Winning a political battle can mean losing a political war.
The fastest growing segment of the California electorate is the “millennials” – young people coming of age since the year 2000.
There are more than six million of them in California. By 2012, they will outnumber the “baby boomers.”
They are hip, rebellious and more than “pro-choice.” Their lifestyle is choice. And technology empowers their ability to demand and make choices.
They reject pre-packaged everything.
They don’t buy music CDs – record company executives’ pre-packaged music. They use their iPods to create their own blend of music. They don’t subscribe to newspapers’ pre-packaged information. They use the Internet to create their own blend of information. They don’t “match” their clothing, they “mix” to create their own look.
For this generation, political parties represent pre-packaged ideologies.
They are registering to vote as independent, creating their own blend of politics.
The number of independent voters in California has exploded – from 10 percent of the electorate to 20 percent in just a few years. But nearly one-third of the millennials are registering independent. And it’s happening organically. No organization, or funding, or advertising.
Every poll on Proposition 8 showed that the ban on gay marriage in California was a generational issue. Younger voters opposed it.
The percentage of young people today who are gay and lesbian is no greater than among previous generations. But the percentage of young people who rebel against a pre-packaged society is.
They believe in the right of people to make their own choices. They want themselves and their friends left alone to make those choices. And the empowerment they experience through technology makes them intolerant of authorities that deny choice.
As businesses that funded the Proposition 8 ban on gay marriage will experience, this generation doesn’t believe that the only form of political expression is at the ballot box. Their socially-conscious consumerism will bring pain to those who hurt other people or the earth we inhabit.
The Republican consultants behind the ban on gay marriage succeeded in a political campaign but they negatively re-branded their style of politics with this newest and now fastest growing segment of the electorate.
For me, an aging boomer, this was a rerun.
In 1994, California Republicans won Proposition 187 banning undocumented immigrants from state funded services.
By building a victory on fear and exclusion, the Republicans missed significant demographic and cultural trends.
In 1988, President Ronald Reagan granted “amnesty” to immigrants who had been working in the United States. Those immigrants would be eligible for citizenship after a five-year waiting period – in 1993.
One year after millions of immigrants become eligible for citizenship the Republicans attacked them.
Until 1993, the average number of immigrants in California applying for citizenship was between 40,000 and 50,000 per year.
In 1994, over 90,000 immigrants in California applied for citizenship. In 1995, over 130,000. Soon, the number reached 200,000 per year.
For decades Republican “talking heads” opined that Latinos shared their conservative values on cultural issues like abortion. But the Proposition 187 campaign missed a stronger cultural value. Pride.
The Proposition 187 ads showed poor people running across the border as an announcer said, “They are coming” and 187 would stop them.
The ads were clever. But degrading. They mobilized students and immigrant activists who then connected with deeply offended second and third generation Latino citizens.
Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer won just 52% of the Latino vote in their 1992 races for the U.S. Senate. In 2006, every Democrat was winning 65-75% of the Latino vote, and that vote had grown from 9% to 18% of California voters since 1994.
The Republicans had re-branded themselves among the fast-growing segment of the population of the 1990’s.
With Proposition 8, we witnessed Republicans bring to life the adage – those who don’t learn from history are condemned to repeat it.
As they did in 1994, they won a political battle utilizing the politics of fear and exclusion. They ignored demographic and cultural trends that will turn their Proposition 8 “victory” into a long-term defeat.
Millennials will soon dominate our politics. They will legalize gay marriage.