Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Will Millenniums Break the American Two Party System Lock?

Photo Credit - Flickr Common

The Great Recession has changed life in America, and it is also revising views of establishment politics. A recent Pew Research Center social trends paper details the resulting fall out of financial losses, unemployment pain, and general uncertainty of the future for most Americans.

Congressional gridlock and missing leadership in general in Washington D.C. has changed the political views of the majority of Americans on politicians in either of the two controlling major parties in the U.S. having any real answers or the political will to work together to enact non-partisan solutions if they did.

America’s exploding debt which topped $15 Trillion on November 16, it’s jobless economic recovery which may take a decade, and the overall financial meltdown that saw Wall Street and banks bailed out by taxpayers has left the people of the U.S. angry and blaming the past and current political class and their championing of crony capitalism for the mess.

There is no doubt these realities are changing the political affiliation landscape as more Americans are tired of party over solutions with the hard reality that equates in real terms as party over people, especially the suffering middle class.

A January, 2011 Gallop poll headline reflected, “Democratic Party ID Drops in 2010, Tying 22-Year Low” with a sub-title of “Democrats still outnumber Republicans, while independent identification increases.”

A May, 2011 Pew poll detailed “Beyond Red vs. Blue: The Political Typology.” Pew provided, “Today, there are two core Republican groups, compared with three in 2005, to some extent reflecting a decline in GOP party affiliation. However, Democrats have not made gains in party identification. Rather, there has been a sharp rise in the percentage of independents – from 30% in 2005 to 37% currently. Today, there are three disparate groups of independents, compared with two in 2005.”

Pew summarized, “While Republicans trail the Democrats in party affiliation, they enjoy advantages in other areas: The two core GOP groups are more homogeneous – demographically and ideologically – than are the three core Democratic groups. And socioeconomic differences are more apparent on the left: Nearly half of Solid Liberals (49%) are college graduates, compared with 27% of New Coalition Democrats and just 13% of Hard-Pressed Democrats."

The Millenniums may end up being the most impacted generation by the effects of the Great Recession while private and public sector solutions are found and implemented.

Wikipedia explains, “Generation Y, also know as the Millennial Generation (or Millennials), Generation Next, Net Generation, Echo Boomers, or Worst Generation describes the demographic cohort following Generation X. There is no precise dates for when the Millennial generation starts and ends, and commentators have used birth dates ranging somewhere from the mid-70s to the early 2000s.”

One thing is for sure, Millenniums when at full voting age will be as significant as the Baby Boomers in elections. Millenniums are already showing signs of being cynical about politics and distrustful of the establishment political parties. Many see the political establishment as having caused the problems they face today and not being effective at resolving them.

They are more likely to vote by issue than party lines, and are showing signs they will support third party candidates that support their position on issues more readily than past generations. As a whole they are becoming politically engaged for their economic survival and national vision.

Millenniums are also a fully immersed technology generation which leads them to engage politically significantly online. Through the technology capabilities started by social media, Americans, and especially Millennials, expect a more direct conversation with politicians, participation in the political process, and voice in their future.

America’s entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well in this arena with political sites like TheVoterEffect.com, TellMyGov.com, FinalDebate.com, and Ruck.us, to name a few, coming of age in 2011.

Ruck.us Founder Nathan Daschle explains his new online political engagement community, “Ruck.us is taking on a broken political system by letting you organize around issues, not party labels. Here’s how it works: You begin by answering a dynamic set of questions about your positions and issues. This allows Ruck.us to capture and analyze your political DNA.”

“Ruck.us then uses a proprietary algorithm to automatically match you to politically like-minded people, giving you an instant, personal and actionable political network. Then, Ruck.us recommends political actions you can take on or off site to promote your interests.”

He notes, “One Ruck.us member tweeted, “Ruck.us is like a combination of Hunch, Quora, Current TV, and HackerNews.”

Will millenniums break the American two-party system lock? Nathan Daschle shares his thoughts.

BKH: What led you to start Ruck.us?

ND: In 2008 we witnessed the biggest change election in my lifetime with President Obama’s victory, but just one year later, the pendulum was swinging back hard in the opposite direction. After the 2009 gubernatorial elections in Virginia and New Jersey, I knew there was a powerful undercurrent in politics. The 2010 mid-term elections reflected this also.

Pundits were saying it was a big win for the Republicans, but I thought the volatility was the product of a much deeper disconnect with American politics.

BKH: Are you affiliated with or funded by any political party, PAC, or political think tank, or specific media group?

ND: No.

BKH: How are you funded?

ND: We raised money from angel investors, including myself.

BKH: Does having a politically connected last name hurt or help?

ND: Probably both. It opens a few more doors than would not be open otherwise, but it also puts a bigger target on your back. Two of the three co-founders have had fathers in politics, but we try to make it as much of a non-issue as we can.

BKH: What are the security and privacy standards with Ruck.us?

ND: We do not do anything with anyone's personally identifiable information except make better recommendations for members of their “ruck” on the site. While it would be tempting to follow the lead of other companies that profit off an individual's personal data, we think it would be counter to our brand and message.

BKH: Currently, who are the users on Ruck.us – your demographics?

ND: We have people from every demographic and philosophical grouping. Nevertheless, probably the largest cluster is among the socially liberal, fiscally conservative users.

BKH: What needs does Ruck.us satisfy that are not being satisfied with our current political system?

ND: The current system is far too restrictive, especially when you consider how much our lives have changed in the last ten years. When we can get music, clothing, information and everything else tailored to our unique needs, asking us to conform to one of two 19th century creations is too much.

With Ruck.us, not only do you not have to subscribe wholesale to an agenda set by party elites, but you also do not have to maintain the fiction that our country is divided into a red and blue team. Instead, you simply let us know what issues and positions are most important to you, and we match you with people who share your views.

BKH: What do you believe is the best definition for independent voters or those that declare they are Independent politically?

ND: Washington is lazy in its political thinking and too often equates Independents with moderates. There is no correlation. Independents are people of any stripe who choose not to be a member of a political party. Three-quarters of Occupy Wall Street protesters are politically independent.

BKH: Which party do you believe most voters under 30 identify with and why?

ND: The relationship between young voters and political parties is tenuous at best. Even more than the rest of us, voters under 30 are unwilling to limit themselves to an ill-fitting structure, leaving many to view themselves as Independents.

Philosophically, they tend to be more socially liberal but more fiscally conservative than their parents. So their support is very much in play. Obama won in 2008, but it is less clear where these voters will go in 2012.

BKH: How did technology most influence voting in 2008?

ND: 2004 was the year that politics took fundraising online. 2008 was the year it took organizing online. No one before Obama had effectively utilized Facebook and Twitter to organize people around a campaign. The aftershocks have been felt in the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street movements.

BKH: What technology influence do you predict for 2012?

ND: The next frontier is giving people a voice. How long can we let people "like" anything on Facebook, but have no say in a party or candidate's platform?

BKH: What are the best and worst elements of the current two-party system in America?

ND: The two-party system is at once broadening and limiting. To be in a party, you have to accept people of differing viewpoints, because the tent has to be sufficiently big enough to capture 50% of the vote +1.

At the same time, years and years of channeling people into two separate worlds, along with the professionalization of the industry, has led to a zero sum game mentality. The only result is stalemate.

There is no incentive to make progress if that involves allowing for shared success. Moreover, putting people on teams has allowed us to demonize all too easily, which further inhibits progress and turns more people away.

BKH: How do you overcome the conventional political wisdom currently of a vote outside of one for a Republican or Democrat is a wasted vote?

ND: Here is where I probably need to clarify. I do not support a third party, because I do not believe our "winner takes all" system allows for one. Until we change the Constitution, we will always have something approximating the two parties. But they do not have to have the same degree of relevance.

More specifically, as individuals, there is no need anymore for us to consider ourselves members of a party when technology gives us all the tools we need.

BKH: How do you overcome the fear and anger often seen directed at 3rd party candidates, because many see this as being a disadvantage by taking votes away from the GOP or Democrats candidates and skews election results for them and victories from them?

ND: I would like to see a world where Independents are the majority, and the two parties cater to the votes of the wide and diverse community of people who put issues first. Like everything else, politics follows the laws of the physical universe, and politicians are gravitationally drawn to the largest masses.

Right now, we have corrupted the landscape with two artificial masses at the ends of the spectrums. A political party diaspora will make the physical landscape a better approximation of where people are, and politicians are bound to respond.

BKH: Do you believe millenniums will break the two-party system monopoly ultimately?

ND: Yes. Our current system is the political equivalent of asking the iTunes generation to now start shopping at record stores.

BKH: How and when?

ND: Several groups are making themselves heard in advance of the 2012 election, but usually there is a lag of a cycle or two. Because technology is moving so fast, I think we will see a major non-party candidate for President (as well as massive party disruption) in 2016.

BKH: Why do you think are the pros and cons of the multi-party systems in Europe?

ND: The U.S. is for all intents and purposes the world's only two-party democracy. Of course, there are structural reasons for this, but in the end, we only present our citizens with two choices. That is extremely limiting compared to our closest neighbor, the U.K., which has 14 parties represented in parliament.

BKH: What has been the majority feedback from national politicians to Ruck.us so far?

ND: Surprisingly, we have received as much support from inside the beltway as outside. The problem with politics today is not the people; it is the systems.

The people who work in politics are as frustrated as the rest of us. Certainly there are some people who do not like what we are doing and accuse us of disloyalty, but they are the exception rather than the rule.

BKH: What has been the majority feedback from Ruck.us users so far?

ND: Our users are overwhelmingly engaged. This is important, because at the end of the day, Ruck.us is not about the co-founders, its about the users. We are so grateful that people from all over the county have come onto the site to experience politics outside of the confining silos of the two parties.

In just two months of being live, our users have submitted over 300 questions and taken countless actions. Moreover, the average user is answering 40 questions - a much higher rate than we originally anticipated.

BKH: What are your future plans for Ruck.us features and expansion?

ND: We are keeping our specific plans for new features under wraps of course for now, but our primary goal is to build a vibrant community of motivated individuals intent on wresting power away from institutions and back to the people.

We have had some requests to build Ruck.us in other countries and even an international version, but that is well down the road.

BKH: Will Ruck.us change the U.S. political system?

ND: Ruck.us as a site is just code. Ruck.us as a community is a powerful new frontier of political engagement, and I have no doubt they will change the world.

BKH: Thank you Nathan. Connect with Ruck.us and join them on Facebook and Twitter.

In addition to being the founder and CEO of Ruck.us, from 2007 to 2010, Nathan Daschle was the Executive Director of the Democratic Governors Association (DGA), where he managed a $50 million annual budget and staff of over 20. Over the four-year period in which he led DGA, the organization set numerous fundraising records and won a majority of its targeted races.

He has served in the legislative affairs office of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees and the Natural Resources Defense Council. In October 2010, Nathan was recognized as one of Time magazine’s “40 under 40” rising stars in politics.

Daschle currently serves on the advisory boards of EverFi and Rubicon Public Sector, as well as the faculty of Public Squared. He received his J.D., cum laude, from Harvard Law School in 2002 and his B.A., with distinction, from Northwestern University in 1995.

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