A little more on the youth vote

Nice take from Chait on the Pew findings I mentioned earlier:

More than four decades ago, Lloyd Free and Hadley Cantril identified the core of Americans’ political thinking as a blend of symbolic conservatism and operational liberalism. Most Americans, that is, oppose big government in the abstract but favor it in the particular. They oppose “regulation” and “spending,” but favor, say, enforcement of clean-air laws and Social Security. The push and pull between these contradictory beliefs has defined most of the political conflicts over the last century. Public support for most of the particulars of government has stopped Republicans from rolling back the advances of the New Deal, but suspicion with “big government” has made Democratic attempts to advance the role of the state rare and politically painful.

This tension continues to define the beliefs of American voters. Among the 2012 electorate, more voters identified themselves as conservative (35 percent) than liberal (25 percent), and more said the government is already doing too much that should be left to the private sector (51 percent) than asserted that the government ought to be doing more to solve problems (44 percent). But this is not the case with younger voters. By a 59 percent to 37 percent margin, voters under 30 say the government should do more to solve problems. More remarkably, 33 percent of voters under 30 identified themselves as liberal, as against 26 percent who called themselves conservative.  [emphasis mine]

What all this suggests is that we may soon see a political landscape that will appear from the perspective of today and virtually all of American history as unrecognizably liberal…

Obviously, such a future hinges on the generational patterns of the last two election cycles persisting. But, as another Pew survey showed, generational patterns to tend to be sticky. It’s not the case that voters start out liberal and move rightward.  [emphasis mine]

That latter observation is surely one of the most pernicious myths of politics I come across– older people are more conservative.  But they didn’t age into that; rather younger generations are typically more progressive than their elders on social issues.  And that’s long been the case.  But, really the big point here is just how liberal on core issues and in identity, younger voters are.  If this generation follows historical norms of political socialization, we’re looking at a much more liberal nation in the future.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

One Response to A little more on the youth vote

  1. itchy says:

    Interesting counter to the conventional wisdom that you move right as you grow older. As a Gen Xer, the narrative I grew up with is that the Boomers were all hippies in the ’60s and became yuppies in the ’80s. Are you saying that’s a gross oversimplification?

    Also, I finally got around to looking up just why the Silent Generation is called that (thanks, Wikipedia). Sounds pretty depressing.

    Lastly, I remember a loooong time ago when I was in my early 20s. My mom called me and said she had been reading a book. She informed me that I was a member of this thing called Generation X, and she explained it to me.

    I said, “Mom, that’s ridiculous. You can’t just paint an entire generation with a broad brush like that. It’s sloppy and lazy.”

    Her response: “That’s EXACTLY what the book said you’d say!”

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