals on issues that their defections suggest a political setback that could haunt Republicans for many generations to come.” . Indeed in the last two presidential elections, and in 2006, Democrats beat Republicans in the youth vote by 10% to 20%. Things don’t look to get better for the GOP in 2008: a recent Rock the Vote Poll notes that “just 28% of young voters identify themselves as Republicans versus 47% who identify as Democrats.”

The Millennial Challenge: The Great Education Gap

For all the talk of the Millennials rising, there is a deeply disturbing fact about young people’s voting patterns: they are deeply divided, in terms of political participation, between those who have attended college and those who haven’t.

In the 2008 primaries, 1 in 4 of college attending young voters voted in the primaries, while only 1 in 14 of non-college attending youth voted. Non-College attending young people make up 50% of the Millennial Generation, but only about 20% of its voters.

Forget the Generation Gap in voting rates—the real participation gap is between those attending college (and presumably on their way up, in terms of their personal prospects) and those who are not attending college (and presumably facing a much more difficult personal future).

As NPR reports, many of these non-college youth are personally turned off by American politics: they are deeply pessimistic about their futures, but they don’t see any way that politicians will ever do anything to help them. This cannot be a healthy path to the future—current patterns point to an even more harshly divided nation of the politically powerful and personally optimistic, and those who have politically checked out and who are facing a dismal future without college education nor political allies.

The Millennial generation is at the heart of this deepening divide, and as they come to take over political power, how they address and overcome this division will be a test of their vision and ability to leave the nation better off than when they ascended to power. Forty years ago, the youthful Kennedy challenged his Baby Boomer generation to “ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country”—and the Boomers responded with historic civic action to address fundamental challenges such as the racial division of their time. Todays Millennials, standing on the cusp of power, face very real and very deep challenges and divisions of their own—it is their own high school friends, brothers and sisters, who are increasingly checking out of the political system and being left behind in America’s new economy. Clearly, Cat Stevens’ question is as important now as ever: “Oh very young, what will you leave us this time?”