There is a pervasive myth that young adults tend to vote liberal and then become gradually more conservative over time. History doesn’t really bear that out. Research has found that it’s more accurate to say that young adults are more impressionable, not in the sense that they’re ignorant of policy or politics, but because their political beliefs are less formed and stable than older voters. But, once a partisan identification is developed, it tends to be very stable over the course of time.
Taken together those data points explain some of the larger political trends over the last several decades. For instance, the dramatic political realignment of the 1930s, in which vast numbers of young adults became lifelong Democrats, occurred in part because the generation grew up as the Great Depression hit and President Roosevelt acted.
A similar trend happened in the 1980s when Ronald Reagan captured the hearts and mind of young adults with patriotic excitement and economic growth. Those same voters played an enormous part in the Republican Revolution of 1994 and remain the Republican Party’s strongest age cohort.
And now, to steal a line from Yogi Berra, “It’s déjà vu all over again.” Young adults are coming of age during a time marked by economic malaise, government scandal and bureaucratic bungling. Is it any surprise then that a majority of 18- and 19-year-old voters actually supported Mitt Romney in the last election?
Merely figuring out who they voted for in the last election doesn’t tell us much about their political ideology however. For that, we turn to a new Reason-Rupe survey of 2,000 Americans between the ages of 18 and 29. The poll had some striking results; namely, that 66 percent of Millennials believe government is wasteful and inefficient, a 24 percent increase since 2009. Majorities also believe that cutting government spending, regulations and taxes would each help the economy, and that government agencies abuse their powers.
However, majorities of young adults also favor raising the minimum wage, spending more on infrastructure and guaranteeing access to health care.
So what do we make of all this. Reason’s Emily Ekins writes:
Millennials don’t conform to traditional political stereotypes. This generation is pro-business and pro-government. They are free marketeers and a majority (55 percent) say they would like to start their own business one day. They believe in self-determination and that hard work pays off (58 percent). They like profit (64 percent) and competition (70 percent) and strongly prefer a free market economy over one managed by the government (64 percent to 32 percent). Moreover, when asked to choose, millennials opt for meritocracy (57 percent) over a society with little income equality (40 percent).
If there is a theme running through the results it’s that young voters are independent, not purely in the political sense, but in the social sense.
They want to start their own business, buy a house and raise a family, and they’d like to do it without the government snooping over their shoulder or squashing their hopes with taxes or regulations. Part of that no doubt has to do with the current political environment in which poor economic growth and government spying dominate the headlines. But it’s also part of a larger cultural trend that favors the power of technology to democratize and incentivize entrepreneurship rather than the government.
Taken together this shows that Republicans have been presented with a great opportunity to convince a generation of voters of the merits of conservative philosophy. But, that comes with some caveats. As the New York Post editorial board writes,
Just because they have lost faith in Obama-style government doesn’t mean, of course, that millennials have gone to the GOP. That’s why the title of the survey is “Millennials: The Politically Unclaimed Generation.”
But plainly, millennials are ripe for someone willing to reach out to them to help explain why free-market solutions are almost always better than Big Government.
That means College Republican have some work to do..