Generational influences will significantly impact our social interactions, labor force, politics, and practically every other aspect of American life over the near term. This is primarily due to the increasing influence of generation Y, a group more widely known as the Millennials.
The following table is instructive:
Birth range Generational Identifier Age in 2012 Age in 2021
1922-1945 Veterans-Silent 67-90 76-99
1946-1964 Baby Boomer 48-66 57-75
1965-1980 Generation X 32-47 41-56
1981-1999 Generation Y, Millennial 13-31 22-40
The political influence of the Millennials takes on increasing importance over time as they become an increasing percentage of under 65 workers and voters. In 2008, slightly more than half had not yet achieved voting age. That is not to suggest younger members of the group were politically inactive—many may have helped their older brothers and sisters in active political efforts in 2008. But in 2012, about 75% will have reached voting age and by 2016 most Millennials will be eligible to vote. If we translate these percentages into numbers of eligible voters, that’s about 40 million voters in 2008, 55 million in 2012 and 70 million in 2016. In addition to their sheer numbers, Millennials should become increasingly influential as their older members begin to exercise their leadership potential and enter the political process as candidates.
Millennials, we should recall, are very computer savvy, entrepreneurial, tolerant and goal-oriented. They are passionate about environmental and social issues. They are not afraid of hard work and long hours. They like social interactions. In general, they are (or will be) much more sensible than their Baby Boomer parents were in the late 1960s.
Millennials want leadership and structure. If they get it, they are going to follow with fervor—just as they did in 2008 with then Senator Obama. If they get neither, they will either work hard for reforms or potentially foment revolutions as their counterparts have done already on the international stage in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Libya. This was especially clear in Egypt, where the revolution seems to have been led by those under 30. Advancement of social media worldwide works especially to the advantage of the Millennials.
Many regard Millennials as widely disengaged or disenchanted. They talk to each other, get much of their news from each other on Facebook or other social media, from reports that can be accessed immediately from iPads, iPhones or computers and occasionally from political satirists/comedians such as Stephen Colbert and John Stewart. They seem to believe almost nothing of what they hear from the mainstream media or from current GOP presidential candidates, with the possible exception of Ron Paul. The GOP debates were largely regarded as a reality show not particularly aimed at Millennials. After the GOP convention, as the nominee tries to recruit “youth,” a new comedy may begin.
Some believe Millennials will return to President Obama in even larger numbers in 2012 and 2016 than in 2008, but that is by no means certain. While they can be engaged, passionate, ideological, and highly motivated, they may also feel that they have been effectively locked out of the political system by age and by the influence of multimillion dollar donors. If they decide to use their political capital, their influence should grow because their numbers are larger.
Interestingly, their parents, the Baby Boomers, may be influential in bringing the Millennials out. The Boomers dropped out when they were under 30 in the mid to late 1960s but rejoined the establishment in large numbers in the 1970s. Some Boomers could regard what’s going on now as unfinished business and encourage their offspring Millennials to finish the job. Boomers certainly know how to push the Millennials’ buttons. It will be interesting to see how these generational influences play out.