The Saeculum Decoded
A Blog by Neil Howe
Oct 142012

A couple of weeks ago, I suggested that for Romney to have a chance of catching up with Obama at least one of three things had to happen. At the top of that list of three: Have a really good performance in the debates. It was already clear at that time that a near-record share of voters would be tuning into the debates and that most voters had very low expectations for Romney’s performance. Those who have paid some attention to Romney over the years and know that in fact he comes across as pretty coherent and pretty smart in these debate formats suspected that a real “expectations upset” was in the offing.

In the first debate, that kind of upset was just what happened. The Romney campaign, once despondent, is now re-energized. The Obama campaign, once on confident cruise-control, is now scurrying madly.

More recently, Team Obama may have hoped that their side would get a material boost from the good-news BLS report showing the unemployment rate sinking below 8.0 percent.  Not much boost there, though some on the GOP side (like the inimitable Jack Welch, celebrity ex-CEO) made themselves look silly by accusing the Labor Department civil servants of participating in a vast conspiracy.

Then came the VP debate starring Biden and Ryan, Silent (born 1942) versus Gen-Xer (born 1970). Who won that one? It’s like what they said about Nixon-Kennedy. If you just read the transcript or listened to the audio, I think Biden probably won. But those who watched it probably thought that Ryan came across as more composed, more respectful, less nasty. Treasure this moment: Not often that you will ever see a Gen-Xer seem nicer, head to head, against a Silent.  Imagine Jim Lehrer debating Glenn Beck. Or Bill Moyers debating eminem.  It’s as though the Xer, not the Silent, once had etiquette lessons.  Next thing you know, we’ll be firing all those 70ish Silent WalMart greeters and telemarketers who (we thought) have been so effective at “nice,” and replacing them with 40something Ryan clones.  OK, maybe not. At any rate, the verdict is in, and the VP debate did not give Obama any perceptible poll bounce. Both debates, I think, gave Team Romney a huge “niceness” boost, which is something their ticket really needed to help them with the all-important undecided voter.

Last time, I cited realclearpolitics to show how badly things were going for Romney.  At that time, he was at least five percentage points behind Obama in the national polls—and hadn’t led in a national poll in nearly two months.  Well, that has certainly changed.  As of this moment, Romney is marginally ahead by about one percentage point—and it’s Obama who hasn’t led in a national poll since just before the first debate.

I also cited a devastating survey by Pew showing Romney trailing Obama by eight percentage points and trailing him as well in virtually every measure of both likeability and competence.  Well, that too has changed.  A new Pew survey reports that voters (especially independents, 72% to 14%) overwhelmingly thought that Romney won the debate—and that among all registered voters Romney has completely erased Obama’s substantial prior lead. Among “likely voters,” indeed, it’s Romney who now enjoys a four percentage point lead.  And who is viewed more “favorably”?  Well, believe it or not, Pew now says that the two are now tied in favorability (Romney at 50%, Obama at 49%).  A month ago, Obama led on this measure by 10 percentage points (Romney at 45%, Obama at 55%).

OK, now let’s dig a bit deeper into this generationally.  To make this easy to comment on, let me reproduce the Pew crosstabs onto this screen as follows:

Overall, in this survey’s favorability rating, Obama lost 6 points and Romney gained 5.  Net, +11.  Note that Romney’s gains were greater among women than men (+15 versus +6). I would chalk this up to likeability, but then again I’m sure I’d be accused of sexism if I tried to defend this opinion. The gains were disproportionate among whites rather than blacks (+15 versus +3). And, in age groups, it’s fascinating to see large gains for Romney among the Silent (+15), Xers (+21), and Millennials (+17)—but actually a slight gain for Obama among Boomers (‒3).

Can anyone tell me why the debate struck Boomers so differently—that is, less favorably for Romney—than it did all other generations?  If so, please let me know.  My own opinion is simply that Romney has never seemed attractive in the eyes of his own generation.  Boomers want a “values” candidate, and in Romney they see an analytical whiz kid, long on numbers, short on soul.  In the GOP primaries, he consistently lost to the likes of Gingrich and Santorum among Boomers even while just as consistently doing best among Millennials and (a bit less consistently) among Xers. That’s my take. I’d like to know yours.

Let me add this further breakdown of the Pew survey, this time looking solely at white voters.  Since most of the movement in candidate support throughout year has been greatest among whites and least among blacks, it makes the generational point in more striking terms.

Note first the change among white Americans age 50+: Very little, a mere two points, one point less for Obama and one point more for Romney.  Now look at white Americans under age 50: A vast shift of 28 points! As in the earlier (all ethnicities) table, there are not large differences by income or education. But there are big differences by age. Whatever Romney is doing, it is certainly turning the heads of whites under 50 across the board.

Finally, let’s look at another Pew report, which—though pre-debate—is also bad news for the Obama camp.  It shows that Americans under age 30 are considerably less engaged in 2012 than they were in 2008.  The shares of under-30s saying they have “given a lot of thought to the election” or “follow campaign news very closely” are both down by 17 percentage points—a much steeper decline than for older generations.  The share of youth saying they will “definitely” vote is down 9 points (from 72 to 63 percent), while that share has actually risen for all older Americans. Needless to say, Obama depends upon a huge under-30 voting margin to offset what he will surely lose among older voters.

In there any silver lining in this report for Obama? Maybe this: Engagement is down less for young women (who lean more Democratic) than for young men; and it is not down at all for young African Americans (who lean 20-to-1 Democratic). With luck, Obama may be able to maintain the intensity of the pro-Obama youth preference, even if he cannot maintain the overall magnitude of the youth vote.

My own prediction for the election remains unchanged. As I have said all along, I think Obama will win by a modest margin (smaller than 2008, but not a cliffhanger). And I think the House will certainly stay GOP and the Senate will be split down the middle.

Back in an earlier blog, I also wrote that my scenario would be a difficult one for the economy, because it would maximize the odds of a damn-the-torpedoes “fiscal cliff” scenario, which might very well throw the economy back into a recession (or worsen the recession if we are already in one). Others are voicing a different opinion.  Since the Dow has been falling ever since Romney’s poll numbers have been rising, they are saying that a Romney victory raises the probability that the deficit will be squeezed faster and that a monetary “hawk” will replace Bernanke at the Fed. OK, I get this: If you believe (like Paul Krugman) that supercharged zero-interest promises and endless fiscal stimulus are all that prevent us from spiraling back down into recession, then, yes, Romney is actually bad news for the economy. Austerity economics sure isn’t working wonders anywhere else in the world. Why should we think we would work well here? I guess this view assumes that Romney would implement austerity. But is that a valid assumption? I’m just asking questions here.



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  • JPT

    Sadly, I think the younger people are, the less likely they are to be paying attention, and the more likely they are to be influenced by the entertainment media. Given the media’s overall tilt towards the Democrats and all of the attack ads run by the Obama campaign, those who had not been paying much attention were more likely to be surprised when they finally saw Romney speak for himself. Although as someone who does pay a lot of attention, even I was pleasantly surprised by how well Romney did. He was clearly prepared, and showed himself to be a lot smarter than I had given him credit for in the past.

    When you look at all of the polls right now, it seems pretty likely that if the election was held today, Romney would win. There could still be time for that to change, but it seems that a lot of people were looking for an alternative to Obama, and Romney gave it to them. I don’t know that it’s possible for the Obama campaign to de-legitimize Romney in the next 3 weeks, with two more debates for him to speak for himself. With Obama showing that he could not defend his record in the first debate, and had no new plans on the economy for the next four years, more attacks against Romney could ring hollow. I don’t think Biden did Obama any favors among swing voters.

    As for the employment numbers, there is a way that they could be influenced outside of pure dishonesty on the part of the government statisticians. That is, the Obama Administration and Democrat governors could time hiring and firing of government employees to maximize the last numbers before the election. I don’t know exactly what the explanation is, but I don’t blame Welch for being suspicious. The timing was awfully convenient, and there haven’t been any other indicators in the economy that would explain a sudden drop.

  • JPT

    Sorry for double posting, wish I could edit my post above.

    About “austerity”: what that has meant in other countries (the UK, for example) is cutting spending and raising taxes at the same time. Romney is proposing tax cuts and entitlement reform, and has not been emphasizing spending cuts, at least in the short term.

  • Tristan Jones

    The reason why I believe austerity economics is not working to stimulate the economy in places where it already has been tried, is that the cuts in government spending have been accompanied by tax increases. An Romney administration would be very likely to be cutting both government spending and taxes (or at very least not increasing them).

    • You are incorrect – austerity works if done hard, not dragged out to avoid pain. One of the Baltic states, I think it was Latvia, did it and now is doing very well. We had the chance in 2008 but blew it by not letting the TBTF fail. Sure, it would be painful, but the amount of debt that has to be deflated has been blown bigger since 2008. The coming super debt cycle collapse will be catastrophic, much worse then it would have been in 2008. We are already into the Fourth Turning, with the knockout punch low around 2017. We are going into the collapse with a Marxist community organizer in the White House. Obama will be way over his head, a disaster.

  • neil ridley

    Does what we have here not indicate that we have not reached a change point or turning? We are playing by the same rules of engagement, thinking that things will return to normal. What seems to be here is Obama will retain the staus quo and Romney will hasten the chase to a turning.
    In Britain we have just had our major party conferences, an annual jamboree. All leaders are Xers, all leaders are failing to connect with their people because all they can offer is more of the same and fail totally to look into the future at all. We don’t even have someone leading us over the cliff yet? There is a thought that the bank wants to set the printing press runninmg to inject inflation – this will help us further to the cliff edge. In essence we are all caught in a trap of being blinded by looking into the sun as a way of thinking to resolve things.

    • Neil, I am thinking intensely about this tonight since Obama was re-elected. Your thought that ‘Obama will retain the status quo’ hit me as prescient. Obama is of the conflict (you could say dialectic of opposites) that brought us to crisis since 2007. He was a product of it, and therefore everything he does is of it and aggravates it. He is not a transcendent figure that can lead us out of the crisis. His re-election tells me that the crisis has not yet become painful enough to bring forward the transcendent leader.

  • I think Boomers had made up their minds long ago, which is why you don’t see a significant change in how the debates affected them. What sells them on a president is the ideology they follow, I don’t think they care as much about the specifics. Perhaps Romney lost points with them because he didn’t seem as ideologically consistent in the debates as Obama did.

  • KathyH

    “Now look at white Americans under age 50: A vast shift of 28 points! As in the earlier (all ethnicities) table, there are not large differences by income or education. But there are big differences by age. Whatever Romney is doing, it is certainly turning the heads of whites under 50 across the board.”
    I am 32 yrs old; my husband is 35. We are white, solidly in the middle class. Perhaps this shift in support for Romney with the under 50 set is their message of choice for us in the future regarding the social security and medicare. I don’t feel like any of that money my husband and I have been putting into the system is actually going to be there for us in the future. And the mere notion that we could have the choice to decide how we spend our funds allocated for that purpose is alluring. I think it’s really rare to hear elected leaders say: you can choose for yourself because we believe you’re smart enough to do that. I value that, as I would imagine many in my age bracket do.

  • pvmuse

    I think it is pretty clear why the Boomers are sticking with Obama. They can see that the Romney/Ryan economic plans will impact them most negatively, with scale backs to both Social Security and Medicare. The silents pretty much feel they won’t be impacted, as the new policies will be phased in over the next 10 years. Both the Xer’s and Millennials think these new cuts to entitlements will work better for them. Looks like everyone might be voting for their own personal pocketbooks.

    As a Obama supporter, I an really wondering after the first debate whether he wants the position, or not, anymore, perhaps more is going on behind the scene than we realize. He may not really want the economic disaster we are facing to occur on his watch, nor the 3rd or 4th Middle East war, so many in Washington seem to be clamoring for.

    I also believe as another poster stated that Romney hastens the turning, and perhaps that is our destiny.

  • Joe

    Not sure why we have to focus on polls when we have the futures markets, which have a much much better track record. Polls are much too volatile to be reliable. If you are interested in the drama, noise and circuses like the media, you can go there. If you’re interested in the facts, stay with intrade. There, Pres. Obama’s reelection chances fell from 70% to 60% max. with Gov. Romney’s going up from 30% to 40% max. Much ado about nothing.

  • Pete

    Howe, you’re so clueless.

    • neil ridley

      I am sure that Mr Howe can speak for himself.
      Pete, my dear old thing. You have established in my mind already, after so few words, a certain intellectual capacity that I link to that of a blow hard. I am amazed at this; after so few words. I wonder pete my old friend, how are you defining clueless in your pursuit of the ‘truth’.

  • shadowcat

    Hi Neil, I really hope you read this, because personally, I am REALLY SCARED DUMB. If Romney gets his dirty paws on Ohio, I am going to go cower under the bed, because the rhymes-with-spit is going to hit the fan. Obama I am not totally in love with, but I am from Boston and I remember what Romney was like: the saving grace for him was a left leaning body politic that could stop him. This won’t be the case if in November he wins. He will have power to do a lot more things on the Conservative to do list.

    I do not like Romney one bit, nominally because whatever his own beliefs I am desperately worried that he will become beholden to a few lunatics on the right side of the aisle; in a Romney presidency he is going to need them to get any legislation he wants through the House and if the Senate truly is 50/50, that means a lot more power is going to go into the hands of Paul Ryan as the tiebreaker in a vote. We could have a situation where the Bush tax cuts take 2 will allow only a tiny number of people to make any real savings with their money. We could have a situation where, with high unemployment, basic services will be cut not just for Boomers but pretty much for the poor and the vulnerable (which are going to increase, not decrease, because the day Willard “Mitt” Romney places any pressure on corporations is the day that giant 90 foot purple flamingoes show up in Washington and stomp the White House to rubble.)

    Label China a currency manipulator? Pfff. A foolish thing to do considering the Chinese Politburo uses a narrative that brainwashes its own people to see China as the perpetual victim with the evil West out to get them. The smarter thing to do is to rake them across the coals on issues that they can’t take the high ground on, like the dumping of substandard goods not only in America but around the world ( I don’t think Europeans are in any mood to play nice either given the status of things; they are affected by Chinese fiscal and industrial policy as much as we are) and also the gunboat diplomacy they are engaging in with all their neighbors; almost a perfect return to the kind of behavior it once engaged in in ancient days: Loan Shark of Asia. Or how about telling the rich to go #$@#$@# themselves, something that should have been said to them already because they are a burden on the other 90% of the nation, not the other way round?

    Again, pffff. Mitt Romney, I guarantee you, has never had to worry where the money for his student loans would come from, or about how tired at the end of a 13 hour shift he is but still must sit in traffic to get home…if only to barely get a glimpse of the son he barely sees but works like a dog to keep afloat. He seems alarmed that so many are so angry and “not wanting to aim for success anymore” and less and less look up to the rich, but Bobo the Idiot Boy doesn’t understand that by the reckoning of millions the success the rich now enjoy comes at the extreme expense of those that cannot afford a $5,000 a plate cocktail dinner. I am very afraid that if he characteristically refuses to bear down on the corporations and the men that run them, given the volatility of the market and its habit of hurting the poor more than the rich these days, someday, some way, somebody on Wall Street is going to find a bullet in the back of his head and instead of Occupy Wall Street people scattering like mice when confronted by cops, somebody is just going to say, “Enough of this crap” and shoot the CEO of Bank of America or something like that. I know it is alarmist sounding, Neil, even Chicken Little like, but I don’t know how much longer the status quo is going to last where we have those ignoramuses sipping wine on the balcony in New York, all of them thinking the common man is foolish, the deprived weak, and the young stupider….because I know history, and it is like that until the horrible day that, well, it isn’t.
    So, with that in mind, might I ask if in a scenario where Romney wins, are we to expect a Grey Champ at all or should I start digging my bunker now? He is making big gains in swing states. I am afraid. I am very very afraid not just for my own generation, but for everybody.

    • You don’t have to worry, as Obama has been re-elected. But your fear of Romney is irrational. Romney is not a conservative, he is a liberal, just not a Marxist like Obama.

  • There are two types of austerity: cut spending, raise taxes and cut spending, cut taxes. Most of Europe has tried cut spending, raise taxes. This has failed. In the eastern Baltic, Estonia has cut spending, cut taxes–this has resulted in one of the largest growth rates on the continent.,

    Take everything Krugman says with a grain of salt. If an oncologist wins the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine will you trust him to perform open heart surgery?

    • Joe

      Justin: The article you mention about Estonia actually starts with “the Estonian government raised the value-added tax by 2% in 2009” in the very first paragraph. Yet you seriously claim they tried the “cut spending and cut taxes” approach?!? Additionally, the graph proves Krugman’s point: with austerity, the Estonian economy is performing only at 2006 levels. In the United States, 13.3T in 2006. Today, 15.1T, significantly above the prior peak of 14.2T in 2008.

      It is time we again put facts over ideology in the economic and political debate and acknowledge that austerity leads to disastrous effects across the economic spectrum and particularly for the little guy.

      • Justin in Estonia

        Estonia also has a population that is willing to endure those cuts. One fifth of the country lives in poverty ( For them, there was no boom, there has only been bust. As most of them are elderly, or live in rural areas, their voices are marginal, so there will be no riots, no upheaval. Also, the countries that do keep the Estonian economy afloat are Sweden and Finland, social welfare states, and a great deal of Estonians work in both countries and send their salaries home. Finally, compared to the US, Estonia is also a social welfare state, with a single-payer healthcare system. Don’t let some arguments based on economic indicators cloud your judgment. Things are always more complicated.

    • Justin, you are right. I think the reason that Estonia succeeded is that they took sufficient pain, whereas elsewhere in the EU they do ‘slight’ austerity, dragging it out, building up tremendous resentment in the public. And I like your comment on Krugman.

  • Strategic1

    Couple of points –
    Starting with your final paragraph, it is not clear that so called “austerity” is not working. The fact is, everyone in the developed world is less wealthy than they thought they were in 2006. Asset prices have deflated (although the stock market in the US has recovered), and the impact of this has been to take a whack to equity on balance sheets. If we consider government promises to also be liabilities, then Krugmanism amounts to a game of shift the debt balance to avoid the creditors.
    The most high profile example of “failure” for “austerity” – Greece – still involves a government spending far more than it did in 2006. Worse, it has chosen to make cuts not to pay, but to investments, which means that civil servants keep getting paid while contract workers get laid off. The fact that there is so much cheating has much to do with the anger – it is the apparent unfairness of it all. Austerity is working better in places like Latvia, Estonia and Ireland.
    The bigger scares are places like Japan, which is borrowing half of federal outlays and has a debt stock 2.5x national income (plus the pension liabilities). And no young people – i.e. no one committed to the future.
    As to why Romney is doing less well among Boomers, I think you might have a point. He seems inauthentic and “authenticity” is a big Boomer issue. What surprises me are two things, first that the Republicans nominated a Boomer at all (though all of the serious candidates were Boomers). Note that in 2008, after 16 years of Boomer presidents, representing the two most common Boomer impulses – Clintonian mendacity (situational ethics) and Bushist manicheeanism (black/white thinking), both parties nominated slates without Boomers. The Democrats nominated an Xer who took a Silent running mate, and the Republicans nominated a Silent who picked an Xer running mate. Republican experince with Xers has been surprisingly good (Palin notwithstanding). Obama’s Xerism was a bit part of his appeal in 2008. As you note, he was running a campaign, in no small part, against the Boomers. Surely Republicans should want to tap into this?
    Perhaps they felt that the Xers were still too unseasoned, but I believe that much of the “draft Chris Christie” movement was an effort to make a generational change atop the party. Perhaps Republicans, skewing older, simply want a candidate more Boomer. But as you note, if this is the case, all they got was an inauthentic Boomer. Mendacity looms, one fears.
    But Obama has changed our politics more than most people realize. He has not succeeded in reducing partisanship or acrimony in Washington, it is true. His pragmatism – which manifests itself, as you note, in Rope-a-Dope political manoeuvering (where he lets the other sides stake out positions and then applies leverage to them, rather than trying to set out a normative policy position) has backfired on him, allowing Nancy Pelosi far too much inlfuence over the shape of legislation in his first term.
    What has changed is the makeup of the generations in Congress. When Obama was running, Congress was almost entirely Boomer-Silent. Silents, having seniority, held quite a bit of power, but Boomers had taken majorities in each chamber (a narrow one in the Senate). The wave elections that Obama’s nomination and election inspired, have dramatically transformed Congress. Xers are now making major inroads in the House and will gain seats at the expense of both Silent and Boomers in the Senate. Xer governors are setting the agena in the states (Scott Walker, Chris Christie, in particular). Their targets are Boomer civil servants, although Xers are sharing the pain. I’d rather see a strike against Grubber (GI) and Silent generation benefits; since we have overpaid, we should demand a refund, or at least an end to the rip off, but I digress. This election will see substantial gains in the legislature for Xer candidates and that will change our politics – ultimately, Xers will be the drivers of comprimise.
    Personally, I think the best outcome would be an Obama win. Along with strong Xer gains this time, a second Obama term would likely lead to another wave election in 2014, particularly in the Senate, that could see major Xer gains. More than that, it opens the door for Xer leadership to take over the Republican party. If Romney wins, he will run for reelection in 2016, if he loses, Paul Ryan Scott Walker and Chris Christie will be fighting it out.
    More interesting is what happens on the Democratic side. Regardless of what happens this time, the Democrats will have an open field in 2016. Sadly, they don’t seem to have alot of younger candidates (although they always claim to be a youth party – this might reflect their Boomer orientation). They have lots of Silent leadership, from Biden, to Pelosi, to Reid to Jerry Brown. They shot quite a few of their Xer members (Heath Shuler). They might run a Boomer next time (Hillary), but somehow, I think she will seem even more dated than she did in 2008. Focused on fulfillment of a dying generation’s narrow self-importance, I would expect her, and any of her fellow 60’s-Roaders, to lose.

  • mrmandias

    Scott Adams, an Xer, had an endorsement of Romney where he said something like ‘yeah, I understand that Romney has to lie like crazy to get stupid people to vote for him, I get that.’ That’s an attitude I can’t see a Boomer taking in a million years.

  • I would not think that either the “austerity” model or the Krugman model is going to revive the economy — its kind of a false choice, in fact. The economy suffers from an overhang of bad/uncollectable debt largely held in the banking system, but not really being recognized. This debt needs to be cleared by being paid down or written off. Then new lending and growth can occur. Read Rhinehart and Rogoff’s “This Time It’s Different” for a full discourse on this topic.

    The real choices for dealing with the bad debt problem are not “austerity” or “Krugman”. They are Japan or Sweden. Both had financial crises around 1990. Japan never dealt with their debt problem, but tried to hide it and has sunk deeper and deeper despite all sorts of economic band-aids. Sweden reformed its banking sector and cleared its bad debts. They had a short, hard recession and then recovered just fine.

    Neither Romney nor Obama seem willing to tackle the real problem — or even discuss it, for that matter. I would not expect to see any better economic performance under either of their regimes than we have right now. We’re more like Japan than Sweden at the moment, and that seems unlikely to change in the near future regardless of who is President.

  • Strategic1

    Well, Obama won, mostly on the strength of younger voters and minorities – in other words, Xers and Millenials, who have from the outset, seen that which only EJ Dionne has ever mentioned – that Obama’s entire presidency is actually a reaction to the Boomers. Admittedly, his approach to politics, which is extremely practical, is to wait as long as possible before speaking in negotiations. This has allowed Congress to make sausage in some pretty ugly ways, but it has also gotten Obama most of what he wants.

    What is perhaps more interesting is downballot developments. With 575 of 585 seats known (House, Senate and Governors), Xers were the only generation to gain seats. GIs still hold 3 seats (down from 4), the Silent have 64 (down from 87 – real decimation among their ranks in the House), Boomers have 345 (vs 356) and Xers 163 (up from 138). Boomers and Xers are likely to split the last 10 seats roughly evenly. Boomers retain a 60% share of seats, and given the importance of seniority, their power is probably even larger than their numbers seem. On a net basis, Boomers did a good job of defending their seats. They will have only lost a handful from 2010. However, Xers have gained over 16% points of share since Obama’s election and have taken share from both the Boomers and the Silent in the last two elections, although this year most Xer gains came at the expense of the Silent.

    With Obama’s reelection, there may be another wave election in 2014, particularly in the Senate, where Democrats have to defend their strong results from 2008, and where the largest remaining class of Silents can expect heavy retirements (over 50% of Silent Senators up for election retired or were defeated in primaries in 2012). Six to eight seat pickups seem probable, particularly as Xers have now reached critical mass in the House to have adequate feeder candidates for Senate races. Xer Reps who ran for Senate had particularly good results in 2012.

    Looking to 2016 and beyond Xers look well positioned to retain the presidency indefinately. Assuming the White House changes parties after two terms, one expects that the Republicans will nominate one of their rising Xer stars: Christie, Haley, Jindal, Rubio, Walker or Ryan. One of the reasons the Republican field was so weak this year was the party’s continued reliance on aging Boomer leadership: Newt, Perry, Romney, and even Trump. Interestingly the Democrats lack a comparable bench. Their most likely candidates are Hillary (early cohort Boomer) and Biden (a Silent(!) albeit a late cohort).

    In the House, an Xer pickup of 31-35 seats (2010 style results) would
    see the Boomers reduced to a plurality in the House. An interesting
    question is whether Xers will make more progress in the Gubernatorial
    elections of 2014, when something like 30 governorships are up for
    election. This would set up Xers to have a majority of House seats in 2018. A
    slower trajectory, in the 20-25 range they achieved this year, would push back that result to 2020.

    All of which raises two questions I would like to pose directly to Neil Howe: To what extent are Xers supplanting Boomers faster than you anticipated, and what might be the reason for it? In Generations, you indicated that Boomers should hold the reigns of power until very late in the crisis of 2020. And yet, 8 years away from 2020, Boomers have already had the Executive keys confiscated and handed to their despised Xer next-youngers, apparently permanently. They are increasingly unlikely to hold executive power in 2020. Moreover, Boomers look poised to enter the crisis with a legislative minority, although perks of seniority will give them more power than their numbers indicate. Nevertheless, Boomers are being turfed out of institutional seats of power at a rapid rate. (I believe Boomer sense of loss, connected with aging and this diminished role, is a major driver of the sour mood of the country, but I digress).

    If Boomers are losing power earlier than anticipated, what is the reason – is it because the crisis has come early (financial crisis and the age of deleveraging) and so therefore Xers are now coming to the fore to find practical solutions to the pensions crisis? Or is it because Boomer focus on the self has lead to a perception that Boomers are not equipped to lead the country to greatness, that their solipcism precludes effective calls to unifying themes? That we can’t all be Americans, because our ideals celebrate too much the self to really be a collective. It simply isn’t fair to say that culture wars rise to the level of significance as slavery. To the extent that they touch on personhood, the issues of abortion and gays have been largely resolved (albeit in opposite directions): the unborn are not people, and gays are. Truth is, the resolution of these issues are not going to steer the country out of crisis. Even energy policy, which might actually be existential, the way out of the crisis is clear – stop trying to mitigate carbon emissions using the most expensive technologies (solar) and instead deploy cheap ones that are slightly less efficient (nat gas), but which can be more widely used at scale and are therefore faster to reduce emissions.

    Most likely the crisis will be foreign, and most likely it will involve the Mid East, but here it is hard to see much substantive difference between the parties on policy. Perhaps that is the secret – that is one area of policy where common ground can be found, and if it comes to be seen as more important than all other policies (e.g. like beating Nazi Germany), it might produce a new emergent policy consensus that extends to other contentious policy fields.

    Curious, as to what you think.

    • Strategic1: Thank you for the long post and for all your homework.

      Let me start with your last question first. While the crisis may ultimately include a war or geopolitical struggle, I suspect it will initially center mainly on economic hardship and perhaps even economic collapse. How we prevent or escape this scenario is already polarizing the nation–just look at the mutually exclusive responses to the fiscal cliff.

      Now, on executive leadership. Take a look at my next post (just logged). I agree with you that the GOP is almost certainly going to field an Xer Presidential candidate in ’16 (and most likely a nonwhite Xer candidate). On the other hand, the Democrats may well retrogress to a Boomer: Hillary has been carefully grooming herself… and I don’t see a packed field of aspiring Xer Democrats who could best her. Or what about other last-wave Boomers like Rahm Emanuel or Andrew Cuomo? I could definitely see a Boomer in the White House in 2020.

      As for Congress and governors, the numbers don’t lie. The Xers continue to lag *far* behind any earlier generation in their share of legislative power at their current age. We haven’t calculated the exact 2012 numbers yet, but Gen X (with 24% of leadership in 2010) could not possibly exceed 30% in 2012, with their oldest members hitting age 51. Consider this. At the same age, Boomers (in 1994) had a leadership share of 47%–and in Newt Gingrich were already taking over as Speaker of the House. At the same age, Silent (in 1976) had a leadership share of 52% and were dominating the “Watergate” Congress after a Democratic landslide. At the same age, G.I.s (in 1952) had a leadership share of 47%–though their real dominance would not be achieved until the election of 1958.

      We always predicted that Xers would be very late in their rise to political power. We haven’t been proven wrong. btw, in case you haven’t used it, please go to our American Leadership Database tool ( where you can examine all of these questions for yourself.

      • Strategic1

        Hi Neil,

        First, thanks for the quick, direct and timely response. I regret that my reply has been so long delayed. I have indeed read your next post; and though this response could be posted to either, I figure it is better to keep this thread and discussion in one place, so I respond here.

        There is no arguing the point, Xers are running way behind all of the generations to which you compared them. I was not arguing
        that Xers are stronger generation, politically, than the Boomers, Silent or GI
        (which should be named the Entitlement Generation). Rather, I was making three points:

        First, that the Boomers are weaker than previous IDEALIST generations. Second, that Xers are rising (relatively) faster than the LOST. Third, that the
        Obama presidency is unprecedented (and its implications have not been explored sufficiently – and may have implications for the Crisis of 2020.

        Let me take them in turn. Boomers apparently peaked in their leadership share at 64.49% in the 110th Congress (2007). I make this inference from the terrific data you provide in your leadership database, which shows the pattern that once a generation begins trending down, the process does not reverse. There are one or two cases where a generation reverses a decline for one electoral cycle, but the upsurge has never been more than one percentage point, and the Boomers, at 59.93% (by my calculations)
        cannot surpass their 2007 result without an unprecedented reversal. Unprecedented does not mean impossible, but
        it does suggest that a thing is improbable.

        If we agree that the Boomers have peaked, we can then compare them to the Missionary (77.92%) and Transcendental (90.56) Generations – and we see that the Boomers are WAY behind. Idealist generations
        have tended to have not simply a leading role, but actually a monopoly on
        power. Cynics might argue that this enables them to focus entirely on themselves – ahem – but the fact is, the Boomers
        leadership share has been more indicative of a leadership of a multigenerational constellation, rather than the exclusive hold of earlier Idealists. One likely source of this weaker hold is
        changes in longevity. 19th century generations usually found their next elders exiting the stage due to poor health. Starting with the GIs, officeholders have been able to hold on much longer. The
        19th century simply did not have 100 year old Senators like Robert
        Byrd or Strom Thurmond. Since all shares still sum to 100%, but the pie will be spread over more generations, over time, this will mean lower, but wider “hills” in your graphical presentation of the generations’ shares. Another, related, reason could be the increasing sophistication of gerrymandered districts which protect incumbents (making longevity and increasingly important factor). But another possible reason could be that
        Boomer causes are simply not as resonant as slavery and state leadership were in earlier eras.

        To my second point Xers seem to be rising relatively faster than the Lost. Now, on a straight “at age 51” comparison, it is true that they are running about 1 electoral cycle behind the lost (the lost achieved 24% share at leading cohort age 47, the Xers at leading cohort age 49. But, one has to consider again the impact of longevity. Perhaps it is more correct to say that the Xers are tracking the Lost more closely than the Boomers are tracking the Missionary. You mention the Boomers 47% share from the election of 1994 at leading cohort age 51. But the missionary achieved this share in 1906, leading cohort age 46. At age 51, the Missionary had a share of 63%, which the Boomers only achieved in 2007, with leading cohort at age 64. Due to demography, it is likely that the Xers will peak lower than the Lost, but I suspect their peak will be closer, which means that relative to the
        other generations in the current cycle, the Xers will have actually relatively
        outperformed their other generations.

        To me, these are the comparisons that make your thesis powerful and interesting. The predictive value that allows one to make broad future forecasts results not from a comparison of the members of a generations comprising a cycle, but rather it is the cycles themselves. A small criticism – your blog tends to focus on the former, (and, in my opinions, treats the Xers somewhat dismissively as a result), whereas what I think interesting is the similarities and differencesacross cycles, and what this can suggest about the future.

        This brings me to my third point – that the Obama presidency is unprecedented and may significantly influence the nature and direction of the crisis of 2020.

        Let me start by again consulting your research. One of the points it shows is that when a Generation surrenders the Presidency, it is usually a permanent phenomenon. Unlike the leadership shares, however, there have been two cases of a generational back and forth, in which a generation that surrendered the presidency subsequently got it back. The two cases are 19th Century and involve the Compromise and Transcendental generations. James K. Polk (Transcendental) won the election of 1844 succeeding Compromise John Tyler, and after an exceptionally muscular one term presidency, retired and was replaced by Compromise Zachary
        Taylor. Taylor famously died in the middle of the debate on the Compromise of 1850, and was replaced by Millard Fillmore and the Transcendental Generation never looked back.

        It is worth noting just how improbable this was. Had Polk been well enough to run for a second term, I think it likely he would have been reelected (Taylor’s biggest qualification for office was his role in the Mexican American war, a policy of the Polk Administration). Moreover, the incredible success of the Polk Administration meant that most of the most pressing issues were resolved (slavery and tariffs being the exceptions). In effect, you could argue that Zachary Taylor was a fluke, who was fighting a rear-guard action for the Compromise as the debate moved back to their home turf (keeping the country united in spite of deep regional differences).

        But to my point, how can I say the Obama presidency is unprecedented? Never, has an Idealist generation been at its apex in leadership shares and then lost the executive. Moreover, the recovery you propose would be
        equally unprecedented. The Tyler-Polk-Taylor-Fillmore sequence represented a reversal of a rising Idealist Generation. It was backward looking very early in the transcendental rise – at the outset of the crisis period. To lose the executive – indeed, to not even have a candidate on either major party ticket, is truly unusual. (Taylor had Fillmore, for instance).

        The implications are significant. While a Boomer could certainly run in 2016 or 2020, a Republican win in 2016 almost certainly ensures an Xer president until 2020, by which time even the Democrats may want to run another Xer (though a late-wave Boomer is also a possibility). But the implications go
        way beyond that. There remains a good chance that Xers will have a plurality of seats and the executive when the crisis hits. This could significantly
        change the US response. Curious to know in what ways?

        On a deeper level, it may also mean that Boomers are not be seen as fit for leadership in 2020 as previous Idealist generations. True, through the 1930s the Missionary lost power quite quickly and by 1940 they had only about 33% of shares, but theyheld the presidency throughout the whole period. Boomer leadership throught the crisis period has been met with real skepticism. Don’t forget, the 1920s response to the Wilson Administration (the “Return to Normalcy”) was a Missionary response to Progressive government. Whether one was for more active or more limited government, the choices were bewteen two Missionaries, not Missionaries and Lost. The Lost only got in when leading cohorts were in their 60s, and even then they had to ride the coattails of Roosevelt. The Obama presidency is a critque of Boomer rule. If Xer rule is found equally wanting the Boomers may come back into office, but I believe they may be much weaker, and have much less authority to act compared to the Missionary and the Transcendental.

        • Strategic1

          A few more updates since the election.
          Xers have taken two more Senate seats as a GI and a Boomer vacated their seats. The GI by dying (Daniel Inouye) and the Boomer retirement.
          Moreover, Xers have just served a notice of eviction to the GIs – as Newark Mayor Cory Booker announced an exploratory committee to run for the NJ Senate seat currently occupied by Frank Lautenberg, the last GI in the Senate.
          Will be very interesting to see what happens with lots of Governorships and probably 5 Silent Senate retirements coming in 2014.

  • Wiz83

    Neil, since women’s rights and the “war on women” was a frequently talked about issue in this past election, I thought you might find this link interesting. The clip has Raising Hope actress Shannon Woodward (b. 1984) doing a PSA speaking out against perceived attacks on women’s rights and women’s health by right-wing politicians. I think this clip reveals how many Millennial women view feminism; as trying to protect what their Boomer mothers fought hard for during the last Awakening and safeguarding it. Anyway, here is the clip: