There’s a new trend among political analysts questioning the progressivism of the younger cohort of Millennials. David Leonhardt at the New York Times is the most prominent example of the trend, but others have jumped on the bandwagon as well.
The gist of the argument is based on a few shreds of evidence and a heavy dose of conjecture. A smattering of data, including a suspect poll commissioned by the libertarian publication Reason, seems to suggest a noticeable shift among some Millennials, particularly younger ones, toward more libertarian economics. More importantly, however, there does seem to a marked increase in displeasure with the President and with the Democratic Party. This is where the conjecture comes in: it’s theorized that while older Millennials were radicalized toward the left by displeasure with the Bush Administration, younger Millennials will shift right by displeasure or at least disenchantment with the Obama Administration.
As I noted at Hullabaloo, however, it doesn’t follow that younger voters are necessarily growing more conservative. We know for a fact that the younger cohort certainly isn’t leaning to the right on social issues. On economic issues Millennials of every age group tend to support specific progressive policies designed to solve specific problems, whether it be an increase to the minimum wage, increased access to healthcare or greater investments in education. And they tend to support progressive taxation to fund those priorities. It’s only when asked questions about cutting government in the abstract or offering a “choice” in Social Security funding that more libertarian tendencies seemingly come to the fore in slim majorities–but that is more a reflection of decades of talking point immersion coming from both parties about the need to “rightsize” government, and inherently misleading positive framing disguising raw cuts to popular programs.
Certainly, there is no sense in which either older or younger Millennials seem eager to support a party that wants to kill the minimum wage, eliminate public education, or cut assistance to the poor–much less one that wants to deport every undocumented immigrant, annul every gay marriage, and restrict reproductive rights.
What the trends indicate, rather, is that Millennials of all ages may be experiencing disenchantment with the political process in general and with the Democratic Party’s brand in particular due to a perceived lack of effectiveness in solving the major problems facing young adults today. Those are primarily about jobs, student loans and unaffordable housing. Nothing in that, however, indicates that they’ll start voting Republican. More conservative Millennials are shifting toward libertarianism, and more liberal Millennials (the majority) are becoming less partisan and more cynical.
But all of these arguments are trees obscuring the view of the forest. Even if the bearish prognosticators are right that previous progressive trends among Millennials might be mitigated in some ways, it would still be a small deviation from a trend that saw Millennials vote for Obama over Romney by 12%. In Mississippi.
Even in Mississippi the under-30 cohort is liberal: pic.twitter.com/hIkVkB235b
— Matt Yglesias (@mattyglesias) June 25, 2014
The kids will be all right. But the Democratic Party will only reap the benefits if it takes action to truly solve the economic issues plaguing young adults. Otherwise that progressivism will take less overtly partisan forms that will take longer to be reflected at the ballot box.