Thursday, December 15, 2011

Millennials Predict an Obama Loss in 2012

Just out -- a survey of millennials finds that more predict Barack Obama will lose in 2012 then will win.

According to the survey, 36 percent predict an Obama loss while 30 percent predict an Obama victory.  A third are unsure.

What the hell's a millennial?  Ages 18-29.

Here's the odd part (I'll explain in a minute).  The sample of 2,028 millennials, while pessimistic about Obama's chances, supported him against either a generic "Republican" candidate or specific candidacies of Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Perry.  In the horserace polling, Obama led by a significant amount, sometimes double digits, against his likely GOP opponents.

Why is this odd?  Generally the candidate we prefer is the one we also tend to see as the likely winner.  It's called wishful thinking. I've written before it before, including this recent column in my local newspaper.  Read the column.  It's good, dammit, and you'll have a grasp of the basics of the concept.

Wishful thinking is a persistent, pervasive effect, but younger respondents in this survey suggest there's some pessimistic aspect to their political beliefs that offsets wishful thinking.  Cynicism?  Skepticism?  One clue, if you read the survey report, is a whole lot of young respondents, by a 4-to-1 margin, believe the country is headed in the wrong direction.  If you think that, then you'd be likely to extend that to the probable winner of the 2012 presidential election.

In other words, you expect the worst.

There are some other reasons why millennials don't follow the typical pattern of predicting your own preferred candidate will win.  Caring a great deal about an election outcome makes you more likely to engage in wishful thinking -- and this particular sample of younger citizens may be disengaged from the political process, therefore theoretically less likely to think, um, wishfully.

For you political junkies and methodological wonks, a pdf of the survey gives more details.  If you dig down, you find some other possible clues for the disconnect between who millennials support and who they think will win.  Question 50, for example, asks how enthusiastic they are about the upcoming election compared to 2008.  Not surprisingly, only 18 percent said they are "more enthusiastic" and nearly a third say they are "less enthusiastic."  That fits my argument above, that if you don't really care, you're less to be biased into seeing your own candidate as the likely winner.

Driving these less enthusiastic folks is a single word -- disappointment.  In Question 51 are a number of kinds of disappointment (Obama's policies, partisanship, etc.).  But it can be summed up nicely by that one word, disappointment. If I were a GOP consultant, I'd recommend this be my theme in 2012. 

1 comment:

Holly said...

This is an interesting article, and I'd agree that millennials tend to be pessimistic. I don't, however, follow the connection between pessimism and not caring; to say that there's a cause & effect relationship is jumping to a pretty tenuous conclusion. One could say just as easily conclude if a person doesn't care, he or she is going to assume things will turn out alright, instead of worrying so hard that they won't. Many millennials are disappointed and cynical about the future, but saying that you're disappointed about the way things are going and unenthusiastic about your current options doesn’t mean you don't care. And comparatively speaking, the first Obama election was pretty exceptional in terms of enthusiasm on any scale, and would be hard to match.

As for cynicism, millennials grew up post-Vietnam and are living in an increasingly cynical age. At least one or two corrupt and hypocritical politicians are outed per year, the loud, petulant, and selfish Tea Party movement is getting a disproportionate amount of media coverage, and the current political climate is one of discord, pandering, and disrespect. You'd have to be made of some pretty strong stuff to remain an idealist while coming of age today as a caring person, especially in a culture as selfish as ours has become.