Barack Obama may be the Republicans’ best friend when it comes to educating 18-33-year olds of the Millennial Generation about the downside of voting for the Democrats’ economic policies. According to a report from the Pew Research Center for Social and Demographic Trends, the 73.7 million Millennials are “unattached to organized politics and religion, linked by social media, burdened by debt, distrustful of people, in no rush to marry– and optimistic about the future.”
This growing rejection of the Democrat Party will undoubtedly have consequences in the coming mid-term and presidential elections.
Millennials in 2008 were all about the Democratic Party, with only 38% identifying themselves as political independents. Millennials associated Republicans with “a wave of disappointments and embarrassments: Iraq, Hurricane Katrina, congressional corruption scandals, the mortgage crisis.” Millennials were extraordinarily motivated to turn out and vote in 2008 and even more motivated in 2012.
But 50% of Millennials now describe themselves as political independents, “near the highest levels of political disaffiliation recorded for any generation in the quarter-century,” according to the latest Pew Research poll. This comes despite 43% of Millennials and about half of their newborns being Hispanic, Asian, and black, ethnic groups that have strongly favored Democrats in the past.
Millennials seem to be exhibiting political buyers’ remorse as the cost of college is rising faster than pay for college graduates, student debt is at record highs, wages are dropping after inflation, and the cost of buying a house is unaffordable to all but a sliver of Millennials. Lack of prosperity is discouraging Millennial marriages at the same relative age to a third less than Gen Xers in 1997 and half that of Baby-Boomers in 1980. Pew found, “Most unmarried Millennials (69%) say they would like to marry, but many, especially those with lower levels of income and education, lack what they deem to be a necessary prerequisite–a solid economic foundation.” But 85% of Millennials say they will marry, but only when they have enough money.
Despite their current economic malaise, Millennials are more optimistic than other generations that America’s best years are still to come. About 49% of Millennials hold this view compared to only 42% of Gen Xers and 44% of Boomers. The optimism in the future by Millennials is virtually identical with 18-30 year old Baby-Boomers in 1974.
This optimism in their future is despite the 51% of Millennials who now believe “there will not be any money for them in the Social Security system by the time they are ready to retire, and an additional 39% say the system will only be able to provide them with retirement benefits at reduced levels. Just 6% expect to receive Social Security benefits at levels enjoyed by current retirees.” Yet, 61% oppose benefit cuts to “address the long-term funding problems of Social Security,” a view held by 70% of older adults.
This rising political independence streak for Millennials seems to be associated with their lack of “Social Trust.” Just 19% of Millennials say most people can be trusted, compared with 31% of Gen Xers, and 40% of Boomers. Pew believes that racial diversity may explain Millennials’ low levels of trust in people. Their 2007 Pew Research analysis found that minorities and low-income adults had lower levels of social trust than other groups, since they often feel more vulnerable or disadvantaged.
Youths have traditionally voted for Democrats in percentages as their grandparents. But after 2000, Millennials voted Democrat by a 7% greater plurality in 2004, 21% in 2008, and 16% in 2012. But this romantic fling with the Democrats appears to be fading as just 31% now believe there is a great deal of difference between the Republican and Democratic parties. Millennials are still the only generation in which liberals are not significantly outnumbered by conservatives, but the spread is narrowing.
The Millennials’ parents came of age in the late 1960s and 1970s, during the civil rights, women’s rights, anti-war, and counter-cultural movements. But after Baby-Boomers dealing with four years of economic blow-back after overwhelmingly voting to elect Jimmy Carter President in 1972, Boomers became reliable Reagan Republicans for three decades. Given the demographic and social trends identified by latest Pew Research poll, the Democrat Party may be losing a youth generation, again.
The author welcomes feedback and will respond to comments by readers.