The deep partisan divide in Washington, D.C., may suggest to some that the country’s future is not as bright as its past. Best-selling author and polling advisor Stanley Greenberg isn’t among them. He contends the U.S. is poised for further greatness. But he does see the country being transformed by a series of revolutions whose cumulative impact, he argues, will be comparable to that of the Industrial Revolution.
Greenberg is a veteran pollster whose former clients include President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and late South African President Nelson Mandela. In October, he outlined his vision for the nation’s future in a keynote speech at the SVIA’s 2015 Fall Forum.
Highlighting themes from his latest book, America Ascendant: A Revolutionary Nation’s Path to Addressing Its Deepest Problems and Leading the 21st Century, Greenberg said revolutionary changes in technology, energy, immigration and multiculturalism, along with a migration of Americans from the suburbs to the cities and the emergence of the millennials as the country’s largest generation, are remaking the country in profound ways and laying the groundwork for continued world leadership—albeit with jarring implications for our political parties.
Greenberg identified the U.S. as the world leader in technology after investing an average 5 percent of its gross domestic product on research and development annually for the past 60 years. That’s translated into success in the energy field, where new technologies like hydraulic fracking have dramatically boosted the nation’s energy output and put the country on the path to energy independence. In fact, the U.S. Energy Department recently projected that the U.S. could be energy independent in as little as four years.
Against this backdrop, Greenberg said, the U.S. is undergoing an immigration revolution that is making the country both economically and culturally dynamic.
One in five of the world’s emigrants winds up in the U.S., he said, with the result that New York City’s population is now 37 percent foreign-born and California’s is 40 percent, including half of Silicon Valley’s engineers. In addition, he said, 70 percent of foreign-born Ph.D.’s stay in the U.S.
In this new multicultural United States, Greenberg said, 37 percent of the country’s citizens are now racial minorities. Unlike other countries, Greenberg said, the U.S. is not going to war over these cultural changes, “but has arrived at a notion that we gain strength, and unity, out of our diversity—and that it is part of what makes us unique as a country.” Specifically, he said, “If you ask college graduates, millennials, blacks, Latinos and Asians, 70 percent say that diversity makes American stronger—makes America better as a country.”
The U.S. also is undergoing what Greenberg called a “metropolitan revolution” in which more and more Americans, especially millennials, are moving from the suburbs to the cities, reversing a trend that has persisted for 100 years. This has left the U.S. with 250 megacities in which, Greenberg said, innovative firms, immigrants, universities and research organizations tend to cluster. Two-thirds of millennials with a college degree have already moved to the country’s 50 largest cities, he noted.
All this has created an America that is culturally exceptional and dynamic, and economically ascendant, Greenberg said. “It is virtually the only country that has a framework for dealing with its cultural diversity, and turning that into both economic and cultural value.”
Which is not to say the country is without problems. Greenberg cited the struggles of single parents trying to raise children, often with little child-care help; jobs that don’t pay well; stagnant incomes; disparities in pay between the average worker and CEOs; disparities in pay between women and men; and discomfort with the influence of special-interest money on politics.
These revolutionary changes are disrupting the political landscape, Greenberg added, by giving birth to a multicultural “new American majority.” In the 2016 presidential election, he said, African Americans, Hispanics and Asian Americans will account for 28 percent of the electorate, up from 16 percent in 1992. In addition to these racial minorities, he said the new American majority also includes women and “seculars,” or non-religious Americans, with the latter now comprising a quarter of the electorate. Each of those groups—racial minorities, women and seculars—is growing, he said, and will account for a combined 63 percent of the electorate in 2016, up from about half in 2012. And, he noted, each votes two-to-one Democrat.
While much of the American public may be comfortable with these changes, Greenberg said the Republican party is engaged in a counter-revolution aimed at keeping the new American majority from governing. Since 2004 this counter-revolution has centered, he said, on waging a cultural war to reengage evangelical voters and to nationalize every election. As a consequence, he said, the Republican base is now one-quarter GOP moderates, one-half evangelicals and one-quarter Tea Party voters. In general, he said, this base is opposed to Obamacare and same-sex marriage and deeply skeptical of climate change—issues on which the new American majority is more accepting. “This is a battle for American values,” he said.
Greenberg concluded that the country is at a tipping point politically. While 46 percent of American voters called themselves conservatives in 2008, today only 36 percent do. As a consequence, Greenberg said, there are formidable odds that the Democrat candidate for president will win in 2016, producing “a shattering election” for the Republican party. But he said the future course of events won’t be linear. Rather than dig in, he predicted, the GOP will “change dramatically” after 2016 in an attempt to fare better in future elections.