Tuesday, September 25, 2012

CEGNAs and the 2012 Election

By Ellen Cutter, Director of Research. 

How many young people do you know are stuck in a house they can’t sell, underwater on their mortgage, unemployed, underemployed, living with their folks or with roommates (when they’d rather not be), saddled with educational debt, or are just too jaded for being 20, 25, or 35 years old? It seems like the Great Recession sapped not only jobs and savings, but the optimism of my generation as well.

Student loan debt in the U.S. recently passed $1 trillion – that is more than the market value of taxable properties in all of New York City. Even as other forms of debt continue shrink, student loan debt grows quarter after quarter. According to a recent analysis by Bloomberg Businessweek, this debt affects everything. Consider the following:

  • 40% of young borrowers delayed a major purchase
  • 27% of young borrowers moved in with parents
  • 27% of graduates who took out loans are behind on their payments
  • 24% of students say debts have affected career choices
  • 14% of young borrowers delayed marriage

As Romney’s campaign seemingly makes one flub after another, Obama has pulled ahead in the polls. Yet, there’s one group that could be a fly in the ointment for the President.

In August, I heard author and pollster John Zogby give his two cents on the demographic groups that could win or lose the election for each candidate. One of the fascinating predictions he had was the power that so-called CEGNAs would have in determining the outcome. Who are the CEGNAs? They are the “college educated, not going anywhere” demographic. According to Zogby, 66 percent of 18-34 year olds supported Obama in 2008 and they represented 19 percent of the vote. The CEGNAs are a subgroup that have emerged in recent years and, according to Zogby, have an across the board lack of confidence in cornerstone civic institutions like government and church. Frustrated with the promises of change, continuing economic uncertainty, and the resulting personal stagnation in their own lives, CEGNAs tend to poll with greater support for libertarians, like Ron Paul and Gary Johnson. Because of this, Zogby noted that the President’s lead among younger voters could be less secure than in 2008.

However, Zogby’s latest polls show Obama up by 36 points among 18-29 year olds and up by 11 points among 30-49 year olds. As others have wondered, have Romney’s various comments these last few weeks, from dissing the London Olympics to telling young people to borrow money from their parents to start a business or go to college fallen more than a little flat with younger voters?

Regardless of which candidate wins the election, the emergence of the CEGNAs and hopelessness among young adults is a real issue. A sizable portion of an entire generation (my generation) is being left behind. Worse, many wear a yoke of tremendous student loan debt around their necks, which makes personal wealth creation an even more challenging, longer term proposition. If we don’t figure this out, Generation Y might more aptly be called Generation Why Me.