The Saeculum Decoded
A Blog by Neil Howe
Jul 312012

This happens often.  After I write about generational drivers or changes in the social mood, readers will contact me and ask: OK, so much for the drivers and the theory, Neil—what do you think will actually happen?

So let me try to pre-empt those readers.  In my last post, I talked about how and why different generations lean toward or against the 2012 presidential candidates.  In this post, I’ll talk about the connection between generations and some of the more conventional ways pundits currently handicap the election.  I won’t exactly say who I think will win, but I will discuss some of the indicators I am following closely.

Futures Markets.  Everyone knows that Republicans believe in futures markets (and in weird options and derivatives based thereon, like CDFs) more than anyone else.  So here’s the bad news they have to swallow: Futures markets are now predicting Obama to beat Romney by roughly 16 percentage points.  (This is not the predicted voter margin in the election; it is the probability margin by which of most investors think Obama will sneak by in at least a razor-thin victory.)  That’s 57-40 percent on Intrade or 58-42 on Iowa Futures.  Obama has been leading in these markets since last fall.  Bless those markets.  Because of the “law of one price” (look this one up under “arbitrage”), all of these futures market prices have to match, worldwide.  Even brainy liberals (see Infotopia by Cass Sunstein, ) give very high praise to futures markets.

I agree that futures markets have a great track record and need to be taken seriously.  Why do they lean more pro-Obama than the weekly polls?  Maybe they sense that the sentiment for Romney is merely the way Americans vent their anger (always at the incumbent when talking to pollsters) before settling down and voting for the incumbent after all.  Or maybe they sense that the strong preference of the rising generation for a cool and pragmatic Gen Xer as POTUS really does represent where the nation is heading—and that most voters will wake to that fact come November 6.  Young Pompey once declared (to aging Sulla) that “more people worship the rising than the setting sun.”  Maybe the markets agree.

Then again, markets no less than polls can be greatly mistaken this far away from the election.  At the very least, I think that buying a Romney contract on Intrade at $4.00 and waiting to sell it once it hits $4.50 is an extremely safe trade—since sooner or later Romney is bound to have a surge carrying him at least this far.  Even John McCain in 2008 surged in early September to 0.47 in the futures markets.  It is also possible that the markets could gradually drift to a sizable Romney advantage between now and mid-October, and that after Romney wins everyone will congratulate the markets for being so prescient.

The Economy.  According to the Pew Research Center, Romney leads Obama in his handling of one big issue, the economy, no matter how you phrase the question.  And the economy—for example, the creation of jobs and the revival of wage growth—is now far more important to voters than any other issue (environment, gay marriage, immigration, foreign policy, what have you) by a very large margin.  This is a big advantage for Romney.  The unemployment rate is now 8.2 percent; looking at current indicators, it may not decline at all between now and November.  No President since FDR has won an election with an unemployment rate over 7.2 percent.  (That was the rate in November of 1984, when Reagan won re-election; and unlike Obama, Reagan brought the rate down from the date of his first election.)  See The New York TimesFiveThirtyEight column for a detailed update on the link between the economy and election outcomes.

The economy is as good an argument for Romney as the futures markets are for Obama.  Still, it has potential weaknesses.  Voters have yet to buy into Romney’s economic program—or even to understand it—in any big way.  Is Romney going to cut deficits faster than Obama?  Who knows?  However he runs deficits, Romney says he wants to do it more through tax cuts than spending increases.  Is John Q. Public OK with this?  Also, keep in mind the “no President since FDR” proviso.  If the public comes to equate George W. Bush with Hoover—and Obama with FDR—well then all bets are off.  FDR won as an incumbent in 1936 with an unemployment rate of 16.9% and in 1940 with a rate of 14.6%.

I agree that if the economy worsens in the next couple of months, or if we simply learn more about how bad the economy now is (at least one eminent forecasting group thinks we’re already in a recession, it just hasn’t been called yet), the news will certainly give a further boost to Romney.  But the link between each generation’s pocketbook and vote is seldom simple or direct.  The Silent Generation has done the best economically in recent years and will never bear much of the burden of large deficits, yet the Silent are the most anti-Obama.  For the Millennials, it’s the other way around.  Liberals often complain that red-zone Americans would switch parties if they only understood their own economic self-interest.  Conservatives say the same today about Americans under age 30.  The problem is, most people don’t respond to piecemeal economic incentives.  They either do, or do not, buy into a whole vision.

Likeability.  How much do you like the candidate?  How much would you like to have a beer with him?  These are the sorts of warm-and-fuzzy questions that many political analysts believe turn the tide in an election.  In most of the critical elections I can remember, GOP candidates have had the likeability advantage: Reagan over Carter; Bush Sr. over Dukakis; Bush Jr. over Kerry.  But this election, it’s tipping the other way: The Democratic candidate in 2012 is currently much more likeable than the GOP candidate.  It hardly matters what you ask—which candidate is more “friendly,” “connecting,” “honest,” “good,” “trying,” or “engaged,”—Obama comes out ahead, typically by double digits.  Likeability could be a huge plus in an era of great anxiety when many voters will want to go with their “gut.  It certainly worked for FDR.

Speaking of whom, there actually was a time when the least likeable candidate was, routinely, the Republican.  And that was the 1930s and 1940s.  Herbert Hoover and Alf Landon were less likable than FDR, and Tom Dewey was less likeable than just about anyone, including FDR and Harry Truman.  So Democrats, yes, can be likeable.  Are we reverting to the last Fourth Turning in party likeability?  Or is there a simpler explanation?  Perhaps Mitt Romney, whom nearly everyone who knows him would call him very “likeable,” has simply not yet had the chance to get his charm on in prime time.  We’ll see.

Intangibles & Wildcards.  I give most of the intangibles at this point to Romney.  He is the challenger, and it is an old maxim (though some disagree) that challengers do better late in the campaign.  A much larger share of his supporters say they are “enthusiastic” about this election—no doubt reflecting the higher relative energy of older voters this time around.  He also remains relatively unknown, which means that millions of Americans will be taking a close look at him for the first time in the ten weeks between the GOP convention and the election.  Since much of what is known about Romney thus far is negative (thanks to the attacks from his primary opponents and to the Obama campaign’s efforts to “predefine” him), it is likely that his strengths—for example, his intelligence, wit, and dedication to his family and the community—will get plenty of play.  Romney may surprise voters during the debates by coming across smarter and warmer than most voters are expecting.

Another possible plus for Romney is the “reverse coattails effect.”  Since the GOP are odds-on favorites to retain a majority in the House and gain a majority in the Senate, Romney could be pulled along by state and local candidates.  That assumes of course that most voters prefer to vote a straight ticket and have a single-party government.  It’s often said that Americans are happy with divided government, but according to one recent study a large (and possibly rising) majority say no, they really do want one party in charge.

Any intangibles for Obama?  Confidence, maybe.  Though Obama supporters are less enthusiastic, they are more likely to say they want to cast a positive vote for their candidate (as opposed to voting against the other guy) and are a lot more confident than Romney supporters that their candidate will win.  Obama must hope that confidence doesn’t morph into complacency and that his supporters are still ready to sprint.  Many pundits also say that Obama has an advantage in the electoral college by leading in the bigger states.  That could make a difference, but only if the popular vote is extremely close.

As for wildcards—meaning sudden big surprises—these usually break for the incumbent Commander in Chief, unless voters associate them with mistakes made by the incumbent.  An attack on Iran (by Israel and/or the United States, though the most likely date now mentioned in the media is October, after the election), would likely break favorably for Obama.  Seismic financial news (like a crash triggered by an impending breakup of the Euro) may not break as well, since it may persuade many voters that the world needs better global economic leadership.

Obama and Romney.  Let me conclude with a few thoughts on the two candidates themselves—and how they are, or are not, representative of their generation.

As readers of our books and this blog know, I consider Obama (born, 1961) to be a first-cohort member of Generation X (born 1961-81).  The Gen-X dates we’ve explained and defended at length elsewhere (too many books to hyperlink!).  But what about Obama?  Does he fit the basic Xer picture?  I’ve always thought so: Son of a new-age mom; child of a broken family; growing up disoriented amid incessant travel, change, and social experimentation; coming of age agoraphobic, feeling (as he puts it) “like an outsider”; and ultimately constructing his own persona (like Gatsby), a quality I see in many successful Xers.  What’s more, Obama knows he’s not a Boomer: In his books (Dreams from My Father, The Audacity of Hope), he repeatedly mentions how he feels he came along “after” the Boomers and wants to put an end to much that Boomers have done wrong (culture wars, ideological polarization, and so on).  Back in 2008, Obama often referred to this as a contrast between an earlier “Moses” generation and his own “Joshua” generation.

Obviously, opinions differ about who Obama “really” is.  I think he is at heart a canny survivor, a masterful tactician, a pragmatist who doesn’t let emotions cloud his judgment.  He knows when to play rope-a-dope (always let the GOP make the first budget move, then counter), or when to rouse his base by inveighing against Wall Street tycoons (even while hiring them to staff his Treasury), or when to ignore his own base and make a shrewd cost-benefit call (War on Terror by Predators, anyone?).  On the Boomer cusp, Obama is certainly capable of crusading oratory—which adds to his versatility.  Many of the most memorable crisis-era leaders in American history have been, like Obama, Nomad-Prophet hybrids: FDR, Abraham Lincoln, Sam Adams.  Yet clearly Obama would need a very different and far more effective second term—and another opportunity handed to him by history—to enter these ranks.

As for Mitt Romney (born 1947), no one doubts he is a Boomer.  He’s led a committed religious life; he’s always won accolades as a driven achiever; he’s made tons of money as a blue-chip yuppie; he believes in Values and Culture and Principles; and he tends to see America’s future in heavily moralistic terms (for example, in his recent book, No Apology: Believe in America, he juxtaposes his father’s “Greatest Generation” against his own “Worst Generation”—a dark figure of speech that Obama would never use).  Will his religion be a problem?  There is lots more talk about Mormonism as a Christian heresy among older than among younger Americans, that’s for certain.  Many Millennials are impressed by the strong community ethic of Romney’s LDS Church.

One mystery about Romney, though, is the impression he gives to many of his fellow Boomers that he never shared their passionate coming-of-age experience, never broke from Mom and Dad, and never drank from the same deep well of authenticity and inner fire.  We used to call this the “Dan Quayle problem.”  Boomers have never been drawn to someone who seems to paint by the numbers.  In the GOP primaries, when running against Gingrich and Santorum, Romney consistently did worse among Boomers than among other generations.

Yet in the general election, this weakness may rebound to his advantage.  In the GOP primary, Mitt Romney consistently did better with young voters than any of the other candidates (with the occasional exception of Ron Paul).  Millennials may actually like Romney’s cool and precise 7-point memo responses.  (Romney, far more than McCain, will be able to debate Obama this fall on his own Ivy-League level.)  Silent voters, similarly, may also prefer the buttoned-down Romney over the totally unplugged Boomer radical.

Yet at some point, for all of his advantages on paper, Romney will have to show some flame, some focus, and some real killer instinct.  He will have to get ahead, stay ahead, and systematically thwart his opponent’s comebacks.  In a national election, Romney has not yet demonstrated he has that endurance and resolve.  Obama has.

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  • Joe

    Talk about market predictions: so far the stock market in 2012 follows the script of an incumbent victory to the t. The stock market has always been one of the best predictors of the presidential election and 2012 clearly points to Obama’s 2nd term beyond any doubt.

  • excessivelyperky

    It would help Gov. Romney if he a) had a message, and b) stayed with it for more than five minutes. He often does not remember what he said to different audiences. People may not like what Pres. Obama has to say (especially if only one sentence is taken out of it, or made up out of whole cloth), but he doesn’t wobble that much. Even conservatives know that there isn’t any _there_ there; they’re just ABO even if their chosen flavor of the month did not survive the primary process.

  • JPT

    A few points:

    1. Polls months away from an election, and polls of “adults” vs. registered voters and likely voters (in that order of magnitude) always over-represent support for Democrats. Leaving aside the potential bias of many polling firms, Republicans reliably turn out to vote in higher percentages than Democrats. On the generic ballot for Congress, you can accurately assume a 5-point overstatement for the Democrats in almost any election year. 

    2. People often look at a poll that shows Obama at 46% and Romney at 43% and say “Obama leads by 3 points”, ignoring the fact that 11% of those polled are undecided. Obama is a known quantity, and people who are going to vote for him already know it. His numbers in head-to-head polls are almost exactly tracking his job approval, which right now is in negative territory. If that’s the case on election day, he’ll lose. Romney is still relatively unknown to people, and has to present himself at the convention before the race actually takes shape.

    3. Your analysis left out the fact that all generations tend to become more conservative/Republican as they age. While some (like Boomers and GIs) may be more Democratic-leaning than the average, they still move right as they age. The same will happen to Millenials. Boomers today obviously vote nothing like they did in 1972, as your article shows. The GIs were also Reagan’s strongest supporters in 1984, although they were far less enthusiastic about the Bushes.

    4. 2008 should be avoided as a baseline for Millenial voting, because minority voter turnout was disproportionate. Although Hispanics are growing as a percentage of the population (over half of all U.S. Hispanics are white, by the way), black and Hispanics turnout from 18-29 was still substantially exaggerated, obviously in response to Obama as a candidate. Even if the Democrats never nominate another white candidate for president, the “first” can never be repeated. Recent polls show that enthusiasm to vote among Hispanics overall is WAY down from 2008.

    My read on where things stand is that Romney has a slight edge, which he can either expand or squander based on how he performs in the campaign. Obama’s support is as strong as it is (at least on paper) because of his status as the first “non-white” president. When you look at the elections that have taken place from 2009 until today (including, this year, the failed Walker recall in WI and Cruz’s recent victory in Texas), the state of the economy, the unpopularity of the health care law, and Obama’s low approval ratings, the headwinds Obama faces are massive. But it falls to whether Romney, as a candidate, can seal the deal. He could lose narrowly if he botches it. If he performs just adequately, I think he will undoubtedly win, and perhaps by a much larger margin than the polls currently suggest.

    • Joe

      If there was a lead or even a slight chance for the challenger (Romney), the stock market knows nothing about it. There are two distinct election year patterns in the stock market, a more bearish one whenever a challenger wins the presidential election and a more bullish one whenever the incumbent wins. So far the market tracks the incumbent win pattern near perfectly. I would not speculate against the stock market and its track record of predicting the election results. Not sure how good the prediction markets (intrade) are as they are more recent, but they say the same thing. The stock market has been around for a while and seen it all. Of course, it could change all going forward, but so far it seems very clear pro-Obama.

  • Richard Delley

    to put it in another way it is the ADULTS who will decide this election and put Romney into the White House. 😉 I like the sound of that! Also it is a proven fact that despite all the broo haha over the decades about voting right for minorities, they don’t even bother to show up at the polls in percentage any where close to the white population. I see Obama losing Colorado over this despite his obvious attempts to pander to the latinos.

    • Dboy

      ^This is the same mistake that most people make when trying to figure out elections…their “reasoned” guess is little more than into-wishing based on personal bias.  I’m GenX. I WISH Ron Paul would win (he’s practical, tough-minded, and logical). But my observations are telling me it’s Obama in 2012. The republicans COULD have nominated THEIR version of a Crisis candidate, but instead they went for a half-baked version of Ronald Reagan…mistake.

      • Dboy

         And here’s Larry Kudlow (today), trying to make the case that Romney is the Second Coming of Ronald Reagan:

        Do Americans think that right now when the crumbling is obvious to everyone, that’s it’s time to have a rerun of the 1980’s culture wars? No, I don’t think so (there’s no difference between the candidates on foreign policy, so this simplifies the equation).

  • Giustino

    Obama may not be a Boomer per se, but he is close enough to them that he comes off as Prophetic to younger members of his generation. Someone born in 1961 would be old enough to know the pre-1966 America, before Vietnam heated up, before the Tet Offensive, before the Summer of Love … back when the Beach Boys were still wearing uniforms and singing “Help Me, Rhonda.” So when he appeals to American greatness, he may not have that stock footage of himself shaking hands with Kennedy (like Clinton did), but there is reason to believe that he had some firsthand experience with the America that existed at the time of its “Sputnik Moment” (Obama was 8 at the time of the Moon Landing, an event that most Xers do not remember). Contrast that with someone born at the tail-end of the generation. I was born the week the American embassy in Tehran was stormed. Would you believe anybody born in 1979 (or 1977 or 1969) who wrote a book called “The Audacity of Hope”? I am not sure you have noticed this, but Xers don’t tend to like the leaders we have produced. It was this way even when I was in grammar school — aspiring public servants were seen as sycophants, brown nosers, lackeys, or, especially, in it only for themselves. The idea of one of my own getting up on a public stage and talking about hope and greatness — well, that would be met with the Statler and Waldorf treatment (those two old farts who sat in the balcony on The Muppet Show and heckled the performers). Since Jim Henson debuted those characters in the mid-1970s, one can imagine what kinds of “Old Fogeys” inspired them. Anyway, don’t sell the prophet side of Obama so short. He can do things that most cohorts younger than him cannot.

  • Millenials are said to be more civic minded, and I’m always looking for indicators. This was on the front page of Reddit today, an user-curated website primarily frequented by Millenials:

    • Very nice.  Unstated, analytical humor, using blustery senior passion as a perfect foil.  You could easily see this on Stewart… in fact, maybe it’s been there already.

    • JPT

      The problem with that picture (aside from the fact that a lot of the captions are inaccurate and/or misleading…for example, culverts are paid for by the property owner, and regulated and inspected by the government) and the arguments behind it (made by Elizabeth Warren and Barack Obama among others) is twofold:

      1.  The business owner already pays for all of those things, either directly or through taxes.
      2. The fact that people accept certain government actions does not mean they have an obligation to support and fund whatever other actions government takes.

      The reductionist reasoning behind it presents a false dichotomy: Either you’re for massive government with unlimited power and no spending restraint, or you’re for NO government. Furthermore, the argument goes that the business owner OWES other citizens  for those services, when in fact the business owner already pays far more in taxes than they do.

      This is a case of trying to rationalize a parasitic government sucking more blood from the host organism, nothing more. It’s also ignorant, dishonest, and shallow. On balance, the government did more to impede his business than it did to help it, and that is universally the case (unless you’re getting government subsidies, like Solyndra, et al.). 

      • I agree with you about the false dichotomy.  Rightwingers today (oddly) believe the community counts for nothing, which is absurd.  And leftwingers believe the community counts for everything, which is (perhaps) even more absurd given our nation’s yeoman and libertarian origins.  “You didn’t build that” may be a phrase that Obama most wishes he had never uttered.  Peggy Noonan recently did a spoof on this, which has been widely mimicked–about her objections to Obama’s congratulations call to Michael Phelps: Hey, Michael deserves no praise! He grew up swimming in public pools!  “He got training from the USOC, and ate food grown by the Department of Agriculture. He should play fair and share his medals with people like me, who can barely keep my head above water, let alone swim.”  And so on.

        • JPT

          And by the same logic, you, Mr. Howe, did not build Lifecourse Associates, nor did you write those books.

          • Boomer that I am, I don’t regard my community as having played any role in my work.  (If anything, the “expert” or “academic” community has been an obstacle to be overcome.)  But I do honor those who came before me and made my work possible.  To paraphrase Newton, we stand on the shoulders of the giants.

  • I totally agree with your assessment of the shift from first-wave to later-wave Xers.  As of now, it looks like the strongest Xer leaders will come from the beginning of this generation.  In one sense, though, Obama is an anomaly in that the great majority of these early-wave Xer leaders are GOP/conservative.  Surveys, exit polls, steep partisan tilt among legislators now in office all point in this direction.

    • Giustino

      I think you are right, because the “Reagan wave” (so to speak) embraced a certain number of core political ideologies, whereas one of the hallmarks of my “Clinton wave” was the repudiation of ideology, period, at least among the rising youth generation. They grew tired of leftwing critiques of America sponsored by fiendish “special interest groups”; we grew tired of scorched Earth culture wars waged by the Religious Right. But since they had that stronger ideological platform, they will probably produce stronger, or at least, more iconic leaders. This reminds me of two comments, one from the creators of South Park (1969,1971 cohorts): (“We hate liberals more than conservatives”) and my friend (a 1977 cohort) (“I hate Democrats, but I really, really hate Republicans”). It’s the same libertarian instinct, but manifested in different ways.

  • You’re going to have to give citations or a more complete description of this historical pattern if you want us to understand us.  Post-election, challenger victories have often been great for the stock market (think: epic boom starting in the fall of 1932); and incumbent victories have often been horrible (think: epic bear starting in the fall of 1972).  Do you mean pre-election?  Are you characterizing the current market as good?  bad?

  • JPT

    Considering how much the Fed has done to juice the stock market, I don’t think it’s a reliable indicator of the economy, much less an election. TARP and QE have made sure Wall Street is doing well. Meanwhile unemployment remains at 8.3%, and when you add in the “underemployed” and those who have left the job market, the number gets into depression-era territory.

  • corgishire

    I admit I’m still reading the 4th Turning but I have read 13th Gen. I really thought the correlation of generation archetypes to the MBTI was fascinating.  It seems there’s been a very successful list that predicts presidents by Allan Lichtman.  It predicts an easy win for Obama.

    What are your thoughts on his process/list and how it applies to generational theory?

  • Joe

    A bit OT from the elections: Could the past 3T & 4T’s most moralistic culture war battle for prohibition be today’s battle about gay marriage? Could we see a progressive move such as the abolition of prohibition in 1933 in that gay marriage will be legalized across the board in today’s 4T? I guess it is already way on its way of legalization btw. – Just thinking after the recent news around the Chick-Fil-A founder.

    • Dboy

       In my opinion, the gay marriage issue is not big enough to warrant much additional attention.  I do think though that whatever the primary drivers of this Crisis are/will be,  they have already been defined during the Unravelling…so whatever it is, it’s already on our list. In this Crisis, I really don’t see the “legalization” of ANYTHING to be all that significant, because this is a government that lacks legitimacy. I suspect THAT problem is likely to be at the core of what we are about to experience:-) This chick-fil-a thing looks to me like “freedom fries part d’eux”. When Americans express their political positions by eating 1500 calorie fast food meals, you know it’s nothing but shark-jumping.

  • Sally

    I’m new to this blog. Just picked up “The Fourth Turning” and have been reading sections here and there. I’m a Boomer, born in 1947. I think Romney is the poster child for the class of wealthy Americans with influence and power who made the tax code into a boutique bank for the very rich, and have fleeced the middle class. As this becomes more obvious day by day,  the middle class, who have borne the brunt of these stunts, will not reward that vulture capitalist with the White House.  I’m glad he is the presumptive GOP candidate. His inability to disclose his tax returns is pulling back the curtain on how Congress has shafted  the middle class for 30 years.

    • Dboy

       I agree with this. Romney is not presenting himself as a Crisis candidate. He appears to everyone as the sort of person who considers a crisis to be when you’ve accidentally run out of Dom Perignon during a very important dinner party.  Regardless of your personal opinion of Obama, he “feels” like a revolutionary. He ran his 2008 campaign as if he WERE a revolutionary. The fact that he was just an empty-calorie highly-marketed product does not change the fact that  Americans were trying to vote for a revolutionary. I think Obama wins 2012. –Dboy

      • Joe

        DBOY & Sally: Agree with both of you. The big economic problem of our time is that the super-rich now have so much income and wealth that the bottleneck in the economy is demand. The average Joe consumer’s income has been negative in real terms for more than a decade. Those who depend on wages for their income like me and nearly all of us have lost out for a long time and in fact the last recession never ended as we are still negative three years into the current recovery. We badly need income redribution to get the economy back on solid footing. We need a recovery across the entire income spectrum like from 1933 – 1960s, not only for the 1% like the 1980s – present.
        The problem I see – it was easy for Pres. Roosevelt to start this as he had a majority in Congress. As long as Republicans and particulary Teaparticans are in a position to block such policy it will be difficult to get it going. Also, unions are still largely non-existent and I do not really see any signs of life for them.

  • jen

    The part about Romney leading a “committed religious life” made me wince. That can mean so many different things. He appears to have been committed to Mormonism, which is far different than being committed to the teachings of Christ. I still marvel at the irony that a state like Oklahoma (where I live) – full of right-wing Southern Baptists who have long regarded The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints as a cult – would overwhelmingly support Romney instead of Obama, an evangelical Baptist. This begs so many questions about what we are all committed to and what we really believe – or don’t believe. It hasn’t created a spiritual or intellectual crisis for me, but it does perplex me.

    • JPT

      Considering that Obama’s religious experience consists of sitting in Jeremiah Wright’s church for 20 years, I think it’s a wash.

      • JPT

        Also: that church is not Baptist, it’s UCC.

      • Dboy

        It’s difficult to operate a microscope while swimming in the petri dish. –Dboy

    • By saying “committed religious life,” I wasn’t commenting on the substance of that life, one way or the other.  I’m just saying that commitment to religion is an important part of Romney’s identity, which is very generational.  It’s a Big Deal when Boomers assume the faith of their parents–and it’s also a Big Boomer Deal when they totally reject it (as large numbers of Boomers have).  The Xer attitude toward religion, on the other hand, is more agnostic, experimental, playful, wistful, prone toward role playing.  The reason is, organized religion was in great turmoil when they first came along.  So they were less likely to see it as something all-powerful that you would either wholeheartedly join or angrily rebel against.  Surveys show, for this reason, that Boomers are more likely than Xers to say that they have have “left” the religion of their childhood.  Explanation: A lot more Xers feel that they really didn’t have anything to “leave.”

  • This is more of a general comment, but one that touches on something that has been somewhat overlooked I think.  Freemasonry.  No, not the secret lucifer-worshipping blood cult, but rather the group of guys who unbeknownst to most probably played a very large role in building up that little berg you live in into something decent while having some fun at it.  The fraternity has been in a long decline ever since the boom it experienced from the late 20s to the 40s.  Most do not join the fraternity as “old people”, most join up as soon as they are able, which is typically around the ages of 20~30.  Until recently, there was a “great dying” going on, where the old GI Generation members were dying off in droves to be replaced by no one, and a doddering Boomer generation handful presiding in leadership over some silents.  GenXers more or less skipped out on it entirely.

    Well, what’s going on now? HUGE upswing in membership.  It’s another boom all over again, and it’s all young people.  Fresh blood.  My own lodge has gone from 1 lodge a month to 1 a week now just to be able to handle all the initiates.  The other thing to this to remember, is that our degrees are not free and there are dues to be paid.  So now, in this time of unemployment, Millennials are forking over their cash to become a part of what is very traditional “establishment”.

    • Harold: Very interesting.  I would love to know if you or anyone has national data on this trend.  Please google around and ask your lodge leaders.  If you find anything, I urge you to report back here.

      As you may know, membership in “fraternal organizations” generally, and Masonry in particular, has been associated with the rising Hero archetype in American history going all the way back to the 18th century.  Similarly, anti-Masonry has always been associated with the Prophet archetype, most spectacularly during the Second Great Awakening during the 1830s and 1840s (when the Anti-Masons even became a major political party).  As a Boomer, I will confess that we spent much of our youth ridiculing the fraternal organizations of our fathers (Elks, Rotarians, Shriners, K of C, Kiwanis, Masons, what have you).  At that time, they seemed sexist, authoritarian, and politically and socially retrograde, if not protofascist.

      Am I surprised that they would now be in ascendency?  Not at all.  I must say, in fact, that I have been expecting it and waiting for it!  And not–I hasten to add–because I think Millennials are retrograde, but rather because fraternal organizations represent a vital and constructive avenue for civic engagement that Boomers spurned and that Millennials may be rediscovering.

      • Dboy

        Funny. My best friend at work is a Millennial and he is in the process of becoming a Mason.

  • JPT

    I just watched part of a speech by Paul Ryan at “The Villages” in FL. The summary of it: “we will not touch Medicare for current seniors, but we must reform it for my generation and my children’s generation”.

    I have to tip my hat to you, Mr Howe, for a prediction you made 15 years ago coming to pass.

  • Joe

    Intrade now also predicts that the Democrats will keep control of the Senate by a small margin. The Republican advantage has been melting away steadily since the turn of the year.

  • One clarification about the contrast between Obama
    and Reagan on unemployment levels. Both inherited a high unemployment rate,
    quickly had it go higher for a couple of years, and then gradually rode it
    down. At this point (numbers only through July), Reagan was in the same
    position as Obama: numbers unchanged from what he’d inherited. If the rate
    comes down another 2/10ths in the next couple of months, Obama will be in
    exactly the same position as Reagan, showing a slight decrease from the start,
    trending better. And he got re-elected.

  • ericthered

    Neil, I would love to more of your thoughts on the election now that’s it is getting closer.

  • Joerg Mueller

    Intrade odds in favor of Pres. Obama’s reelection now up to 70-30. I think that ship has sailed. Likewise, the odds for Repubicans to take the Senate majority have also fizzled out. It looks like eeverything stays after the election as before. I wonder how the regeneracy will spring to live under this power configuration. At least Pres. Obama mentioned the “New Deal” in his convention speech – as it would take a New Deal to get us out of the current mess.

  • John Grieco

    Neal – In the lectures and workshops I give on your generation theory, I often cite your interesting observations of an anomaly in presidential history; that the Silent generation has never produced a U.S. President or Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. I also mention that America has rarely elected a president from an “elder” generation than the one that is currently in office (except when the Compromise Presidents Taylor and Buchanan were elected vs. “younger” Transcendental Generations). Given that a Gen Xer, President Obama (born in 1961), currently holds the office, the it would seem to reason that a Boomer (i.e. H. Clinton or M. Romney, or J. Bush) would have to go against over 160 years of history to be elected in 2016. Do you agree? I have not yet heard this analysis by any of the news commentators and I think it would give many pause for thought.