Okay Gen Xer

Really enjoyed this from Derek Thompson as it very much hits home in my recent experience, “The Millennials-Versus-Boomers Fight Divides the Democratic Party: The young left has become a sort of third party.”

So, forget the Boomers, it’s actually Milennials and Gen Z versus everyone else– including Gen X like me (and, I know, many of you).

Young Americans demanding more power, control, and justice have veered sharply to the left. This lurch was first evident in the two elections of Barack Obama, when he won the youth vote by huge margins. And young Americans didn’t edge back to the political center under Obama; they just kept moving left. Obama won about 60 percent of voters younger than 30 in the 2008 primary. Bernie Sanders won more than 70 percent of under-30 voters in the 2016 primary, which pushed Hillary Clinton to the left and dragged issues like Medicare for All and free college from the fringe to the mainstream of political debate.

But upon closer examination, the Democrats aren’t really the party of the young—or, for that matter, of social-justice leftists. In the most sophisticated poll of the Iowa caucus, Joe Biden polled at 2 percent among voters under 30, within the margin of error of zero. Nationally, he is in single digits among Millennials, the generation born between 1981 and 1996. Yet Biden is the Democratic front-runner for the 2020 presidential nomination, thanks to his huge advantage among older voters—especially older black voters—who are considerably more moderate than younger Democrats.

Bernie Sanders, by contrast, leads all candidates among voters under 30 and polls just 5 percent among voters over 65. In a national Quinnipiac poll asking voters which candidate has the best ideas, Sanders crushes Biden 27 percent to 4 percent among those under 35 and receives an equal and opposite crushing at the hands of Biden among voters over 65: 28 percent to 4 percent.

Age ‬doesn’t just divide Republicans and Democrats from each other, in other words; age divides young leftists from bothRepublicans and Democrats. Democrats under 30 have almost no measurable interest in the party’s front-runner. Democrats over 65 have almost no measurable interest in the favored candidate of the younger generation. ‬This is not a picture of Democrats smoothly transforming into the “party of the young.” It’s evidence that age—perhaps even more than class or race—is now the most important fault line within the Democratic Party.‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

It might be most useful to think about ‬young progressives as a third party trapped in a two-party system. [emphasis mine] Radicalized by America’s political sclerosis and economic and social inequality, they are a powerful movement politically domiciled within a larger coalition of moderate older minorities and educated suburbanites, who don’t always know what to do with their rambunctious bunkmates.

What would this progressive third party’s platform look like? In one word, justice: Social justice, sought through a reappraisal of power relationships in social and corporate life, and economic justice, sought through the redistribution of income from the rich to the less fortunate.

One can make out the contours of this agenda in “Hidden Tribes,” a 2018 study of the political views of 8,000 Americans, which sorted the country’s voting-age population into seven political groups. The study called the youngest and most left-wing group in the survey Progressive Activists. They accounted for 8 percent of the population and as much as one-third of likely voters in the Democratic Party, due to their higher-than-average engagement in politics…

Compared with the average American, Progressive Activists—“young, secular, cosmopolitan, and angry”—were more likely to be under 30, college-educated, and white; twice as likely to say they never pray; and three times as likely to say they’re “ashamed” of the country. They are motivated by the existential threat of climate change, strongly pro-immigration, and more concerned about police brutality than about crime or terrorism. Perhaps most distinctive, they are attuned to structural challenges in society and skeptical of the individualist strain of the American dream…

Most Americans over 40 support several measures of both social justice and economic justice. But across ethnicities, many Americans have a deep aversion to anything that can be characterized as “political correctness” or “socialism.” And this might be the biggest challenge for the young progressive agenda.

For example, the Democratic presidential candidates who focused most explicitly on sexism and racial injustice have flamed out

The Medicare for All debate is a microcosm of a larger divide. The young left’s deep skepticism toward capitalism simply isn’t shared by previous generations. According to Gallup polling, Gen X is firmly pro-capitalist and Baby Boomers, who came of age during the Cold War, prefer capitalism over socialism by a two-to-one margin. (You can point out to your parents that Social Security and Medicare are, essentially, socialism for the old, but that’s not the same as converting them into Berniecrats.)…

Assuming Milburn’s analysis is correct, the young progressive movement will have to shed its first adjective in order to gain power. In 2016, voters older than 40 accounted for nearly three-fifths of all primary voters. It is impossible to win a national election by running a campaign of generational warfare that runs counter to, or directly indicts, a majority of the electorate. One way or another, America’s third party will have to grow up.

I found this particularly interesting as ideological disagreements I have with my own students are now far more likely to be with students well to the left of me than with those to the right. Only a matter of time, before I’m accused of conservative indoctrination instead of liberal indoctrination.

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

6 Responses to Okay Gen Xer

  1. homeys44 says:

    I can understand the social liberalism for the <30's….but I can't figure out why a largely college educated demographic in prime working years……would support socialism and endless healthcare subsidies. That should be an old person's platform. Bernie's free college promises must be what does it..

    • samuel h brewer says:

      OK, assuming that was not just a rhetorical question:

      The beginning of the full Atlantic article offers a good economic synopsis of why so many people my age support the policies Sanders is running on.

      “Americans under the age of 40, for their part, are historically well educated, historically peaceful, and historically law-abiding. But this impressive résumé of conscientiousness hasn’t translated into much… In the U.S., this generation is the first in a century that expects to have lower lifetime earnings than their parents [The Baby Boomers]. It has created an epochal shift.”

      Baby Boomers grew up benefiting from all the programs Sanders is running to reestablish. He is running on the policies that were ascendant when Baby Boomers were growing up. He is running on the New Deal, and the Fair Deal, and The Great Society. All the policies that grew our middle class for 40+ years, but have been stymied or rolled back for the last 40+ years.

      Speaking for myself, I believe in the social and economic programs that worked so well for the previous generations of my family since the great depression: public education (free school), social security (guaranteed income), medicare/medicaid/VA (free healthcare), anti-trust (breaking up big banks). I want these proven and popular policies to be revived and extended to all Americans. I have grown more Democratic as my awareness has grown of how non-white families were historically excluded from the benefits of these programs, and how since the civil rights movement much of the country has been willing to turn away from these proven and popular programs rather than extend them to all Americans. I think during my lifetime (closing in on 40) we have cut off our economic nose to spite our multi-cultural face. But also in my lifetime, I believe we have turned the corner from a majority who would vote against economic and social justice for all to a majority who would vote for it. I want for my family what my parents and grandparents had, and I want the same for all families not just ones that look like mine.

      • homeys44 says:

        Thanks for the thoughtful reply. But again, Social Security and Medicare are old folks programs. When I was in my 20’s….I wasn’t pining about getting healthcare That was for old people. That leaved education again….but all you’re seemingly supporting is providing college degrees (that you claim isn’t leading to higher incomes anymore) for “free”(ie taxpayers). You also mentioned banks….which might be sound, although I’m unxlear what exactly the problem is and what the hard Left’s solution will achieve.

        I’m unaware of programs being rolled back in the last 40 years. Social Security has largely been untouched and Medicare has had some cuts…and also some expansions (ie drugs). So, the case that 20 somethings aren’t getting the breaks that other generations got….seems very dubious.

      • Alex says:

        Well said. As someone in largely the same boat (closing in on 40), I find myself in the same political position despite having done relatively well.

        And I disagree that these positions are an old folks’ platform. I think that’s cherry picking. Yes, social security and medicare are currently aimed at old people, but those aren’t the only issues at play here. (Not to mention, as someone in my 30s, I’m already starting to realize how soon I’ll need those!)

        Health care reform, for example, is way broader than just medicare. I personally have seen my and others’ job mobility and choice limited by health care concerns, especially in the depths of the recession. And Obamacare went a long way, but doesn’t go far enough and is clearly at risk from attacks from the right. Only a truly universal program is going to yield enough public support to protect it.

        And “free college” is really a glib way to talk about the huge issue of college costs and rising debt. The generation before us could pay their way through college easily. That’s no longer true, and the debt is a huge drag on grads for decades.

        That framing also ignores other major issues we see: racism, sexism, and xenophobia, income inequality, a huge rise in corporate power and lack of anti-trust and anti-corruption enforcement, and electoral gerrymandering.

        Most importantly, part of my own shift left is the knowledge that republicans are engaging in asymmetrical warfare here. It’s unlikely that everything the extreme left is advocating will ever get enacted, but if we start from the centrist dem positions, where we’ll end up is untenable to me.

  2. sam says:

    Social Security and Medicare are programs there for all of us when we get old. we invest throughout our working lives so that we have security at the end. It has worked for a long time and i think we should keep it going. For education, i am for lifelong public education. I think it is a fantastic investment in our economy and our democracy. free k-12 has been foundational for decades and i think it is well past time to expand our investment so that we can realize the greater returns. banks are a prime example of an economy wide problem of noncompetitive markets. Deregulation and non enforcement of antitrust laws concentrates and inflates market power leading to market domination and manipulation instead of productive activity and innovation. for decades when we kept industries and particularly banking from getting too concentrated we didnt have market meltdowns like the great depression and great recession.
    as far as roll backs to other programs, cuts are regularly suggested for SS and medicare by just about every republican and some democrats. they typically havent succeeded because doing so is so unpopular. medicare drug coverage was sold as an expansion but it was mainly subsidized privatization. kind of like obamacare.
    the exploding prices of health care, education, housing, and more are loading this generation with way more debt just to have a chance to achieve the same level of living standard (and life expectancy) as previous ones. plus we are paying for the huge burdens of climate change and general pollution that have been gifted to us.


    thank you to you both for your thoughtful replies

    • R. Jenrette says:

      Social Security is not just for the old. Did you consider the Disability part? Many your families could be without income if the worker becomes disabled. Paul Ryan, for instance, grew up in a family supported by his father’s disability. It protects young families. Maybe lots of young people don’t know that. I’m not sure but I think that’s also true of Elizabeth Warren’s family because of her father’s disability.

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