Many perspectives, 1 simple etiquette

How Well Do We Truly Understand The Politics of Millennials?

Created: 18 July, 2014
Updated: 15 October, 2022
4 min read

Three articles have appeared in the past week from three different sources that draw three different but interrelated pictures about Millennials and their politics. Gallup released a report showing Millennials are the generation most likely to identify as independent. Almost half of all Millennials surveyed initially identified as independent.

However, many of them admitted to “leaning” toward one party or the other. Nonetheless, one in five Millennials are firmly independent and do not “lean” toward either party, making them the largest bloc of independent voters.

But “lean” may insinuate the wrong idea, according to Vox’s Ezra Klein.

All too often "independent" is assumed to mean moderate. Using the phrase “leans left/right” paints the image of a person standing in the middle of a spectrum and swaying their body to and fro. But according to research, there is no such thing as a truly moderate voter. The idea of a moderate voter is actually based on common survey and statistical mistakes.

David Broockman, a political scientist at the University of California-Berkeley, shows how surveys of the past have painted people with diverse political opinions as moderates. He created a new study that dug into alleged-moderate’s views and found that their views were indeed diverse, but also extreme. The results are startling:

“Broockman and coauthor Doug Ahler find that 70.1 percent of all respondents, and 71.3 percent of self-identified moderates, took at least one position outside the political mainstream. Moderates, in other words, are just as likely as anyone else to hold extreme positions: it's just that those positions don't all line up on the left or the right.”

In fact, self-identified moderates had the knack of holding more extreme views than the typical partisan on either the left or right. This gives the Gallup poll a new look.

Those self-identified independent Millennials are not moderates and don’t lean from the middle. They likely hold more extreme views (on either the left or the right) that are well outside the Democratic-Republican defined spectrum.

Indeed, a socialist would probably say they are more likely to vote for a Democrat just as a libertarian would probably say they are more likely to vote for a Republican. Perhaps instead of "lean," a new verb should be used in these surveys from now on.

However, the non-existence of actual moderates does not mean Millennials hold coherent political views and have their philosophies all worked out. In his frankly titled article, “Millennials political views don’t make any sense," The Atlantic’s Derek Thompson reports on a Reason Foundation poll showing that the majority of Millennials don’t know what they believe.

“Young people support big government, unless it costs any more money. They're for smaller government, unless budget cuts scratch a program they've heard of. They'd like Washington to fix everything, just so long as it doesn't run anything.”

The problem with Thompson’s article is that political incoherence is not a characteristic unique to Millennials. Anyone with older family members with whom they interact with at least once a year (Thanksgiving, perhaps) knows that political incoherence does not discriminate based on age.

Incoherence could be a product of many things -- poor political education, for instance. Forty-two percent of Millennials claim to prefer socialism to capitalism, but only 16 percent were able to “correctly” define what socialism is -- a figure retrieved from a 2010 CBS/New York Times survey.

From these three articles, many different pictures of Millennial politics can be drawn, but this seems to be the most likely: Millennials know full well that neither political party actually has their interests in mind.

President Obama (whom Millennials disapprove of more than their elders) has diminished the idea that their participation actually matters, and that the only thing that does matter is which party controls the levers of power. However, when it comes to solutions, Millennials cannot be talked about monolithically because they splinter all over the political spectrum (though the majority of them end up somewhere on the left).

However, one characteristic seems to unite them all: their views are more radical than those of their parents.

Still, that does not mean that Millennials will go out of their way to create new political parties based on ideologically extreme views. Instead, as the most service-oriented generation in American history, Millennials are more inclined to throw their intellectual capital at working in local nonprofit organizations that look to solve a specific problem without having to work with their government.

Millennials are also the least likely to pursue a career in public service.

While Millennials' anti-government, anti-corporate attitudes may hearten radicals of all stripes, it may very well have serious consequences and not all of them good (i.e., government brain-drain, unchanging leadership in corporate America, etc.). In all, none of this is certain because Millennials are still young (most are in their twenties) and changing. It will surely be fascinating what Millennials will say and believe over the next decade.

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