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Internationally respected pollster.
These are all phrases used from time to time to describe John Zogby. But if you ask Zogby himself, he puts it a little more simply.
“I do trends.”
Zogby, founder of the “Zogby Poll” and the Zogby companies, brought his valuable insight into the political scene to Wilmington University on October 16. He spoke before an audience of nearly 100 on the methodologies, research techniques, and historical and political significance of his work.
His visit was part of the third installment of the Wilmington University Speaker Series, a project that invites prominent and influential speakers to weigh in on important trends in government and public policy.
The Zogby Poll has an unparalleled reputation for accuracy. Zogby’s polls correctly predicted the outcomes of the 1996, 2000 and 2004 elections. He has served as an on-air election analyst for NBC News, BBC, CBC, ABC (Australia), and has been featured by the Foreign Press Center in Washington every election night since 1998.
For the Speaker Series, Zogby presented at an invite-only luncheon that attracted Delaware’s distinguished dignitaries to the University’s New Castle campus.
He commended Wilmington University for its “flexible and nimble” approach to higher education and touted it as a role model for the higher education industry – and for business in general.
He noted that the University, like many businesses and institutions, is not operating the same way it did 15 years ago. Being flexible and nimble is an essential part of a successful operation.
What’s going on in the federal government, he said, is exactly the opposite.
“We are watching a breakdown of the way our government is supposed to work,” he said. “The political party structure model that we’ve been governed by for over 200 years, which is the same structure our Founding Fathers warned us would be an improper model for solving constitutional matters, doesn’t work anymore.”
But his most resonant message was one of hope. And that hope, he says, can be found in the Millennial generation – Americans born between 1979 and 1994.
“One of the things that frustrates me is [the notion that Millennials] are called slackers, or lazy. They’re not 9-to-5 people. And what I say to that is, ‘you’re right. They’re not 9-to-5. They’re 7-to-24. They’re on all the time,” Zogby said.
That round-the-clock dedication is why this generation is so valuable in the workplace, he said – their horizontal approach to solving problems, rather than the vertical model in which many baby boomers operate.
“Those of us who are older, we are steeped in verticalism,” said Zogby, who was born in 1948 and considers himself a part of the Baby Boomer generation. “Give me a problem, and I’ll move it up the chain. To the next one. And the next one. In our world, what that means is that by the time you get up to the third link in the chain, that’s about six months later, and everybody’s forgotten about it. Problem solved.
“[Millennials] have no sense of that whatsoever,” he continued. “Sometimes they’re frustrated with it. What’s positive about that is their horizontalism. To solve a problem, they want immediacy. They want to resolve it and they want to do it now … In short order, you get a solution, but by going out and coming back, you’re also building consensus. That is the model of problem solving that will dominate our next world, and that’s why I argue that we need [Millennials].”
It’s that common (and, in his opinion, inaccurate) perception of Millennials that led Zogby to write his latest book, First Globals: Understanding, Managing, and Unleashing the Potential of our Millennial Generation (co-written with Joan Snyder Kuhl). He signed copies of his book after fielding questions from the audience.
In addition to the hope that his findings provides, Zogby said it’s also troubling to see what many “First Globals” have inherited, thanks to previous generations.
Of the First Globals he polled, 14 percent are in the category he calls CINGA – College Educated, Not Going Anywhere. They’re either unemployed or underemployed, living with their parents, and saddled with debt. It’s a trend he calls “troubling.”
Later in the day, Zogby returned to the University for an open-to-the-public evening discussion. This time, the audience resembled several groups of students and faculty.
There his friend Ciro Poppiti, Register of Wills for New Castle County, Delaware, introduced him as “America’s hottest and most accurate pollster.” But he said what makes Zogby’s data relevant is much more than numbers.
“Most pollsters are statisticians," Poppiti said. "They give you numbers: 60 percent, 21 percent, 18 percent. But John is the pollster who, in his soul, is an academic. And he asks the question, ‘Why?’ He doesn’t just say it’s 21 percent; he tells you why it’s 21 percent. And it’s that connection to being an academic, to being a teacher. That is why I really wanted John to come here and talk to our students, to our faculty and to the public at Wilmington.”
Zogby expounded on his views of the current political climate, specifically as it pertains to the 16-day government shutdown in Congress that ended October 17. He said the current political structure is a model for failure, and the system has let America down.
“You can’t run a system through obstructionism,” he said. “The great leaders in our history are not the ones who did nothing. The great leaders in our history are not the ones who put the monkey wrench in the system … the great leaders in our history are the ones who make it work, make it work right, and expand it when it needed to be expanded.”
In writing his book and making speaking engagements – now his full-time job since retiring from Zogby Analytics and turning over the reins to his son – he hopes his audience understands the connections between his research findings and the strengths Millennials bring to the table.
"Please don’t forget that notion of horizontalism,” he said. “That is the hope for the future, because that frees us from the outmoded bureaucratic thinking that dominates our lives. It makes us nimble enough to address each solution on an ad hoc basis and gets us closer to a sense of immediacy.”
Zogby’s book, First Globals: Understanding, Managing, and Unleashing the Potential of our Millennial Generation, is available through Amazon.
About Wilmington University
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Published: Thursday, October 17, 2013 - New Castle, DE