Category Archives: Published

Advertising Research: The Loneliest Profession

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Sure, it’s unlikely Don Draper could land an agency job today. Still, advertising is a practitioner-oriented field, and this has held true since the Mad Men era… but it’s the distance between university halls vs. the avenues of New York is our primary concern.

Enter the advertising researcher (and a bit of shameless self-promotion). Not to invite myself to the party, but my point is we brought cake. There’s untapped potential for bringing together the different perspectives of academic and creative by putting consumers at the center of the equation. And it’s us nerds who can help make it happen. (Read full article on Medium.com)

I write about advertising and culture from the POV of an advertising analyst for the I Love Charts collection on Medium. More at languageofbrands.tumblr.com

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New Article: Advertising & Art

Language of brands_Jason Potteiger

Warhol Was Wrong About Advertising & Art:

“Huh, so you make lies for a living?” That was the first question he asked me. It was also the first time I’d told anyone I worked in advertising. I thumbed the glass of whiskey in front of me. Having landed my first internship earlier that day, at just 21 years old it was a bigger question than I realized at the time. It was a question about culture.

Commercial messages and manufactured iconography swirl with, around, between us. Thousands of brands occupy the collective consciousness and command a piece of the cultural pie. This is a story about how, and why… (keep reading on medium.com)

I recently started writing a weekly column for the I Love Charts collection on Medium. Each week I use charts (and hopefully wit) to explore the synthetic side of culture.

I’m very much looking forward to unpacking some big ideas about advertising and culture. There’s a lot to hate about advertising, but  there’s a lot to love, too–it’s just harder to find sometimes. Whether you play for Ad Busters or Ad Week, the reality is it’s there and it’s shaping us and our world.


A Love Letter to James Franco

Abstract: I wrote this article about my admiration for James Franco’s lust for life. When it was first published it ranked among the most popular articles on the site.

Originally published on TNGG.

As I sit down to write this piece, I have to wonder if James Franco might take a crack at it for me. Of course, he’d probably pee on my computer as part of a performance art piece and possibly make a documentary about doing it. Sounds weird, but coming from a PhD candidate at Yale, maybe there’s something to it.

Much has been written about Franco’s exploits outside Hollywood, and there isn’t a lot left to say. Just about everyarticle on the successful actor, student and aspiring artist* begins with a laundry list of what he’s up to: attending graduate school, writing short stories and novels, directing and starring in documentaries and student films, opening galleries, and a litany of other creative projects, all at the same time.

But my interest is not so much the what, but the how and why.

When you look at what he’s accomplished, Franco seems inhuman. But he’s actually not that unlike the rest of us. Yes, he is intelligent, a quick study and bursting with energy (though frequently exhausted). However, as The New Yorker points out: James isn’t a savant or a prodigal genius either, “he’s someone of mortal abilities who seems to be working immortally hard… Franco’s work gives off a student-y vibe. It exudes effort.”

From what I can tell, it comes down to one simple thing, he gives a shit about life. In fact, I think he might be addicted to it.

This past September, Dave Franco shot an interview with his brother James during Esquire’s cover shoot. There’s an odd chemistry between them, like two friends reuniting after years apart. Here, a human side shines through not captured on The Daily Show or TODAY Show.

The warmth and authenticity of his smile grabs you. His whole body laughs, eyes squinting and cheeks up, with a grin that draws creases across his face–like a camera flash that keeps going off.

But, while Franco’s smile is infectious, his lust for life is an outright bio-hazard. It affects you on a physiological level, like he’s bleeding enthusiasm through the screen. Not the jumping on sofa with Oprah type, more like the relentless calm of a man on a mission.

Keep in mind, at any given time he’s likely just jumped off a plane from a poetry reading in South Carolina and will, right after whatever he’s doing, dash off to LA or NYU or Germany for another job, or lecture, or project. And yet he’s here, and focused. Midway through, his brother asks him about down time.

Dave: “When was like the last time you weren’t working on something? Just sitting there and doing nothing?”
James: “I don’t even know what that means.”

Saturday Night Live might poke fun at Franco’s many projects, “I like having jobs!” But it’s hard to deny that there is something special about his motivation: he’s in it for himself. In a world where we define ourselves within the confines of social scripts and the approval of others, it’s like he’s found a way to break free.

Upon receiving news that he was nominated for an Oscar–perhaps the highest achievement for any actor–Franco chose to attend his class on Byron, Keats and Yates rather than head down to New York for press.

When it comes to male role models for this generation, I’m not sorry to say that guys like Eminem and Diddy are a complete waste of space. Franco matters because he isn’t just cool. He’s like a James Dean who cares about doing well in school.

He’s a rebel with a cause beyond money or fame. He’s a rebel making the most out of every moment of life he’s got, so much so that boredom and downtime and sleep are the enemy.

I know it’s insane. But it’s the type of insanity I can get behind. The type of insanity that keeps you up late and makes you skip showers. The type that says I am going to die so I better live.

Dave: “I get out of bed when I have something to do.”
James: “Don’t you feel like there’s always stuff to do…”


MPR: What Went Wrong for Scott Brown?

Abstract: A look back at the public opinion data available in the Brown v. Warren race for U.S. Senate in Massachusetts shows that Brown isn’t necessarily doing badly, but rather Warren isn’t doing as well as she could/should.

Originally published on Mercury Point Research.

With the Brown v. Warren race for U.S. Senate deadlocked for months now, it’s easy to forget how bright the future once looked for the young Senator from Massachusetts. His new D.C. office marked the GOP’s first decisive blow against the Obama Administration and signaled the rise of the Tea Party.

One year later political polls in Massachusetts showed his popularity soaring. As one pollster put it,  “At this point in time he’s going to be tough to beat.” Today with the race tied, it’s fair to ask — what went wrong for Scott Brown?

No, polls are not predictive (nor should they purport to be unless you’re Nate Silver). Rather, they are snapshots of a single moment in time; polaroids in a shoe box. But, flipping back through the stacks of pictures can help us make a bit more sense about where the election stands today.

Let’s start at the start, January 2010. Brown is swept into office during the height of the battle over the Affordable Care Act. After the election about half of all self-identified Brown voters (47%) said they supported him because he was the best candidate for the job. The other half said their support for Brown was a vote against the proposed national health care bill (24%) or a vote against Barack Obama, Martha Coakley or Democrats in general (27%).

Few believed he’d last long. Following the initial shock of Brown’s win – after all he had surged in the polls just days before the election – the common sense held that his victory was a fluke. I mean, it’s Ted Kennedy’s seat, come on!

Now flip ahead, the picture’s dated April 2011. Some 15 months after the special election a majority of Bay State voters (55%) say he deserves to be re-elected. From an objective standpoint, this is a bit weird.

Consider the political environment of spring 2011. Republicans had found little love in Massachusetts in the 2010 midterm elections months earlier. While the GOP wave broke across the rest of the country, not a single member of the Massachusetts Congressional delegation flipped to GOP control. Further, Governor Patrick bested his Republican challenger Charlie Baker by 6 points – an unlikely rebound from a low of just one-third (34%) of voters saying he deserved to be re-elected in 2009.

Clearly (it seemed) the Bay State had patched things up with Democrats. And yet, here’s Brown in April 2011 with 55% of voters saying they’d choose him as their next U.S. Senator over a Democratic candidate (and in head-to-head matchups with Khazei, Capuano et al, he won a majority every time).

And, Brown wasn’t just popular, he was gaining in popularity among Democrats. Pollster David Paleologos notes in The Huffington Post, “In our 2010 February poll, 19% of Democrats reported having voted for Brown. Today, 38% of Democrats said they feel Brown deserves to be reelected.” Shedding some light on this, perhaps, 43% of Democrats also said they agreed that Brown was keeping his promise to be an independent voice in the U.S. Senate.

At this point Warren had yet to enter the race. Still battling Congress for a nomination to the Bureau of Consumer Protection. In the media her name hadn’t even been floated. However, just a few months later her candidacy would change the map – or at least appear to change it.

In September 2011 a release by Public Policy Polling noted “Once one of the most popular senators in the country, a Republican in a blue state, it would have taken a nosedive in public favor for Brown to be beaten.  And that is exactly what has happened.”

Indeed, compared with the picture presented in the Suffolk Poll in April 2011 it appeared that Brown would have fewer parties to attend. Warren’s popularity was picking up sharp, and against the odds, Brown’s mojo seemed incapable of standing up to a liberal lion.

But here’s the catch, it’s not that the numbers haven’t moved much since September 2011 (PPP 2011, PPP 2012: around 44% each), they haven’t really moved  for the last 19 months — since 2010.

Despite Warren’s initial meteoric rise in polls and press, the race remains stuck in 2010. Digging deeper it’s apparent that since then Brown has continued to hold nearly 20% support among registered Democrats. In fact, that’s roughly the same number of registered Democrats who voted for him in January 2010.

For almost a year now Warren has been unable to win back those voters. Contrast this with 2006 when incumbent Ted Kennedy found support from around 20% of registered Republicans in October, and won the seat with 67% of the vote in November.

Is this the beginning of a shift in the Massachusetts electorate or is it business as usual? After all, before Deval Patrick the Commonwealth had nearly two decades of GOP governors.

It may be the latter. Suffolk’s May survey asked “Currently Massachusetts has one Democratic Senator (John Kerry) and one Republican Senator (Scott Brown). Do you think that there is a benefit by having one Democratic and one Republican U.S. Senator representing Massachusetts in Washington?” Among Democrats 40% said yes.

To answer the question we began with, what has gone wrong for Brown? In truth, not much. Brown might not be outpacing Warren by large margins, and she’s performed markedly better than Democrats tested a little over a year ago, and yet things aren’t all that different from where they stood in 2010 — especially among Democrats.

The real question might be, what hasn’t gone right for Warren?


Verbatim: What’s driving consumer confidence in 2012?

Abstract: I preformed the data analysis for this infographic exploring the key factors driving consumer confidence in 2012. To gather this data we asked members of the IdeaSpaces (Communispace’s proprietary market research online communities, aka MROCs) to share their feelings about the direction of the U.S. economy in the coming year and more specifically, what factors drive their sense of consumer confidence.

Originally Posted on Verbatim


TNGG: A Letter to My (Future) Son

Abstract: This piece is part of a special series on the End of Gender. This series includes bloggers from Role/Reboot, Good Men Project, The Huffington Post, Salon, HyperVocal, Ms. Magazine, YourTango, Psychology Today, Princess Free Zone, and The Next Great Generation. I sort of ripped off an Esquire article, but tried to put my own spin on it. 

Originally published on TNGG.

Someday, I hope I have a son. Not because I don’t want a daughter. But because there are things unique to being a man I could only share with a son. Like teaching him the correct way to shave (never against the grain), how to talk to girls (it’s all about listening), and how to drink good whiskey (no ice, two drops of water). I want to share these experiences. I want to pass them on.

Being a man isn’t about playing catch or fear of a strange situation in which I teach my daughter how to use a tampon (because I’m still not entirely certain how that business works). In reality, this urge to teach my son about being a man is all about gender roles.

As the definition of what exactly a woman is has grown, society has struggled to re-define the role of man. We were not prepared by our fathers for the world we grew into and we carry the guilt of their sins on our shoulders. So if I could prepare my future son, I would give him the following advice.

Dear son,

The Potteigers come from Germany where they worked as farmers and drinkers. I grew up in rural New Hampshire. I have never been good at sports, don’t know how to drive a standard, and to this day I cannot play poker well.

First, own at least one really good suit when you are young (no, Men’s Warehouse does not sell the type of suit I mean). Not only will you stand out, you’ll feel good. The rule for buttons is: sometimes, always, never. Cheap footwear will ruin even the best suit, so invest in an equally good pair of shoes. I suggest Florsheims. Polish them yourself.

Don’t be afraid to start conversations with anyone, especially a woman. Fight your fear of rejection, although this will take a lifetime. There is no such thing as a good pickup line, remember that. Tell a girl one interesting thing, and that’s interesting. Tell her ten interesting things and you are interesting.

Don’t believe advertising; you are worth more than the state of your sixpack or the weight you can bench press.

If you enjoy ballet, listen to Lady Gaga (how vintage), or cross your legs knee over knee, people will probably call you “gay.” Do not let this upset you – there is nothing wrong with being gay. They are simply misinformed. If you are gay, straight, bisexual or transgendered, I love you.

Aggression and bravado will not serve you well. Mastery of your emotions and quiet confidence are the true signs of strength. Never run away from a fight, and if it comes down to it, don’t be afraid to hit back. Never hit first.

Be true to your word. Your word is your honor. Own up to the mistakes you have made and admit when you are wrong. But let the little mistakes fall away, no one is keeping track but you.

Stand up for what you believe in. Protect those in need – woman, friend, stranger.

Do the dishes and the laundry.

Carry cash (if it still exists in the future you live in). Stop traffic. Learn how to work with your hands.

Above all, understand that you determine what makes a man. It transcends gender, society and all the bullshit of your everyday life. Be a good person and love yourself.

There was never a golden age when men were men. Just as my generation has struggled, so will yours. Take the best, leave the worst, and teach your sons and daughters the same.

Love,

Your Dad, a Man.

**I’d like to acknowledged/ give credit that parts of this were inspired by a wonderful article in Esquire.


With Much Fanfare, MFA Opens New Wing for Contemporary Art

Abstract: Sometimes I get to be a journalist/ critic. Co-written with Alex Pearlman, in this article we explore the opening of the Linde Family Wing for Contemporary Art at the MFA. From new galleries to social media we pick apart the good, the bad and the fun of opening weekend. 

Originally published on TNGG/Boston.com.

Not unlike any other bumpin’ club in Boston this past Saturday night, the Museum of Fine Arts hosted what many hoped to be an all-night rager, complete with a full bar, food, and an audience of the young(ish) and decadent, for the opening of the Linde Family Wing for Contemporary Art.

At 7 p.m., the doors opened on a 24-hour party celebrating the unveiling of seven new galleries covering 80,000 square feet, including a dedicated space for video and new media. Tickets were sold in three waves, at three price points, for 7 p.m., 11 p.m., and 3 a.m. start times. While the crowds dwindled to almost non-existent as the moon set and the sun came up, the idea for the event was certainly a novel one, even if prices were too high to engage the audience of young, artsy Bostonians the Museum seemed to be aiming for.

With approximately 240 contemporary works across all forms of media, the wing also includes four “art walls” that occupy the wing’s main concourse and incorporates two works in neon. One sign reads, “All Art Has Been Contemporary” (by Maurizio Nannucci) — it’s a nod to the bridge between past and present the Museum hopes to offer.

The Linde Family Wing for Contemporary Art is a turning point for the Museum, which now proudly boasts a truly encyclopedic collection of art. “Fundamental to our vision for the new collection of galleries is an emphasis on how contemporary art develops new meaning in our current moment and continues to be in a dialogue with the art that came before,” said Jen Mergel, the Museum’s senior curator of contemporary art.

The MFA has also re-tooled how they speak about art to make the new collection more accessible and create a dialogue with younger audiences. Contemporary art by nature is often nebulous and obscure, and in a refreshing change of pace, the Museum has made strong efforts to explain what all the Campbell’s Soup is really about. However, they’ve fallen a bit short by, as the Globe’s Sebastian Smee aptly put it, “patting people on the head” in a way that’s almost patronizing.

The Opening Party

Christian Marclay’s “The Clock” is the centerpiece — and arguably the most anticipated part — of the new wing, and its debut in Boston did not disappoint. All night long, until about 4 a.m., when these reporters sat down in the theater, the line was out the door for the 24-hour collection of clips ranging from the 1920s to the present. The work is possibly the greatest use of cinema and storytelling of the human experience the MFA has seen in years, and even in the middle of the night, when sleep threatens eyelids and droops chins to chests, it’s impossible to look away. “The Clock” was also better served by having a continuously full theater, forcing everyone present to involve each other in the experience.

Downstairs, in an effort to be “cool” (or something) was what looked like the adult side of a dance floor at your average bar mitzvah, where uncoordinated middle-agers swayed to Top 40 songs by artists like Cee-Lo Green and Beyonce. Yet the rest of the space was well utilized, with bars set up in two places and Amanda Coogan performing her piece “The Passing,” in which she walks up and down stairs for 24 hours. Students from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts perched themselves on the stairs and observed her, whispering to themselves.

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Ellsworth Kelly: “Blue, Green, Yellow, Orange, Red”

The Ellsworth Kelly piece “Blue, Green, Yellow, Orange, Red,” which has been the focal point for most promotional materials for the new wing, didn’t disappoint either, and groups of party-goers wearing colors that corresponded with the piece posed for photos in front of it, an inventive way to really incorporate the viewer into the art itself.

It was shocking, however, that by the wee hours of the morning, so few young people were present. The adrenaline rush from the possibilities of wandering one of the world’s best museums in the middle of the night should have been enough of a draw for the college set, let alone the wing’s great collection — but it was a depressing turnout, especially considering the amount of effort put into promotion via social media (see below). The price ($50) was simply too high for a 3 a.m. party. If tickets has been $25 or less, there would have been a real bash to celebrate the art. (Keep your audience in mind, MFA.)

Gallery Themes

It’s refreshing to see 21st century up-and-comers like Cecily Brown and Mark Bradfordincluded with 20th century masters Picasso and Warhol, and hopefully this trend will continue as the MFA gets its hands on more young work. The Museum does an incredible job of shaking things up by organizing the new galleries thematically, to revolve around concepts and ideas, rather than in chronological order.

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Gallery Wall Text: “Quote? Copy? Update?”

Arranging the works in these clusters makes engaging with them much easier and a lot more fun, yet there are some hiccups, specifically in “Quote? Copy? Update?,” a space in which artists pay homage to other artists. Sherry Levine’s “After Walker Evans,” a photograph of Evans’ famous Depression-era photograph is perplexing and a little insulting (a TNGG photographer wanted to “throw his camera at it”), as is a mini version of Warhol’s famous soup can. Louise Lawler’s photograph of Monet’s “La Japoinaise,” with the words “Is She Ours?” stuck to the wall is trite, and having the original Monet in the same room overshadows Lawler’s piece. That said, with the exception of these two works, the space is marvelously arranged and thought-provoking, specifically on the issues of reproductions and copyright.

The dedicated gallery for video and new media is a welcome addition to the MFA. Sigalit Landau’s Standing on a Watermelon in the Dead Sea is beautiful and captivating, but Carlson/Strom’s Sloss, Kerr, Rosenberg, & Moore, lawyers dancing about being lawyers, brings to mind Christopher Walken dancing in a similar setting (although that’s better). There are works on YouTube more deserving of a featured spot in this gallery, such as Rick Mereki’s Move, Learn, Eat, a fantastic piece that takes full advantage of the possibilities of film in the digital age.

Finally, and a welcome change from the stuffier plaques in other wings, wall texts and labels placed throughout the new galleries provide stimulating statements and questions about art. In addition, conversation cards, available at the entrance, ask questions and encourage visitors to look more closely and interact with the works. However, it’s a shame that no one thought to include QR codes linking to more in-depth analysis.

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Jason Potteiger: “Blue, Green, Yellow, Orange, Red, Delicious”

Social Media and Art

The Museum really is engaging with people across social media and developing their digital presence. Still, their efforts are somewhat green and unfocused. An hour’s worth of tweets from Malcolm Rogers does not inspire a dash to Twitter, though his “Malcolm Minute” video was well done. And Boston.com’s stream of live tweets with the #mfaclock hashtag was nowhere to be found in the actual gallery, which would have encouraged attendees to comment and see other reactions.

The Ellsworth Kelly crowdsourcing project is interesting but lacks direction and a point. Visitors were “encouraged to make their own bold statement using the painting as inspiration and [post] pictures to Facebook,” but this didn’t really happen, despite our best efforts.

Most noteworthy is the Museum’s “Ask Us Anything” project, where curators post written and video responses to questions posed on Facebook and Twitter. This idea is fantastic and could prove to be an interesting resource for both students and casual appreciators of art alike. Unfortunately, it lacks a dedicated space on their Facebook and no explanation, or even acknowledgment of its existence, on their main website. Thus, this project will likely fail to gain attention or traction it deserves.

Co-written with Alex Pearlman. Jellybean art by Jason Potteiger.


TNGG: Will Gen Y Vote in 2012?

Abstract: While 2008 saw a spike in Gen Y at the polls, the reality is that turn-out was still well below what it “should be.” This article explores the real impact of the youth vote in 08, why it could be more in 12, and some barriers holding the Millennial voting bloc back.

Originally posted on TNGG.

There’s talk that young voters are disappointed and disillusioned. Back in 2008, Barack Obama tapped into Gen Y’s progressive values and in turn we didn’t just turn out to vote, we got involved. However, today there’s worry we might sit out in 2012.

Throughout the ’08 election, the enthusiasm gap between McCain and Obama was palpable. A sizable chunk of young volunteers knocked on doors, filled stadiums and worked tirelessly to register first time voters. All of this contributed to the engine of optimism powering the movement.

And, while signs and t-shirts are great, in elections only the votes cast on Tuesday count. So it’s worth asking, does Obama need our votes to win? The short answers is no.

Young people were key for Obama in the Democratic Primaries (Iowa specifically), but, by the numbers Gen Y had far less influence over Obama’s general election victory—every state but two (Indiana and North Carolina) still would have gone the same way even if no one under 30 voted in 2008.

What this does not mean is young people don’t matter in elections. The potential impact of the youth vote remains huge.

Compared to past trends the youth vote hit a dramatic high in 2008,  but compared to overall turnout it was still fairly weak.

The 2008 general election saw the highest overall voter turnout since 1968, with 57% of the total voting age population (i.e. total population over 18 years old) turning out at the polls. Compare this to only 51% of all eligible voters between 18 and 29. That’s up 11 points from a low of 40% in 1996, but still lagging behind the national average.

Now, consider this lack-luster turnout with the following in mind:

Here’s the pudding: Between 1968 and 1976, the Baby Boomers were turning 18 years old. The total voting age population (i.e. total population over 18 years old) increased by 4 million new voters per year. Over the next 24 years (Gen X) the rate of growth slowed dramatically to just 2.2 million per year. Today, as Gen Y finally enters the fray, the rate is ticking up again. Between 2000 and 2008 the voting age population increased by 3.25 million/year.

By 2016, Millennials will be the single largest voting block by age. This represents enormous potential, but the question remains, how can you get young people to vote?

It seems odd that generation WHY, passionate about the issues and always ready with an opinion isn’t putting their money where their mouths are. So what gives?

First, historic trends don’t come from nowhere. As Campaigns & Elections notes, “pollster John Zogby calls nonvoting a ‘life-cycle matter,’ in which young voters are ‘more concerned with their careers, relationships, more personalized things’ than with ‘the broader community.” And, 15% of people who didn’t vote could not cite a single reason!

Second, archaic voting policies may be keeping turnout low. A recent Rock the Vote study of all 50 state’s voting systems revealed outdated voter registration practices, barriers to casting ballots, and failures to adequately prepare young people for active citizenship are widespread. “Among the top scorers, most offer Same Day Registration or online registration and some type of ‘convenience voting’ (early vote or vote-by-mail) and over half include high school testing for civics education.”

More to the point, as a friend of mine said, “If I can research a political candidate and tweet about them while I’m taking a sh*t, why can’t I register to vote online?” For better or worse, Millennials live in a world that’s defined by digital, but much of the political process remains stuck in the past.

Last month at Facebook HQ Obama asked young voters to “double down” in 2012. But at the same time, he knows this generation can take him only so far. Expectations are high, but reasonable.

Still, with Boomers rapidly pouring into retirement homes and golf courses, Gen Y is in danger of becoming eclipsed politically if they keep away from the polls. Older demographics love to vote and play bridge, and, they are used to the archaic voting practices that turn young people off from participating, further exacerbating the gap.

The simple truth is this: as a voting bloc, Gen Y represents a huge potential that has only begun to be tapped. We’re young and independent, but our parents will be dictating out lives until we get into the ballot box in a big way.

Do you think Millennials will step up in 2012? How can voting practices become more practical for Gen Y?

**Much thanks to Patrick Beamish for assisting in the research of this article.


TNGG: Gen Y Not Afraid of Terrorism

Abstract: A nationwide poll (which I authored) found that while a majority of older voters expected a terrorist attack on the U.S. in the next year, young people were far less likely to share this fear. This article discusses some of the possible reasons for this difference. 

Originally posted on TNGG.

I’m a pollster, I look at spreadsheets all day long, and seldom do the numbers in the column under 18-34 match any of the others around it. Millennials have typically been seen as a progressive, politically left-leaning group, and oodles of data over the last few years continue to suggest this is true.

So imagine the surprise when a nationwide poll conducted at Suffolk University found that 58% of young people (18-34 years old) approve of enhanced interrogation and “some forms of torture.” And, 59% of Millennials agreed that the Patriot Act “is necessary to keep us safe,” — both in line with national averages.

An important note on these findings, the 18-34 year old sample may lean to the right on this survey.** Still, given past research on Millennials, it’s a bit surprising to find strong support for both some forms of torture and the Patriot Act.

More importantly, these more conservative findings put the poll’s next question into sharper focus:

Just 35% of those between 18-34 said they think there will be a terrorist attack on the U.S. in the next year. Compared with the nationwide average, over half of likely voters (51%) say they expect an attack, a difference of -16 points. That might not seem like a big deal, but it is.

It’s a significant gap statistically, and contextually. Consider that these same young people did not break on other national security issues, and yet, on the question of an attack they were the only age group to break, and did so in a big way.

Put simply, young people aren’t scared of terrorism and older voters are checking the freshness of their duct tape.

But wait, maybe “Gen Y stands fearless” isn’t the best analysis. Could it be instead that we are numb to the threat of terrorism?

Historic circumstances and events have a dramatic effect on shaping the personal identities and value systems of young people. Generation theory rests on this premise. Thus, according to Pew Research, context is key when analyzing Gen Y’s world view.

Sure, we remember John Hughes and Pogs, but only recently have we become politically aware. As Peter Singer of The Brookings Institute writes, “[Millennials] grew up in a world in which there was no divided Germany,” and without the experience of Vietnam, experiences that shaped the world view of older Americans.

Similarly, others have stated that 9/11 was Gen Y’s first defining moment. And, as I wrote here on TNGG, “at that time the oldest among us were in high school or just graduating from college — and so I ask: how long did we truly live in a pre-9/11 world? I’d argue few Millennials ever really did.”

We barely remember airports before heightened security. We came of age in a country at war, and it has stayed that way our entire adult lives. We lived in a constant state of yellow, “elevated risk” which, until that color system was retired this January, had not been raised or lowered since 2006. It’s hard not to wonder what kind of effect that may have on American Millennials and their perspective of the world.

A survey of “young American leaders”  put out early this year by The Brookings Institution found that nearly 85% of politically engaged Millennials could not envision a point in their lives when terrorism will no longer be a danger. The report notes that, “This sense of permanence… may indicate the power of terrorism as a wedge political issue is passing, as is the validity of promising to ‘win’ any ‘war on terrorism.’”

Or, are we optimistic?

In light of the “never-ending conflict,” as well as a terrible job market, Gen Y still remains optimistic about the future. This May, Gallup found “young adults are mostly hopeful that today’s youth will have a better living standard, better homes, and a better education than their parents.”

But things are really bad, right? Or at least they’re not good. Are Millennials choosing to ignore anything that rains on their parade or are we’re choosing to see the world through rose colored glass? In spite of all the optimism, “it’s difficult to deny that almost all young people face the twin issues of crushing debt and the real possibility that they will never achieve the standard of living of their parents.” And yet, the numbers indicate that young people haven’t stopped smiling.

Maybe we’re just naive?

Finally, it’s also possible that our fearlessness could stem from a youthful sense of invincibility, or worse, perhaps we’re simply naive. In contrast to generation theory, Pew Research points out, “young people may be different from older people today, but they may well become more like them tomorrow, once they themselves age.” Another conclusion we might draw from Mr. Singer’s point (above) is that we lack the context of the 20th century that shaped our parent’s more realistic, hardened worldview.

So, which is it, are we fearless, numb, optimistic, or naive? I expect some might say we just don’t care about anything but ourselves. Or that we lack the attention span it takes to worry. I don’t think either of these is true. Consider the sample asked were likely voters, not Gen Y in general. These respondents are plugged in, politically aware kids – and the fact still remains that for some reason, we just aren’t afraid of terrorism.

What do you think? What explains why Gen Y feels safer than any other age group in America?

**(The 18-34 year old sample for this poll split evenly Democrat and Republican—not representative of how Gen Y breaks by party, and the sample of drew heavily from the southern region of the United States.)

Photo by lintmachine