The Progressive Generation: What Young Adults Think About the Economy
by Mike Connery, Fri May 09, 2008 at 12:46:03 PM EDT
Anyone who has read a poll knows that the economy is the #1 concern for young people today, but what does that mean in terms of the policies they would support? The Center for American Progress just issued a new report that sheds light on this not-often-explored intersection of demographics and policy. The report - The Progressive Generation: How Young Adults Think About the Economy - does much to dispel myths (like the one that says young people are gung-ho about Social Security Privatization), and clarifies the position of Millennials on a number of issues. The report provides some rays of hope to the labor movement, and has a lot to say not just about the economy, but really what Millennials think about the role of government in America.
This should be mandatory reading for campaigns, the Party, and anyone seeking to understand the political beliefs of the youngest generation. Here are the major findings:
- Millennials are more likely to support universal health coverage than any age group in the 30 previous years the question has been asked, with 57 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds saying that health insurance should come from a government insurance plan.
- Eighty-seven percent of Millennials think the government should spend more money on health care even if a tax increase is required to pay for it, the highest level of support in the question's 20-year history.
- An overwhelming 95 percent of Millennials think education spending should be increased even if a tax increase is required to pay for it, the highest level ever recorded on this question in the 20 years it has been asked.
- Sixty-one percent of Millennials think the government should provide more services, the most support of any age group in any of the previous 20 years the question was asked.
- When asked in the General Social Survey whether they were in favor or against the idea that cutting government was a good way to help the economy, Millennials had the lowest support of cutting government spending in the history of the question.
- Millennials are very supportive of labor unions, giving them an average ranking of 60 on a 0-to-100 scale (with 0 indicating a more negative view of labor unions and 100 being a more positive view), the second-highest level of support of any age group in the over 40-year history of the question.
For the more graphically inclined, here's what that looks like in graphs:
That last provides a nice ray of hope to the labor movement, which many Millennials have little or no direct experience with.
In addition to these areas on which Millennials seem to be the uber-progressives within the electorate, the report also singles out two areas in which Millennials views - while far from conservative - are not as progressive as those of older generations. These are Social Security and their views of the business community.
With regards to the business community, the report notes that Millennials views "defy easy characterization and suggest a more pragmatic progressivism than populist orientation." Millennials are OK with increased regulation, but they are also comfortable with increase profits for business, suggesting a middle of the road view. Anecdotally, it seems to ratify the phrase I hear a lot among my peers: they want to do well by doing "good."
Social Security is often thought of as the conservative Trojan Horse within the Millennial generation. CAP's report notes that there is some truth to this: 74% of Millennials support privatization compared to 41% of adults over age 60. That tends to be the most reported fact - and one overplayed at times by conservatives - but it masks the full story. Studies show that the further away from retirement a person is in their life, the more likely they are to support privatization. And Millennials are more likely than almost any group to support increased spending on Social Security:
Taking both of these factors into consideration, the report concludes that support for savings accounts are likely a "lifecycle" issue that can be messaged around and will decline as Millennials age into the population.
The real significance of CAP's research is that all the data is compiled from long-term studies and surveys. That allows them to speak not only to the concerns of Millennials, but to compare those concerns to those of Generation X and the late Baby Boomers when they were of a comparable age. In doing so, they help dispel the myth that voters become more conservative as they age (what the study calls "lifecycle factors"), and paints a picture of a generation that is far more progressive than its predecessors ever were. Much as others have argued here and here, the CAP report argues that this is evidence of a long-term, generational shift towards a more progressive set of political beliefs.
Several pieces of data suggest that a lifecycle explanation is not sufficient. The decades of survey data show that young people are not always more economically progressive than older people. In addition, Millennials are more progressive than previous generations--especially Generation X, for which there is the most comparable data at the same age. A period explanation is not likely to be sufficient because even though all Americans have been trending more progressive in recent years, Millennials are far more progressive than older people today and, on several questions, have become more progressive at faster rates than the rest of the population.
As a result, it is likely that, in addition to period and lifecycle factors, there are generational forces at play in shaping the progressive views of Millennials. This suggests that not only are Millennials quite progressive now, but they are likely to be so in the future.