The 21st Century internet could permit potential "no party" candidates to use social media and "crowdfunding" to create a community of Millennials to succeed in a "top 2" primary system.
This post must start with a set of definitions:
- Millennials: born 1981-2000, this year ages 16-35
- Generation X: born 1965-1980, this year ages 36-51
- Baby Boomers: born 1946-1964, this year ages 62-70
- Silent Generation: born 1928-1945, this year ages 71-88
The Pew Research Center provided the survey data shown in the table above in A Different Look at Generations and Partisanship.
What the data in the left column of chart shows is that about half of Millennials simply cannot identify with political parties.
Unfortunately, the discussion of the numbers in the article tends to focus on the right column of charts, probably because it is an Presidential election year.
But the fact is the discussion ignores the fact that the Millennials are faced with a Presidential election in which both candidates are of their grandparents generation and, let's face it, it is a rare person who identifies themselves with their grandparents. Pointing out the obvious cannot be done in a politically correct environment with fear of being accused of ageism.
So I expect to get crap from people for being ageist.
But let's get one fact out of the way, here. When I was 16 and older, beginning with the election of Jack Kennedy,no one who was born in my grandparents' generation ever ran for the Presidency. Here's the chart.
Here are the facts about the ten Presidents who served since I was a teen.
Five were "my parents age", the rest were younger. Three were younger than me.
Here are the facts regarding Presidents since my oldest granddaughter was a teen.
Obama was born six months before her father was born.
The second President in her experience will either be Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump who are old enough to be her grandparents, something that was never true for me.
Yes, Bernie Sanders is older and excited many in the Millennial generation.
But the focus here is the potential demise of the two political parties. Guess what - Bernie Sanders doesn't belong to either party - effectively he is an independent who, to use the Pew Study phrase, "leans Democratic" like the Millennials. So Millennials could relate to him and they don't relate to the political parties.
Does the lack of feeling a part of the political party communities matter? You bet it does. Let's look at the leading edge of what it likely will mean for the future.
I'm a Californian. California is the first state to eliminate the partisan primary.
Also here in California, Governor Jerry Brown is 78, Senator Diane Feinstein is 83, Senator Barbara Boxer is 75, and our most famous member of Congress Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is 76. The Chairman of the California Democratic Party former Congressman John Burton is 83.
In California back in 2012, Millennials were 29% of the population, Gen-X'ers wer 21.8% of the population, Baby Boomers were 23.4% of the population, and the Silent Generation was 9.4% of the population. All people who hold power in the Democratic Party are of the Silent Generation.
That is embarrassing - we have a non-representative government - literally a gerontocracy meaning per Wikipedia "a form of oligarchical rule in which an entity is ruled by leaders who are significantly older than most of the adult population."
"Coincidentally" recently in California we have done away with party primaries except for the President. That is because the strongest political movement in the state is the Independent Voter Project (IVP). Folks in other states should get to know this logo: .
From the IVP website:
IVP conducted large scale, in-election studies during the 2006 and 2008 California elections, in which a broad spectrum of common political communication strategies were tested against alternative approaches in an effort to learn how to increase voter participation amongst independent and “non base” partisan voters. In doing so, IVP identified 3 million “non-base” voters in California as “high-value” communication targets.I'm sure none of this had to do with the generation gap between age 65+ candidates and the largest generation, the Millennials. But whatever the underlying cause, the result was Proposition 14, the California Top Two Primaries Act.
But, perhaps the most important lesson learned through this process was that political consultants were severely hampered by a tendency to look at non-base voters through their own partisan lens. In one experiment, IVP took identical information and transcripts from two focus groups and asked a Republican pollster and a Democratic pollster to analyze the data and write a summary. The pollsters reached opposite conclusions from the exact same information, conclusions that matched their respective political preferences.
At the conclusion of the 2008 election, IVP initiated a plan to place a Nonpartisan Open Primary proposal on the 2010 primary ballot....
Per Wikipedia the Act "consolidated all primary elections for a particular office into an election with one ballot that would be identical to all voters, regardless of their party preferences. The two candidates with the most votes in the primary election would then be the only candidates who would run in the general election, regardless of their party affiliation."
(To get a feel for the reasons for voter support for the Act, consider A QUIET REVOLUTION: The Early Successes of California’s Top Two Nonpartisan Primary.)
Slowly that half of the Millennials who do not consider themselves part of either community known as the Democratic Party and the Republican Party will take control of who gets to be on the General Election ballots in California - the largest state in population with the largest number of electors in the Presidential Electoral College. At some time in the future the top two candidates for a statewide office will both not identify with a party.
Which leads to the point of this post. The 21st Century internet could permit potential "no party" candidates to use social media and "crowdfunding" to create a community of Millennials and Gen-X'ers to succeed in a "top 2" primary system.
If, in the end, this results in the failure of political parties, they will really have no one to blame but themselves. Despite his being of the grandparent generation, reality show star and millionaire Donald Trump has already demonstrated that social media can be used effectively to bypass traditional party mechanisms and the news media.
The legal structure forced him to operate within the party system. His approach has been primitive and he used his own money, but he beat a lineup of traditional professional politicians for the Republican nomination partly because the Republican party foolishly created a far less "party oriented" community to participate in the nomination process in response to 21st Century Tea Party/religious right pressures.
Pressures from Millennial-supported socialist Bernie Sanders are forcing the same opening of the process in the Democratic Party. But that is already too late in California.
The California Democratic Party is only nominally in control of the election to replace the retiring U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer because both General Election candidates are Democrats. But their party affiliation predates the California Top Two Primaries Act.
This is the first statewide election under the "top 2" system and the party system is starting to crack. The California Republican Party has essentially collapsed.
The "top 2" system has forced a division within the Democratic Party that erupted publicly when Democratic President Barack Obama endorsed Democrat Attorney General Kamala Harris, a black woman. Her opponent Latino Democrat Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez' response should be a warning to the Democratic Party that the biggest controversy in the future will be the Party itself:
“I believe that California voters are deeply concerned about the entrenched political establishment which has failed to work for them. Yet, it has been clear for some time that the same political establishment would rather have a coronation instead of an election for California's next U.S. Senator,” Sanchez said in a statement released by her campaign Tuesday evening.Baby Boomers Harris and Sanchez are in the age group 45-64 as represented on the chart below:
Sanchez has said for months that the party has favored Harris since she jumped into the race in early 2015, when Sen. Barbara Boxer announced she was retiring. Gov. Jerry Brown and the California Democratic Party already have endorsed Harris.
"California's Senate seat does not belong to the political establishment — it belongs to the People of California, and I believe California voters will make their own independent choice for U.S. Senate in November,” Sanchez's statement said.
While they should be somewhat more internet sophisticated than Trump, they are not from the 40% "no party" Gen'Xer's nor 49% the Millennials. And the latter group are well over 50% of the social network users.
Community is a matter of identity and perception. And make no mistake about it, political parties are communities starting at the local level.
The evolving problem is unprecedented in the past century as can be seen by this chart:
In 1940 only 20% of Americans thought of themselves as not being a party member. Today that number is double and even the generation that most identifies with parties is 29% "no party" and that generation is dying off.
The IVN is proposing a California state constitutional amendment that would create a single nonpartisan presidential ballot so that all California voters have an opportunity to cast a ballot for the candidate of their choice, regardless of their political affiliation, in taxpayer-funded presidential primaries.
By the 2036 election Millennials will be the age of today's Baby Boomers. This political cartoon reflects the possibilities:
There is no particular reason given 21st Century technology that legislative bodies need to gather in capitol buildings to perform the job of considering legislation based upon the merit of the content.
If the cost of running for elections can be reduced substantially by the use of the internet because, as Donald Trump so aptly demonstrated, costly advertising efforts will cease to be needed.
Instead, having abandoned their traditional role, most of the news media now make candidate social media posts a story, even to the point of discussing what's "trending" as a separate news story.
Social media "communities" can rise out of the ether to support someone who wants to run for office. Parties are not needed. And if the disappearance of parties would be a problem, it's too bad Democrats in this generation...
In my lifetime the average age of Presidents in their first year of office was 55. The only 70-year-old among them developed Alzheimer's disease while in office. This year, whichever candidate wins will hit 70 in 2017.
I know, I know. I'm being ageist. The problem is the older generation, my generation, is in denial. There are real factual reasons why at some point old people need to get out of the way.
If you are over 60 years of age, think about it. When you were 30, what exactly would you think about the fact that every important political position in your state was filled by someone over 70? Would you really think they could represent your needs and your future? Would you feel a sense of community with a party chaired by someone in their 80's who's over there chatting with your 75-year-old Governor?
I was a Young Democrat representative attending the California Democratic Council Convention at age 20. What are they today? Before the "top 2" system an age 49 youngster was hoping for a chance someone will die so they could run for office without being blocked.
Barack Obama notwithstanding, the only Y2K problems that needed fixing in 1999 were the political parties. Now the parties may have be on the road to being irreparably irrelevant to the largest generation of voters.
Grandpa Donald Trump constantly misuses social media. Grandma Hillary Clinton is constantly attacked over her use of email. When they were 40, the internet did not exist.
Millennials (and many Gen-X'er's) have lived with these tools since before they were adults. If the successes of Donald Trump and the Independent Voter Project are any indication, it is likely that by 2030 the Millennials and Gen-X'ers will have found a way to eliminate the need for political parties.