A demographic earthquake is taking place in America that is transforming our traditional society, argues pollster John Zogby in his newly released book, “The Way We’ll Be: The Zogby Report on the Transformation of the American Dream.”
[Editor’s Note: Get your copy of John Zogby’s book – Go Here Now.]
And these changes could have seismic implications for the coming 2008 election showdown.
This new ascending group of Americans Zogby calls the “First Globals,” and unlike other demographic groups such as “Generation X” or “baby boomers,” this group is making some radical departures from traditional American ways.
As Zogby defines them, the First Globals are simply Americans between the ages 18 and 29. A broad group, but one he says shares several remarkable characteristics, according to his polls.
For starters, narcissism seems to be a major descriptor. Zogby sees First Globals as “materialistic and self-absorbed” individuals who also “want to look richer than they are.” Like a daytime soap opera, these young people “obsess about relationships.”
Not surprisingly, they also tend to be more socially liberal. He notes they are “far more likely than their elders to accept gays and lesbians.” The only anomaly to their otherwise progressive approach is on the issue of abortion, where Zogby finds that “two out of three of them say that abortion is always or usually morally wrong.”
“For all practical purposes, they are the first color-blind Americans and the first to bring a consistently global perspective to everything from farm policy to environmental issues to the coffee they buy, the music they listen to, and the clothes they wear,” Zogby writes.
And they are the first demographic group of Americans who no longer identify themselves as primarily American and focused on America. Instead, they bring “a consistently global perspective to everything” from politics to work to social reform, and even which brand of toothpaste they buy.
The First Globals, Zogby says, expect to travel to exotic locales such as Capetown and Dubai.
“A quarter of them think they’ll end up living for some significant period in a country other than America,” he says.
The Jarring Political Divide
While just a subset of the nation’s population, the First Globals are already playing a role in re-defining the American ethos. The jarring divide between the First Globals and their elders reflects the greater political polarization that exists in America today.
Zogby describes this as a battle between the Wal-Mart and Dunkin’ Donut customers on one hand, and the Starbucks crowd on the other.
Dunkin’ Donuts patrons gave Bush a resounding show of support in 2004, 60 percent voting for him over Kerry’s 39 percent. But Starbucks customers did the opposite, backing Kerry over Bush 57 percent to 42 percent.
Like the Dunkin’ Donuts voters, weekly Wal-Mart shoppers, are more likely than those who never shop at the retail giant to be Hispanic, live in a rural areas, and attend church at least once a week, Zogby posits.
But he notes their “greatest point of distinction” — they identify themselves as either conservative or very conservative.
In 2004, for example, John Kerry came close to winning the election. But among Wal-Mart shoppers he lost by a whopping 52 percentage points — 76 percent to 24 percent.
Another example of the political divide is among church goers and those who don’t attend.
Zogby found that those who attend religious services backed Bush by 25 percentage points over those who never attended church. Much has been made about the “gender gap” among voters, but Zogby says that is less important than the gap between singles/never married and married voters. Kerry won big among the single/never marrieds.
New American Ethos
Despite the political divide, Zogby argues that a new cultural and political consensus may be developing, influenced largely by the First Globals.
“More and more . . . for all our differences and oddities, we are coming to agree on a simple set of principles, equally applicable to candidates, products, politicians, and business,” Zogby writes.
He spells these principles out: “Be fair. Be honest. Practice ethics; don’t just talk them. Appeal to what is best in our character, not to what is worst in it. And never forget that for new Americans as well as for the descendents who arrived here on the Mayflower, the seed bed of our beliefs can still be found in the meritocracy the founding fathers worked so hard to create.”
In “The Way We’ll Be” Zogby lays out a framework of the new America:
The vital center reasserts itself — Americans, Zogby writes, are “ditching the demagogues and finding common ground.” Zogby links this shift to skepticism toward government generated by the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. People are tired of division, and are searching for “areas of commonality,” he says.
The discovery of limits — The American Dream is changing, he writes. Consumer indebtedness, globalism, and environmental concerns have changed American optimism. “We still dream great things for our children,” Zogby writes, “but today we do so within the context of the new limits in our own lives.”
Authenticity trumps spin — Consumers and voters are hungering for authenticity like never before. They’re sick of products, and politicians, who don’t live up to the hype. The demand for authenticity will require a new approach to political campaigns, to product marketing, and even Hollywood’s dream machines.
The rise of energy innovators — The First Globals are willing to adjust their lifestyles substantially in order to conserve energy and go easier on the environment. They’re open to alternative fuels and, while they can be as greedy and materialistic as any other generation, Zogby writes “their global perspective has given them a larger-than-myself aesthetic.”
Implications for McCain vs. Obama
How will the reshaping of the American ethos impact the election?
Perhaps it is too early to say if the First Globals as a rising force can overcome the more traditional America that has long been dominated by red state thinking.
In the past politicians could appeal to patriotism as a symbol and buzzword. But even that idea is fading.
McCain, who could hold claim to the patriotism mantle, may find is not as important as it was in the past, for example, when Ronald Reagan ran for president in 1980.
In a 2007 poll, Zogby asked Americans what they felt were “very important” traits for their president.
These were the winners: “competent manager,” 82 percent; “can bring the American people together,” 80 percent; “can command the military,” 76 percent; “has personal morality,” 76 percent; “can promote the image of the US abroad,” 73 percent.
Arguably McCain will be able to lay claim to most of these “very favorable” traits. For example, Zogby discovered that McCain “stood all alone” among the presidential candidates for his military experience.
And the traits Americans least valued for their president included: “Has state experience,” – 35 percent; “is a charismatic speaker” – 32 percent; “has been a legislator” 21 percent. These attributes seem closely associated with Sen. Barack Obama.
But there are cracks in a McCain candidacy, according to the Zogby data. Zogby finds that the religious right, once a solid voting bloc for the GOP, is splintering with a “growing moderation among evangelicals and born-agains.” “It’s a very real phenomenon,” Zogby writes.
And on another matter, Obama’s foreign policy views appear to be more in step with Americans.
“Virtually every poll we have taken on the matter over the past three years shows Americans have tired of the lone wolf superpower mindset that still holds such sway on Pennsylvania Avenue,” Zogby writes, suggesting Americans may not want to continue President Bush’s policies vis-à-vis Iraq.
Whatever the election holds, Zogby’s overall outlook for the United State remains optimistic.
“The America of 2020 will be a more tolerant nation,” he writes. “Our people by then will have lived for two decades in a new world of less . . . We will expect our leaders to talk straight: Hype, hokum, and hooey — in politics, in advertising, wherever it appears — will be punished.”
[Editor’s Note: Get your copy of John Zogby’s book – Go Here Now.]
Newsmax Interviews John Zogby
In an exclusive interview with Newsmax, Zogby talks about the thirst for authenticity and how it will impact the 2008 campaign. He also explains why Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama represent two very different visions of what America will become.
His gut instinct tells him that Obama rather than McCain represents the wave of the future. But the key question, he hastens to add, is whether Obama can ride that wave of the future all the way to the White House.
And that’s one thing Zogby’s polls haven’t told him. At least not yet.
Newsmax: You write that the Internet makes us better citizens. How so?
Zogby: We don’t have the village square much anymore, or the gathering place, the Rotary club, the church building, but Americans are recreating these communities. What we see happening is the creation of virtual communities.
The Internet allows us, in a 21st century mode, to create communities, communities of the like-minded, broader coalitions, and allow us to participate at the click of a button: to write to our legislator, to interface via networks with the like-minded. You’ve seen the impact already. It’s generated a tremendous amount of enthusiasm, particularly among young people. It’s allowed whole interest groups to spring up. MoveOn.org is one example, but there are so many others. It has resuscitated the whole notion of political participation in this country.
Newsmax: Your book explores First Globals and the impact of the first generation that is truly aware of global priorities. Will their enthusiasm motivate them to drive to a polling place, wait in line, and actually cast a ballot?
Zogby: From the Iowa caucuses to the last primary, there was an outpouring among young people. In most of the primaries, it was unprecedented. And while there’s a huge interest in Obama, that’s a two-edged sword. Because if for some reason he disappoints their hopes and expectations, we could be talking about losing a lot of that enthusiasm — and even losing a large portion of a generation of voters.
For now, however, we’re talking about a resuscitation of democracy. The book on young people generally is that they’re self-centered. They’re concerned about relationships, careers, and their identity. These young people today are no different, except they have a global sensibility which has never existed before, among young people or, for that matter, any previous generation. That alone makes them citizens of this planet. Among those 18- to 29-year-olds, 42 percent of them have passports. This gives them a global sensibility, and with that comes heightened responsibility.
Newsmax: You also talk about a growing thirst for authenticity. How will that impact the 2008 campaign?
Zogby: On the one hand, we see Americans starting to live within limits, and seeing themselves as part of a larger planet. There’s a quest for a cleaner planet, a quest for talking about global poverty and so on. These movements aren’t just taking place on college campuses and liberal chi-chi suburbs, but are very much taking place among Christian evangelicals as well.
Just as all of that is taking place, there are Americans saying, “Let’s cut to the chase. We’re tired of products that don’t deliver the fantasy they promise, and we’re tired of a government that’s broken down.” This is a real crisis. I’m on record saying Katrina was as much a defining moment in recent history as 9/11, because Katrina was a huge failure, and caused serious questioning about government and its ability, and it triggered a crisis of confidence about government.
In that sense, candidates have to present themselves as the genuine thing. In the book, I say sell the steak not the sizzle, because that’s what the voters want. There is clearly a sense that negative campaigning will be less impactful. Arguably, McCain has the most authentic story of any of the Republican candidates. And Obama is the most authentic, from whence he has come, of any of the Democratic candidates. So you have a battle between the two genuine things, and it will be interesting to see if either, or both, of those candidates can maintain that authenticity.
Which of the two will win, I don’t know. But we seldom have an election where two guys stand for two real things: McCain for an earlier generation of community, duty, and patriotism; and Obama representing diversity, a globalism, a new face literally and figuratively. It doesn’t get much more interesting than that.
Newsmax: Is there much encouragement you can give to conservatives about the future? Will conservative values survive?
Zogby: Absolutely. For every new mentality or sensibility that’s created, there are always conservatives who see, not the flip side, but another way to maintain traditions as they move forward. Conservatives care about the environment, they care about global poverty, and give a lot of private money to that cause. Conservatism is not going to go away. This is just a forward march, and an adjustment to a new set of realities. Conservatism has always done that, just as liberals have.
Newsmax: You point out that McCain and Obama represent two very different worldviews. Which world view is probably better reflected in future trends?
Zogby: I’ll give you a genuine exclusive on this: I don’t know. My gut sense tells me that Obama is the wave of the future. The issue is whether the wave of the future is this year. And a lot of that is going to depend on the campaign.
[Editor’s Note: Get John Zogby’s book – Go Here Now.]
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