The electorate in this country is quietly changing, and newer voters are participating politically in a way very unlike their parents. Some would say, "Thank goodness."
Our country’s history details many shifts and changes in the political landscape, often described as political realignments. According to authors Morley Winograd and Michael Hais in their 2007 book, "Millennial Makeover," these shifts are far from random and occur regularly throughout history. Realignments don't happen because politicians change. They happen because of changes in our culture that affect how people experience life and express themselves. Realignments also generally rotate back and forth between rigid voters who are very ideologically motivated and voters who seek compromise and inclusivity. In working to determine the outcome of elections going forward, we must consider how these changes will compute in voting behavior.
As the newest voters bring about our latest political realignment, the newest buzzword is "compromise." These voters were born between 1982 and 2003. To understand how they think and act, political observers must consider how our culture has changed during the past 20 years and what has influenced these individuals as young children to make them behave and relate to society differently from their parents. These changes might include influences in programming for television, film and in writing depicting blended families, diverse lifestyles and acceptance of groups previously excluded from our social landscape. They aren't threatened by change; rather, they welcome it and want a government that reflects these realities.
The conservative extreme of the ideological baby boomers and generation X members of our population is now presenting itself as the Tea Party and, although less prominently today, the so-called Christian Right. They view government's role in our lives as very narrow, and see the struggles of middle and lower classes of people to survive as a necessary result in creating a more self-reliant citizenry less in need of any assistance from outside forces or institutions. They turned out in 2010 in large numbers to elect their leaders to office, both in local and state races and in Congress. They got a boost from the impatience on the part of many voters at the slow pace of recovery from the 2008 recession, and sold government investment spending on its people as the problem and not the solution. If history follows the course it has taken for almost 200 years, they won't win again in 2012. The major lasting impact of their victories going forward will be redrawn districts favoring conservatives which will remain in place for the next 10 years. However, they will probably lose their majority in the House of Representatives in 2012 and will be helpless in preventing President Obama's reelection. The liberal extreme of the baby boomers is just as rigid as its conservative extreme, but these boomers will probably be more pleased with the political direction of the country in years to come.
The newest voters in elections favor compromise and inclusion in all aspects of life, especially in government. They favor a government that will be helpful to its people, providing them with health care, educations, and a clean environment. They cannot understand discrimination in any form and accept wide ranges of diversity without question. They want to participate in their government and fulfill their civic responsibilities, not unlike their great-grandparents. However, they are unlike their parents and grandparents who came into public life with a "My way or the highway" mentality.
Messaging to this group of newest voters in elections must be carefully crafted in order to bring them to the polls. Candidates with rigid, exclusive issue positions will not be able to win on a “youth” or millennial vote. An interesting conundrum for candidates and incumbents counting on older conservative voters to win may be that they have attacked the very government programs that form the safety net for these older Americans. The wealth and isolation of these conservatives keeps them from fully understanding the changes that have come about in the past 10 years, especially economic shifts. Progressive messaging must reflect that lack of understanding of today’s realities, while messaging to older voters must build bridges to compromise and newer ideals of the 21st century.