The Progressive Generation: What Young Adults Think About the Economy

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:

Right to Health Care
health care

Health Care Spending
Health Care Spending



Government Waste/Spending
gov waste


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:

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.

Tags: econonmy, government, Health care, Millennials, Unions, youth (all tags)



Hot damn...

... everyone, take a break from the primary war, hell even the general election, and bask in the glow of these numbers.

by Purplepeople 2008-05-09 12:54PM | 0 recs
Re: The Progressive Generation: What Young Adults

In 1992, my dad... a staunch republican, told me that he voted for Bill Clinton.  He said that he did it for me... that it was time to give the younger generation a chance at governing.  He hasn't voted Republican since...

The millennial generation is as big, if not bigger, than the baby boomers... give them reasons to continue voting democratic, and we'll retain their loyalty for life!  That could very well mean another Democratic century.

Why would anyone even consider alienating this generation as has been proposed on this site many times.  These folk are the future of the party and the country.  Once again, it's time to give the younger generation a chance... for the future of our party, and our country... The Who once said, "The kids are alright!"  

by LordMike 2008-05-09 12:57PM | 0 recs
that's pretty much me and aside from Univeral Health Care, that's both of our candidates- I think Obama will change his mind though, maybe Edwards and Clinton can twist his arm a bit.
by linc 2008-05-09 12:59PM | 0 recs
No plan survives contact with the enemy

I'm sure that Obama will get the best bill he possibly can out of Congress, just like Clinton would have. How good that bill is will depend on how big of a Democratic majority we can give him.

These numbers give me hope that, if not now then in a few years, we will have the majorities we need for real health care and many other things.

by Purplepeople 2008-05-09 01:06PM | 0 recs
These numbers are encouraging
but will be meaningless without Latino voters in certain swing states and without a certain color of working class voters in certain other swing states. McGovern had some pretty darn strong youth vote- I think it got him a state.
by linc 2008-05-09 01:24PM | 0 recs
Here's the difference

this generation shows up to vote.

by jkfp2004 2008-05-09 01:51PM | 0 recs
Re: These numbers are encouraging

The median age of Latinos in America is 27.  The latino vote is a big part of the youth vote.

And not only are there more young people today in raw numbers than when McGovern won, but they are more progressive as a generation and turn out in greater numbers.

by Mike Connery 2008-05-10 05:56AM | 0 recs
Re: Yep

On this you and I stand side by side. I'll help push him with you.

by Mandoliniment 2008-05-09 01:16PM | 0 recs

I agree with you that Obama's plan needs some oomph to it that it currently lacks.

by Student Guy 2008-05-09 01:20PM | 0 recs
What Matters to Us

My generation are on the wrong end of the "privatization" scam imposed by the boomer generation.

This means debt and debt slavery.

The Republicans have NO solutions to these problems other than "be born rich". If the Democrats continue to support third way DLC corporate policies, then they can expect young people not to care and not to vote. We are more tolerant than older generations, but differentiating from your opponent on only hot-button social issues isn't going to get young people going to the polls in large numbers. We need politicians to invest in the future and propose policies that are RESPONSIBLE and not pandering to the short-term.

Borrowing 3 trillion dollars for a destructive and unnecessary war while proposing to make tax cuts that disproportionately favor the rich permanent is the height of cruelty to the people that will be paying interest on that debt far into the future. The politics of stupid must end now.

by wengler 2008-05-09 01:15PM | 0 recs
Re: What Matters to Us
One step at a time, guys.
Bill Clinton did his job in the eyes of history just by getting re-lected in1996. The DLC was his Eastern Establishment.
It's been going this way for a few years.
by spirowasright 2008-05-09 01:38PM | 0 recs
My generation

is going to run the Republicans out of town over the next twenty years.  I went to high school in Yorba Linda, CA, one of the most conservative areas in the country and birthplace of Richard Nixon.  I heard about a poll done at my old school, this year amongst seniors and their preferences for president.  60% chose Obama, 20% chose Clinton, and 20% chose McCain.  Remind you, this is from ultra-conservative north Orange County.

Be afraid very afraid...

by jkfp2004 2008-05-09 01:17PM | 0 recs
Re: My generation

This is a wonderful statistic and could be quite useful in convincing Republican candidates to drop out of races and Republican donors and volunteers to not bother. Do you have a reference to a news report or document that substantiates the numbers and gives further details?

by RandomNonviolence 2008-05-09 02:55PM | 0 recs
Re: The Progressive Generation: What Young Adults

Thanks for posting this. It's remarkable. GWB, for all the damage he has done, has created a demographic shift that will likely last decades.

by Mandoliniment 2008-05-09 01:17PM | 0 recs
Millennial Makeover

Important stuff...Thanks!

Also check out Millennial Makeover, an important new book
with great implications for this year's election and those to come.


by markpsf 2008-05-09 02:09PM | 0 recs
Re: The Progressive Generation: What Young Adults
Thanks for the shout out. Mike, great post--as always.
by Millennial Makeover 2008-05-09 07:49PM | 0 recs


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