The Pew Research Institute has published an analysis of the Millennial Generation’s attitudes regarding matters political. Jonathan Chait has a rundown of it, A New Report Shows How Young Liberals Own the Future of American Politics. Although that headline is certainly true, the article gives the wrong idea about what the results really say. Put bluntly: it ain’t about age; it’s about race.
The data show that from the late 1970s onward, young people have generally voted the way old people did. But since 2004, this has diverged with the old getting slightly more Republican and the young getting very much more Democratic. And then the polling data indicate that Millennials are much more liberal in their beliefs than older generations. That’s all fine. In fact, for the liberal cause, it is great!
Just looking at whites, the Millennials are distinctly more liberal than the older generations: Silent, Boomer, and Gen X. And this does matter. It is a myth that people get more conservative as they grow older. When it comes to minority and civil rights, they actually get more liberal, as Catherine Rampell reported in, Getting More Liberal With Age. Of course, it is also true that people get more conservative the more money they make. But the bad news for Millennials and good news for the liberal cause is that the modest opportunity that was available to even Generation X is pretty much gone for our younger people today. This generation will get better government services and union rights or the whole society is going to crumble.
What’s most remarkable in the data, however, is that the liberalism of Millennials is primarily a function of race. While white Millennials are more liberal than white Gen Xers, they aren’t that much more liberal. But the Millennial Generation is so much more diverse that it makes the generation as a whole very liberal. For example, non-white Millennials are no more liberal than non-white Gen Xers. This probably also shows that the collapse of opportunity hit the non-whites a generation earlier than it hit whites. But racism is a thing of the past, right conservatives?!
However, I think it is a major mistake for liberals to think that they have a demographic lock on politics going forward. Liberals will always have a big problem: they have to spend time actually governing and coming up with better policy ideas. But as I discussed on Wednesday, conservatives spend all their time and energy coming up with new ways to sell and repackage the same old policies. And they are good at it. And they often get people to vote against their own best interests. Their old racist dog whistles may not work in the future, but I have confidence they will come up with new ones that might appeal to a more liberal and less racist electorate, even if I have no idea what they might be.
Ultimately, the biggest problem that conservatives have is their own success. They have managed to create much of their dystopian future filled with little opportunity and unprecedented levels of inequality. As long as America is at least nominally a democracy, this is a problem for them. We have an extremely unfair society. And society is more unfair the later people are born. Something will have to give. But that doesn’t mean it will result in something good. It might be widespread voter disenfranchisement. And then it won’t matter how liberal the Millennial Generation is.