Editor's note: Peter W. Singer is senior fellow and director of Brooking Institution's 21st Century Defense Initiative. He is the author of the report, "D.C.'s New Guard: What Does the Next Generation of American Leaders Think?"
by Peter W. Singer, Special to CNN
History will mark 2011 as the year the baby boomer generation, which has so dominated American politics and society, first became eligible for retirement. But little is known about the new guard of American leaders, the Millennial generation, born between 1980 and 2005. There are more of them than baby boomers and, at numbers three times the size, demographically dwarf Generation X.
They have already made their power felt in everything from the Facebook phenomenon to the unlikely rise of Barack Obama to the presidency. And they are only now entering the scene. But what comes next?
To answer this question, the Brookings Institution organized a project in which we surveyed more than 1,000 young Americans - student leaders, kids attending young leader conferences, policy internships. These are kids seen by their peers as leaders and who want to become presidents, legislators, generals, journalists and diplomats.
Our questions ranged from how often they text and tweet to which nation they think will be the most powerful in the world when they are running America. Although we can't guarantee we captured the views of a future Colin Powell, Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, the report captures the views of a representative set of young American leaders as their generation stands poised to take over.
Some of the findings were to be expected - they text and tweet like crazy, an average of about 79 times a day; they admire Apple and Google; they don't think terrorism will end in their lifetime. But many other outcomes ran directly counter to common preconceptions and media reports about today's young people:
– Isolationism, not globalism, is winning out. Fifty-eight percent of the young leaders think that America is "too involved" in global affairs and should instead focus more on issues at home. This level of isolationism, forged by growing up in the time of 9/11, Iraq and Hurricane Katrina, doubled the number recently seen in adult survey results. Indeed, contrary to the idea of young, globally minded Obamacrats vs. inward-looking Tea Partiers, young Democrats are actually more likely to hold isolationist attitudes than young Republicans.
– China scares them. When asked to name any countries that they think will present the biggest problems for the U.S. over the next 10 to 20 years, China was listed the second most frequently, behind only Iran and ahead of nations such as North Korea, Iraq, Afghanistan and Russia. An almost even number - 42% to 39% - believe that China will be the most powerful country in the world in 2025, when these young people will probably start moving into power. Indeed, a majority of young Democrats and independents think China will be more powerful than the United States.
Read more over here.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Peter W. Singer.