Who Will Own the Millennial Vote? The Millennials Themselves!

by Krist Novoselic // Published November 24, 2010

Clifford K. Berryman Redux
Clifford K. Berryman Redux

1992 was a big year for me. My band Nirvana not only had a number one record, we were credited for transforming rock music itself. There was not only a musical realignment that year; young people, a coveted demographic, were also paying attention to the presidential election. MTV dominated music and I recall artists like Iggy Pop or Michael Stipe urging viewers to participate in the election and Rock The Vote. Youth turned out enough for Democrats in the three-way race to give the election to Bill Clinton. Democrats now controlled Congress and the White House. Regardless, all the ruling party could do for the youth constituency was pass the Motor Voter Bill – a law that made it possible to register to vote while at the local DMV. This was hardly a youth agenda and more like, “thanks for the votes kids – see you next time”. But the kids were largely gone by 1994, the year of the Republican takeover of congress.

2008 was another spike in youth turnout. This time it was the Obama For America (OFA) organization that successfully brought in the demographic through mostly web-based efforts. Like ‘94 déjà vu, the 2010 midterms were unkind to the ruling party who couldn’t hold onto the youth turnout numbers of the previous two elections.

Where did OFA / Democrats go after the ’08 election? Why did they turn off the conduit to the 24/7 World Wide Web?


The youth vote always seems up for grabs but that’s not really any news. In their book Millennial Makeover, authors Morley Winograd and Michael D. Hais tell us more. They say the party that connects with the Millennial Generation will dominate the political landscape for the next forty years. (Millennial refers to people born between 1982 and 2003.)

The authors point to generational theories in analyzing American society since the Jackson era. This thinking separates different periods of history as being led by either civic or idealist generational types. It’s a cycle where one era follows the other – each lasting about forty years.

For example, the GI Generation dominated the civic era of the Great Depression, WWII, the 50s and early 60s. They were “outer-fixated”and reared in a protective manner that affected their adult lives in ways that made them problem solvers and institution builders.

Then came the Baby Boomers – “inner-fixated” who were “reared in an indulgent manner and are driven throughout their lives by their deeply held beliefs.” This generational type, who started shaping culture and politics in the mid-sixties, is dominating the current idealist era.

Winograd and Hais paint a picture of how tech savvy the Millennial generation is. Again, no real news but they put it in historical context. They say “waves of technological change and innovation…. have oscillated in harmony with its generational cycles”. They give an account of the impact of the telegraph regarding media and the debate between Lincoln and Douglas and the realigning election of 1858. The narrative follows technology through radio and television up to the current emergence of social networking that’s defining our era. The thesis is that we’re due for a generational realignment so watch out for the techie Millennials and their civic era attitudes - views which include a positive perspective on government and politics.


Sure, major party organizations have their Twitter accounts and FaceBook pages (Who doesn’t?) but where are they really when it comes to incorporating communication technology within their organizational structure? The reality is a handful of locals meeting within a state-regulated committee. With the state already dealing with the nominating duties through partisan primaries - or now “prefers partyprimary- there’s not much for the local party folks to do but gripe about the opposition, pass resolutions that nobody reads or sell cookies to benefit the party fund.

Political association is weak but association itself is more powerful than ever. The whole point of a political association is to nominate candidates for the public ballot. New web-based parties need to stand candidates for office.

The state needs to get out of the nomination business so the natural course of association can better grow into the political sphere. Election rules in general need to be changed to accommodate modern forms of association. (Check out FairVote’s policy proposals.)

Winograd and Hais claim that Millennial values are more aligned to the Democratic Party. At the same time, this major party can’t seem to hold onto this group – at least not in 2010. (OFA will be back though.) The key to win this generation will be an enduring effort that gives participants ownership of the process. If the Millennials are indeed solution oriented, as they grow into leadership, they’ll likely build the bridge between social networking and political association themselves. And this will indeed rock the vote for the next forty years.


Millennial Makeover: MySpace, YouTube & The Future of American Politics.  By Morley Winograd and Michael D. Hais (2008 Rutgers University Press)>