printable banner

U.S. Department of State - Great Seal

U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

The Impact of America's New Globally-Minded Youth

John Zogby, pollster
Washington, DC
September 10, 2013

3:30 P.M. EDT


MODERATOR: Good afternoon and welcome to the Foreign Press Center. Today we have with us John Zogby, who is a pollster and a senior analyst with Zogby Analytics, who will talk about the impact of America’s new globally-minded youth. I would like to note that opinions expressed by Mr. Zogby are his and not the U.S. Government’s.


MR. ZOGBY: Hi, thank you, Miriam. This is my thousandth visit here and I would like you to know that the opinions expressed are not mine but thousands of Americans and whoever else it is that we talk to. (Laughter.)

And hello, New York, it’s good to be back here. I’m going to talk about the subject of the book, about millennials, what I call first globals. But I want you to know that since we poll on everything, including that word that everybody’s talking about, that I’m free and happy to answer any questions about the impact of public opinion on foreign policy and specifically Syria.

I started looking at this topic – the millennials, Americans born between 1979 and 1994 – started looking at them closely 12 years ago, 2000 – right after 9/11/2002-2003. My company was commissioned to do a series of surveys for a group in New York called the Foreign Policy Association, and it was a series of comprehensive surveys not simply about U.S. policies towards individual countries, regions, alliances, protocols like Kyoto, the world court, and so on, but also about what it means to be an American, what it means to the rest of the world, how does the rest of the world see us, multiculturalism, American exceptionalism – you get the point. These were broad in topics.

And what struck me the first round of surveys that came in – I reported, of course, on the overall results. But what was really notable was that on pretty much every question you had Americans who were in their 30s, 40s, and on up into their 70s and 80s with certain attitudes, and within a 10-point range in agreement, and then you had 18-to-29 year-olds who were dramatically different, who saw their world and experienced their world in a completely different way, in many instances not even close.

So one poll – a series – one poll can be an aberration. Two polls can be a mistake. Three polls you’re out of business. But poll after poll I kept watching and then devoted the last dozen years to studying the various age cohorts and what makes them different. And now what’s significant is that today, if you look at Americans born between 1979 and 1994, they are 72 million in size and growing. Seventy-two million makes them the second-highest age cohort after my fellow baby boomers.

Now, in addition to that, I say “and growing” because the cataclysmic events that have impacted people born within those years still are having their impact and will probably be extended, barring anything else unforeseen, to those born in ’95, ’96, ’97. So in other words, this group is important by its sheer sizes as well as by the fact that their world view and their behavioral patterns are so much different.

So what about them? Sixty-seven percent of this group, larger than any other age cohort, have passports, 20-somethings, give or take, have passports and have traveled abroad. Thirty-five percent – I’ve seen that number grow substantially over the years – 35 percent say that they expect – not hope or wish – they expect to live and work in a foreign capital at some point in their lives. How important is it to be fluent in a foreign language in order to conduct business? If you look at Americans – and I have tables in the book – if you look at Americans who were born in the ’20s and ’30s and ’40s, you see 3 percent, 5 percent. It is over 60 percent of first globals who say that being fluent in a foreign language is very or somewhat important. There is no comparison between that figure and even the next age cohort, those born in the ’60s and ’70s. In fact, 48 percent alone of first globals say that it’s very important to be fluent in a foreign language.

What about American culture and its perception or value in the rest of the world? We ask – and I’ve been asking this periodically now for over a decade – is American culture inherently superior to the culture of – and then there’s a chart in the book, and I list Africa and South Asia and East Asia and the Middle East and Islam, Latin America. The first globals are the only ones that never have a majority who say that American culture is superior. Every other age cohort, even those born as late as the early 1970s, believe American culture is superior. First globals in the low 40s to the high 40s; it’s dramatically different.

There’s not only that. This is a group that’s mobile, and because of that mobility it has changed how they view their world and how they view work. So this is a group that very much realizes that when they get into a career, it’s not necessarily a long-term career. Alan Blinder at Princeton has argued with evidence that today’s 20-somethings will have had four gigs by the age of 30 and 10 gigs by the age of 40. So there is not a sense of permanence, there’s a sense of having to be flexible, nimble, and mobile in their lives, which makes their attitudes and values and behavior patterns so different.

So for example, 70-plus percent believe that marriage is right for them. So they believe in marriage. However, triple any other age cohort, they believe that it is possible that a – two spouses could live on two different continents, that two spouses will be raising children in two different countries or two different continents. The world is so much different to this group.

What made them like this? Well, for starters, we go back to their early years, and the impact of the following have been – had been extremely important – certainly was global fashion and United Colors of Benetton, Louis Vuitton, the fact that we refer to – those of us who are older – refer to our 20-somethings as having been spoiled. They were. Make no mistake about it. On the other hand, that is only one very small dimension of who they are, because they grew up in a world where many different peoples were wearing what they were wearing and sharing what they were sharing.

So global sports – my world was baseball and Little League Baseball and what we call Pop Warner football. Their world was very much soccer, and that in itself is revolutionary, because then the World Cup was important to them and soccer clubs were very important to them, and that meant already that between fashion and sports, they were transcending their American culture. They were part of a global community of interest.

Add to that global music as well and the fact that here in the States leading American artists or leading European artists were improvising and integrating with Algerian music and Latin music and Arab music and so on. That’s one part of it. MTV, in fact, played a very important role, teaching young people through their news about the importance of human rights and groups like Amnesty International and so on.

But there were – what makes an age cohort are two things. One is the life cycle. And so 20-somethings are always different from mid-30 and early 40-somethings who are always different from late 40 and 50-somethings and so on. So there is the life cycle. But then history always intrudes on age cohorts, and there is always an event, either a cataclysmic event or a major positive event that shapes for the rest of their lives their basic values.

So as an example that I place in the book, I remember my older cousins, and notably my economics professor in college – and we’re going way back here – but I remember them saying vividly in early December 1941, we were a bunch of 18, 19, 20 year-olds in our college dormitory. And the guys were talking about what college kids and young men talked about: sports, girls, girls and sports, et cetera. And they all told me that December 7th, 1941 changed that. It intruded upon them. That was a Sunday. Monday morning, they were standing in crowded lines before the draft, the Selective Service System, to sign up to fight in what would become World War II. And that group of 20-somethings became the greatest generation; they weren’t born the greatest generation. History had intruded in their lives.

What intruded in the lives of our first globals were two things: The first was obviously 9/11, and continues to be a major event in the lives of young people. But what was so intriguing about this group is that one might have expected that they would turn inward as did that greatest generation, and say, “America was attacked. We must protect and defend America.” And to be sure, there was certainly an element, a strong element, of that feeling. More importantly, though, this group turned outward and said, “Why do people hate us? Why do people – who are these people? We listen to the same music, we follow the same sports, we wear the same clothes. What is going on?” This group actually became more global in its mentality.

The second cataclysmic event occurred in 2007, and that’s the Great Recession. Now, there are booms and busts in the economic cycle, and that’s a fact of life. Is this recession the worst we’ve ever had? Probably. To be sure, it is not as bad as the Great Depression. What was the difference with this one? If you look at a 30 year-old or a 32 year-old today, almost their entire adult life has been in a Great Recession. You look at a 27-28 year-old, a recession is one thing, but when it is your entire adult life, that’s another thing.

And so the message in this book is twofold. On one hand, is – I’ll get to in a second – there are rare opportunities here for this group to have a tremendous impact – they already are having a tremendous impact on institutions and on foreign policy.

By the same token, this could be a lost generation as well if we don’t find a way to integrate them into our economy, to our government, to our politics, to our work life, or they don’t integrate themselves in. And so, part one of the book is descriptive. Part two is actually prescriptive, in which we offer some advice to various sectors of our lives.

But I’m at the Foreign Press Center, and let’s talk about foreign policy here. This is a group that is the least likely of any age cohort to favor war, not only because they haven’t experienced it, but because whoever the opposite side is, they are no longer to this group, the Other. They are not people who are perceived as different from you and me if you are 25 years of age, 30 years of age. So in other words, then, it’s much harder, then, to portray the Other as either inhuman or not like me.

Secondly, this is a group that decidedly does not understand the concept of American exceptionalism. They have grown up in a planet where the rest of the world is on the same playing field as they are. Very mindful of the benefits of being American and the greatness of living in America, but by the same token they have a greater appreciation than any other group, and that is growing, of other cultures.

Thirdly, they are the most likely of any group, by far and away, to have the United States join – they’re not isolationists – to join in alliances, to join with the United Nations, to join in actual working coalitions to provide solutions. As we’ll see in a second, this is very much a group that seeks consensus problem solving and decision making. This is a group that does not hate government, incidentally, but they’re discouraged and disappointed in government.

Let me parse some of those sentiments a bit. In terms of the decision making and consensus decision making, this is a group that does not have patience – because my age cohort and older age cohorts, we were developed in a world of verticalism. If I see a problem, if our government sees a problem, you move it up the chain – you move it up the chain of command. You go from supervisor to manager to whomever, until somehow and some way, it freezes and dies somewhere up the chain and then that’s how you solve problems; they disappear after a while. This is a group that is steeped in horizontalism. If there’s a problem, my network can and will provide a solution. I crowd-source it. I send it out. Somehow, someway there’s not only a solution, but that same crowd-sourcing methodology also can produce a consensus along the way.

So in many ways, this group will actually change many of our institutions. I, for one, am very optimistic about our millennials, simply because we know that in so many respects, many of our familiar institutions are not working, and yet any attempt to provide solutions under their current formation are zero-sum. So in other words, I need to cut the budget of a government agency, okay? But I’ve just laid off 12,000 people. Zero-sum – where’s the benefit there? That’s why I think that if there’s any hope whatsoever, it will come from – and I hate to use the word paradigm, and I apologize for that, but it will come from new paradigms of decision-making.

So unless – I appear to be a cheerleader; this group is really a pain in the butt. And let me – I have three sons in their 30s. I know. They’re global – mom and dad paid for that globalism. As 20-somethings, they are concerned about self. They do need to be prodded. They have been spoiled – I’m talking about the group as a whole. By the same token, they offer, I think, in many ways a way out of the serious logjams that we have because there is a whole new mode of thinking and decision-making. Even the skills – why are they playing video games? Those are the skills that the future needs to solve problems, taking lots of information and developing strategies, straight-line solutions. They need the dexterity – in a world of big data, they need to know how to call up the data, see all the dots and find the connectors and dots. How many people do you need to do that? You need millions of people to do that, because then you get one solution, or a small group of solutions.

Oh, there’s so much more. I kept the book short and to the point, but there is a whole lot more and I’m happy to answer any questions about that or about, as I said, anything else.

QUESTION: My name is Sanna Bjorling. I work for the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter. How do they vote?

MR. ZOGBY: Yeah. They have not been voting Republican, which is not to say that they necessarily will vote Democrat, but they have not been voting Republican, and there are reasons for that. The Republican Party, currently constituted, reflects to them an exclusionary party, an anti-gay rights party, anti-immigration party, and a party that dared to talk about contraception, which was deemed to be just one of those issues that was just not an issue. So at least for the time being, young people will vote Democrat in presidential races. Now it remains to be seen. 2014 will be very critical to determine – will they turn out to vote in 2014? If so, they will not vote Republican. But you see they did not turn out to vote in 2010.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. ZOGBY: (Inaudible.) They were – they did not vote in 2010; they were profoundly disappointed. A lot of that is predictable. There was a sensibility, I think particularly among young, that they had elected Superman and defied all odds. And Superman is a comic, does not exist. And so in that sense, they reflected their disappointment. They were also disappointed deeply in the behavior of our governing institutions and our political system. But they are creating antidotes. There are online petition drives, there actually are political action committees of young people that are truly catching on. I think in the midterm – midterm in terms of years, not necessarily the election – Democrats win this group. But I – that’s only mainly because the Republicans lose this group.

MODERATOR: Can we go to New York, please? Go ahead. New York? New York, go ahead.

MR. ZOGBY: Hi, New York. Can you hear me?



QUESTION: Hi. My name is Vanya Bellinger and I’m working for the Bulgarian newspaper Capital. Thanks for doing this. While I was listening your briefing, I kind of had in my mind this famous quote from Churchill that if you are 20 and you’re not a socialist, you don’t have a heart, but if you are 40 and you’re still socialist you don’t have brains. So I wanted to ask you about the – what is your – I mean, the vision you presented, it’s very optimistic, it’s very positive vision. But what are the chances that it might turn the other way, that this generation kind of turns inward and kind of turns their back to the international organizations and also to grassroot and –

MR. ZOGBY: Thank you for that question, and I get it everywhere. Becoming 30-something – mid-30s or thereabouts normally means marriage, family – I’m not so sure about property ownership anymore, but that was sort of the book on becoming 30-something and 40-something. But what all of that meant was that it had a moderating and modulating impact on your life.

So in other words you were less wild, less concerned about yourself, more concerned then about your family and your neighborhood, and for that matter your – I’m sorry. That’s Gallup calling. They always do that. But I don’t think we ought to look at things anymore in terms of liberal, conservative or Democrat, Republican. I think the real debate among this group is going to be libertarian versus communitarian. Now, libertarian cuts across Democrat, Republican, cuts across liberal and conservative. Obviously, in believe in the inviolability of the Bill of Rights. Communitarian does not necessarily mean government as a problem solver or as a provider, but it means the community has a responsibility to do that, and that there are new paradigms of community involvement.

I think that’s what the debate will be. But yes, I mean, 30-somethings will become more community oriented, and the debate will not be – I think that we can put to rest Winston Churchill’s famous quote.

QUESTION: Hi, I’m Charlotte. I work for Danish Broadcasting. I would – I was thinking about why it’s very interesting about this group. Right now the whole world is discussing if Mr. Obama is a weak president, he change his mind, he did something else. In your opinion to this group, do they see him in another way than you would if you look at exercising power in a more traditional way?

MR. ZOGBY: That is a really good question because there is a lack of trust, and that’s very important. And it is finding its way towards President Obama. So Senator Obama was elected with 66 percent of young people’s vote in 2008. Sixty-one percent in 2012. And I have to tell you that that was a last minute development, and had it not been the fact that young women turned out to vote and that 71 percent of young women voted for the reelection of President Obama, that number would have been even less than 61 percent.

But today, he’s polling under 50 percent, or close to 50 percent, among young people. And so that’s still reasonable, but that’s not good for his base. And why is that? There is a profound disappointment, and it’s not one dimensional. It’s not simply the economy. It has to do with the NSA and violation of privacy, and these are people – ironically, these are people that grow up with twerking on one hand and sexting let’s say on the same hand, and – but they will choose how they violate their own privacy. That’s not for government to choose.

QUESTION: I think it was partly answered, but you said this – oh, my name is Jemin Son from Kyunghyang Daily News in South Korea. And you said this generation doesn’t support a Republican much, but recently some – more and more young generations are interested in the libertarian points from Republican politicians like Senator Rand Paul. So how do you explain that?

MR. ZOGBY: There are a couple things going on. I’m glad you raise it, and I do discuss it in the book. First of all is image. Rand Paul is an outsider, he isn’t – Ron Paul, an outsider, much the same way that there was respect for Ralph Nader, and it transcended ideology. They were the outsiders, kind of the old guys who were in there punching and didn’t care how it impacted themselves.

Secondly, there is a small but growing group of these millennials, first globals, that I call CENGA – College Educated Not Going Anywhere. And this is a group that is frustrated and angry and finds the libertarian philosophy intriguing, particularly because they are the ones who are saying, “Look it’s all wrong. You’re taxing us, we’re paying for social security, we’re paying for – to prop up through pension plans older people who are preventing us from getting into the system.” That’s not the prevailing – that’s not the dominating philosophy, but it’s a small and growing philosophy. There’s also sense that whether it’s contraception on the conservative side, NSA violations on the other side, that government can be dangerously invasive.

Now one of the things that’s very intriguing, and the book came out – not came out but was written – and I decided not to change it or incorporate Edward Snowden in, but I’m going to talk about Edward Snowden in the sense that he is a prototypical first global. This is a man without a country. His calling is one that transcends nationality or nationalism. His loyalty is a loyalty to a planetary cause, universal value in his mind. And then his reward – his reward is that he is a man without a country, a citizen of nowhere.

There was a question in the middle and then in the back too. Yes, in the back.

QUESTION: Hi, my name is Antonella Ciancio and I work for Linkiesta from Italy. My question is about the crisis and how does new generation will – if this new generation will act differently in terms of excesses, everything that actually is money, greed. Is this a generation which has different perception of these programs?

MR. ZOGBY: It’s interesting because it’s almost the Face of Janus if I could use an ancient Italian metaphor, that on one hand, it has 20-somethings very much into fashion, very much into spending, very much self-indulgent, and that’s coming from a baby boomer; we defined self-indulgence, so I know what I’m talking about.

By the same token, this is the first group that went to school at the age of five and learned do not litter, do not waste energy. This is a group that is very much inculcated in environmental values. And very importantly, this is the one group that has, as many say, “I’m a citizen of the planet Earth,” as says, “I’m a citizen of the United States.” No other age cohort is even close to that. In that sense, there is a small – there is a decent size but growing number of first globals who transcend excess and really see themselves as having a global responsibility.

They’re also part of a much larger movement that I described, actually, in my first book, which is a rise of secular spiritualism. We are all Americans part of a generation now that is spending less, that is not piling up credit card debt, that is thinking twice about crazy spending.

QUESTION: Hello, my name is Maria Bustamante. I’m with Singapore Straits Times. Curiously, I was wondering, do you know anything about the first – the millenniums of the other countries? Are they the same as the Americans?

MR. ZOGBY: A really good question. Yes and no, okay? I could be Secretary of State. (Laughter.)

Let’s look at the brick countries. In all of those instances, young people have a heightened global sensibility. However, it is expressed in nationalistic terms. I’m a citizen of the earth, an earth that I want to be dominated by the greatness of the Chinese empire. I want to restore the greatness of the Russian empire. Young people are global. I mean, they know hip hop and they wear the same fashions, especially those middle classes, the turtles of China.

In Brazil, it’s that sensibility that we in Brazil – God is Brazilian, I’m not making that up, that’s what they say – God is Brazilian, and we have a message, a Brazilian way. That’s the only other way besides the American way that you hear out there these days. So yeah, they’re very, very much global, but at the same time, they’re also – they have a localized spin on that globalism.

I got to offend four countries. Yes.

QUESTION: You didn’t offend my country. (Laughter.)

MR. ZOGBY: Okay.

QUESTION: I’m from Denmark, Danish Broadcasting, the other – Danish Broadcasting. My name is Vivian. I would ask you – you described the young Americans as being so global. Is it the same for all young Americans? Do you see a difference in – you live on the West Coast, the East Coast, the ethnic groups, or – and/or is there a gender difference?

MR. ZOGBY: There isn’t – there is, but not as much as you think, and so look to be sure those who are highly educated, those who are on the two coasts, are more global in their mentality. But this is a sensibility and a value system that transcends race, transcends location, transcends really all of the demographics. So you have a significant number of Latinos and African Americans and farmer kids. Why? The technology has leveled that playing field.

Now – but I qualify that. It’s not perfectly level, but this does criss-cross all those demographics.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR. ZOGBY: Sure.

QUESTION: Will the way the young people think, will that change the American political system? Will it change the way you go into party politics? Will this generation want another form or networking?

MR. ZOGBY: The answer is yes, and it’s too soon – just as we’re – you’re experiencing in the media, we’re experiencing in higher education, we’re experiencing it really in everything. When I sit down with NGOs, for example, I say, “Get out of your mind raising 10 million people from 35 –$10 million from 35 people. Think about raising $35 from 10 million people. That’s how it’s got to be done from here on in.”

It’s the same thing with the political system. Look, Parag Khanna – is that a name that anyone knows – the New America Foundation, a young man, public intellectual I have a lot of respect for. How to Rule the World is his latest book. And one of the things he says is that the way you change the world these days is you have a traditional NGO and corporate money, young volunteers, and George Clooney. And essentially, that’s sort of tongue-in-cheek, but in many ways, it transcends that summit meeting in Geneva where the bureaucracies of the nations, all of whom are in terrible straits financially and in terms of their ability to make decisions. It has to be much more mobile, much faster, and a combination of public-private.


QUESTION: Yeah. I have one more question. I wonder, how do you think they will react when – once they come to power because you have – it’s quite easy to put your effort into one question or to have this consensus, but once you come to responsibility and accountability for, well, difficult decisions, how do you think they will respond to that?

MR. ZOGBY: That is a good one. I already see them responding to situations differently, different than might have been predicted. So I do think that we’re in a different kind of world. There were those of us who grew up in the civil rights movement, for examples. Once blacks are elected to office, everything will change. And then black mayors were just as corrupt in many instances as white mayors. Once we get a woman elected, watch how things will change. Well, sure, there were some changes, but not big. This is a group, I think, that brings – I think brings a completely different world view and a completely different set of sensitivities and sensibilities. And so will there be corrupt ones? Absolutely, because they’re still human. Will they fail? Absolutely that, too. But I think that for once, there’s a chance to really significantly move the ball forward towards the goal. That’s the best that I can do in terms of an answer.

QUESTION: Thank you. My name is Boya Li. I’m from People’s Daily, one of China’s major newspaper. Did you just say that the Chinese young people are more nationalistic?


QUESTION: Yeah, the – you’ve noticed that?

MR. ZOGBY: I’ve noticed it, and I also have friends – I’ve also polled there, and I have friends who are in the polling industry, in fact, some big names, and that’s what they report to me as well.

QUESTION: Can you elaborate more specifically?

MR. ZOGBY: No. (Laughter.) Yeah, I can. I can try to. I think what we’re seeing are – at least with the so-called turtles, those coming out of the shell – so you know the term. Okay. There is a group that Frantz Fanon, the revolutionary – Algerian revolutionary once referred to as the “been-tos.” They had been to London and been to Paris and been to New York and have come back with a global view of things, but also a strong desire to have the world better understand China. China has been – had been self-isolated for thousands of years and can no longer be that, but this is the group that will – once they come to power, will understand that. And I think you start to see that developing wing within the politburo itself that says that, look, we can’t do this the way it’s always been done. And that’s what young people do anyway. But there’s also an atmosphere within the politburo that at least allows that to be heard. And so in many ways, these are global patriots. They want China to play a strong and positive leadership role. Local globals is what they are. I hope that helps.

QUESTION: It’s very impressive.

MR. ZOGBY: Oh, good.

QUESTION: You catch the trend in China, I think. Yeah, another question?

MR. ZOGBY: Sure.

QUESTION: On Syria, what’s the young people’s perception on war, especially this young generation?

MR. ZOGBY: Absolutely, unequivocally no war. That would have been a major disaster for the President. Now this is not a moral statement about the justifiability of war. I’m just reporting the polls. And the polls are that young people did not see that as an option. Why? What have they lived with? When were they born? 1979. When did they come of age? Well, there was the Gulf War when they were in middle school, and then after that, there’s been Iraq and Afghanistan and now this, a sense that – well, let’s look at the key questions.

Number one, does U.S. involvement make things better or make things worse? Their sense is that they haven’t seen the U.S. involvement make things better. Earlier generations may have, but that’s not what these young people have grown up with. Secondly, is war – going to war the ultimate solution? The answer is no. This is the one group that believes in the United Nations. Has the President been able to form a global alliance? Now again, I’m not faulting him, I’m not faulting anyone, but a global alliance was not developed. This is a group that believes in global alliances, not the coalition of the willing, so to speak. And so the – this was just not the message that was going to appeal to the base, to that base of young people.

MODERATOR: Thank you so much for –

MR. ZOGBY: Thank you again. Thank you.


# # #