Between binge-watching Netflix and updating their #epic Tumblr pages, Millennials have little time for campaigns. That’s not because they’re tuned out. They’re, well, confused.
In fact, those aged 14-34 are “deeply confused” about politics. Moreover, where there isn’t confusion, there’s “incoherence,” according to research by Reason-Rupe, which polls for Reason magazine, and the Pew Research Center, who’ve conducted the two definitive surveys on this generation’s political ideology.
This generation thinks the economy will improve with more and less government spending. They believe universal health care is the government’s responsibility, but disapprove of Obamacare. They’ve shunned both parties, with half of Millennials identifying as independents, yet are more likely than any other generation to approve of Congress.
You could waste months decoding the cognitive dissonance of these socially-liberal, fiscal centrists. Rather than identifying where Millennials stand on every issue, campaigns courting this “politically unclaimed generation” should understand three broader themes.
Republicans are struggling because of Millennial diversity, not just ideology
The conventional wisdom is that Republicans are in trouble with this liberal generation. That’s certainly true on hot-button issues such as immigration reform and gay marriage, where the GOP is even out of step with Republican Millennials. By a 64 [percent] to 30 [percent] margin Millennial Republicans say that homosexuality should be accepted by society rather than discouraged,” according to Pew.
The GOP’s struggle connecting with young people has as much to do with issues as it does with the party’s overall difficulty in connecting with minority voters. The Millennial Generation is the most racially diverse group in America, a key factor in explaining the generation’s more liberal tendencies. Half of white Millennials favor smaller government, a statistic in keeping with previous generations, but they make up a smaller portion of the population than previous generations. Whites account for 56 percent of Millennials, compared to 73 percent of Baby Boomers.
Even if Millennials become more conservative as they age — which has happened before — they may not embrace a Republican Party that doesn’t reflect a more diverse America. The U.S. Census Bureau projects the country’s Hispanic and Asian populations to double over the next 50 years. The shift is already apparent in California, where Latinos have surpassed whites as the state’s largest ethnic group and have shunned the GOP.
Institutions are dead, man
Simply put: Millennials are “detached from institutions,” be they political, cultural religious or media. Young people are less likely to join a political party, be married, believe in God, or participate in organized religion. The decline of traditional institutions is accelerated by the decline of national media sources – with Millennials less likely to watch the network news or read a newspaper. Millennials are less connected to the national identity and consider themselves as less patriotic.
We’re also seeing this shift occur with second-generation immigrants, who’ve broken with their parents’ deeply-held attitudes toward cultural institutions and identity. First-generation Vietnamese-Americans, who came to America as refugees during the Vietnam War, have a visceral anti-Communist belief that drove them to the Republican Party. Today, we’re seeing a dramatic shift among second- and third-generation Vietnamese-Americans, who no longer have a personal connection to Cold War institutions and foreign policy. For Millennials, Vietnam is more likely to be associated with Anthony Bourdain than Jane Fonda.
The American Dream has been delayed but not necessarily denied to Millennials
Millennials entered the workforce during or shortly after the Great Recession and did so with a record amount of student loan debt. Younger workers are now finding it difficult to achieve financial independence with high unemployment and under-employment. A record number of Millennials have moved back in with their parents and are responsible for the lowest rate of homeownership in recent history. Just 19 percent of Millennials own property, compared to the 71 percent of Americans over the age of 30 that own a home, according to Reason’s survey.
These financial challenges are affecting Millennials’ attitudes toward the economic system. Millennials prefer capitalism over socialism by just 10 points. Still, there’s some hope for free market capitalists. The overwhelming majority of Millennials can’t accurately define what socialism means. Moreover, Millennials’ attitudes towards the economy change along with their personal finances. Reason-Rupe found attitudes on tax rates and wealth redistribution flipped as Millennials made more money.
That doesn’t mean Republicans will have an opening as this generation grows wealthier. That’s because Millennials are likely to become more bipolar as they age with neither party being able to claim “ownership” with any real credibility.
Justin Wallin is COO of Probolsky Research, a full service public opinion research and strategy firm.