Young people leading the way on race

Nice piece in New York summarizing some impressive and interesting work on racial attitudes by political scientists, Sean McElwee and Alexander Agadjanian.  The key point is that Democrats are becoming more liberal on issues of race, but young Democrats are really becoming more liberal on issues of race.  Here’s the key chart:

It might be a little hard to understand at first, but simply notice that the gaps in racial attitudes (always moving in a more liberal direction– these are figures for just Democrats) between 2011 and 2016 are way bigger for younger Americans.

Here it becomes clear that the 17-to-29-year-old cohort of Democrats is growing much more racially liberal than their older counterparts over time. Take the question that asks people if they agree or disagree that “blacks could be just as well off as whites if they only tried harder.” 30-to-54-year-old Democrats were three net points more likely to say they disagreed with that statement — the more racially liberal stance. Democrats 55 and older also grew slightly more racially liberal by six points. But among 17 to 29 year olds, the growth was 15 points in the liberal direction. A similar pattern emerges for the responses to the other questions…

We can’t pinpoint an exact cause for this shift, but we can offer a few explanations that are consistent with our findings. First, the first signs of these shifts coincided with the rise of Black Lives Matter and the Dreamer movement. Recent research on the Civil Rights Movement suggests that the movement meaningfully shifted white racial attitudes in a more liberal direction. In addition, these movements work to build racial solidarity among black, Latino, and Asian-American Democrats, leading them to become more racially liberal. Second, young people might have been particularly influenced by the presidency of Barack Obama and subsequent rise of Trump, especially given evidence that presidential evaluations strongly shape people’s political views when they are young. It’s very plausible both of these developments engendered greater compassion for African-Americans and awareness of racial inequalities, especially among the youth. But whatever the cause, the effect is the same: politics will never be the same.

Right.  Whatever the cause, this is a big reality.  And these younger voters with their more liberal racial attitudes are the ones who are going to be taking over the political mainstream while the less racially progressive older voters die off.  Change is coming.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

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