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Every young generation receives a certain amount of flack from older generations for being “unrealistically liberal,” but there’s really no doubt about it: Millennials are more liberal than any other comparable young generation in the past, and even those who identify with the Republican party are significantly more liberal than their older counterparts. Young people today are of the mindset that “America needs a moral rebirth.”
Pew Research found that about half of Millennials, who are currently within the 18-33 age range, identify with the Democratic party and/or liberal ideals, whereas only about 34% identify with the Republican party and/or conservative ideals. The Millennial generation is certainly not one to underestimate; the 2016 election will be the first in which a generation will rival the Baby Boomers in the percentage of voting-age Americans, and at 23.4% of the population, Millennials undeniably have the power to majorly influence American politics. A poll conducted by Harvard’s Institute of Politics found that 50% of young people are in agreement that “politics today are no longer able to meet the challenges our country is facing.”
The question now is, why is the Millennial generation significantly more liberal than any other generation before it?
One obvious answer to this question is the natural shift in social justice issues and social progression that inevitably happens in every generation. Young people today, for example, are much more accepting of LGBT rights, marijuana legalization and immigration than their parents were. But Millennials’ vastly more profound demand for change warrants further investigation.
In delving deeper, it could be argued that the administrations of both George W. Bush and Barack Obama sparked the far-left movement. Both presidents ultimately left voters with more questions than answers; more disappointment than satisfaction. The numerous failures of the Bush Administration helped push the Democratic party further to the left, which in turn garnered a monumental following around Obama.
The Obama Administration brought widespread economic disappointment to the same wide-eyed Millennials who enthusiastically voted Obama into office in two elections. Yet they received the short end of the straw during the Recession. Millennials faced the highest unemployment rates out of any other age group. As a result, many were forced to work in low-paying jobs, which can make the process of climbing the career ladder much more difficult in the long run. Bloomberg reported that losses from an economic downturn can persist for nearly a decade after the fact. Millennials will likely struggle to pay off their staggering student loan debts for years to come; student loan balances tripled from 2004 to 2014, making for a predicted retirement age of 73.
It comes as no surprise that young people today are reportedly much more likely than previous generations to agree that “we need a strong government to handle today’s complex economic problems.” They’re skeptical of the existing capitalist system which they believe created the financial crisis. Enter The Occupy Wall Street movement, which served as a response to Obama’s failed economic promises. The Movement was launched by many of Obama’s staunch 2008 supporters, who decided to take their concerns directly to Wall Street after they began to distrust Obama. Occupy Wall Street activists are now some of the biggest supporters of the notably anti-establishment Bernie Sanders.
Another sizable catalyst in the shift in political ideology is the fact that “the under-30 cohort is the most diverse adult demographic in American history.” The Millennial generation is made up of far more minorities than in previous generations; 42.8% of people aged 18-34 are minorities, nearly doubling the percentage of 1980. Given that non-white people historically tend to lean toward the political left, the shift in ideology makes complete sense. The increase in diversity eventually paved the way for the Black Lives Matter movement – young people felt that the establishment wasn’t doing enough for racial equality. According to The Atlantic:
“the words, ‘Black Lives Matter’ are a clear expression of the movement: a statement of sheer obviousness, identifying a historical ugliness that has lived in the shadows and is finally being dragged into the national light.”
The Republican party will need to undergo drastic reform if it wants to even remotely appeal to young people in the future. Republicans have predictably struggled to gain leverage among young voters who no longer feel that they can identify with conservative ideals. The Party has had great difficulty in attracting non-white voters, given the tendency of minorities to lean to the political left. In the 2008 election, Obama was able to unite an entire age group, playing the part of an historic figure that appealed to minorities and young people alike that the Republican party simply hasn’t had.
Even Millennials who identify with the Republican party today are vastly less conservative than older generations. For example, there is a large ideological roadblock between older and younger Republicans who believe that gay marriage should be legal. The 2012 GOP presidential election had served as an “autopsy” in broadening the Party’s base. It emphasized the need for Republicans to change their tone on social issues that young people see as “the civil rights issues of our time.” “Americans form a voting pattern early in life and tend to hold to it,” and unfortunately for the Republican party, voters rarely start out with liberal political views and later move to the right.
It isn’t particularly difficult to see why young people today are angry and entirely dissatisfied with the preexisting political establishment – extreme candidates like Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump have been so successful in the presidential race this far precisely for this reason. The nation may very well be in the midst of a contemporary revolution, and given that the Millennial generation is the largest generation in American history, the increasingly liberal opinions of young people may very well end up having lasting influence on future generations.
Photo courtesy of diverseeducation.com