It’s one of the most basic rules of electoral strategy: older people are more likely to vote than the young. On the other hand, they’re also more likely to die – and when they do, their names are replaced on the rolls by those of the youngest voters.
The ‘Generation Right’ hypothesis – the idea that young people today are, in some ways, more conservative than previous generations, is therefore the cause of much excitement.
This isn’t just a British phenomenon, there’s similar talk in America, where surveys provide evidence of a broadly libertarian generational shift that isn’t just limited to social issues like same sex marriage, but also extends to economic issues.
So, good news for the right then?
Not necessarily. According to Derek Thompson in the Atlantic, what the US research actually shows is that on political matters, ‘Millennials’ are all over the place:
“Millennial politics is simple, really. Young people support big government, unless it costs any more money. They’re for smaller government, unless budget cuts scratch a program they’ve heard of. They’d like Washington to fix everything, just so long as it doesn’t run anything.
“That’s all from a new Reason Foundation poll surveying 2,000 young adults between the ages of 18 and 29.”
There was another set of contradictory results from an earlier survey carried out by Pew back in March:
“Millennials hate the political parties more than everyone else, but they have the highest opinion of Congress.
“Young people are the most likely to be single parents and the least likely to approve of single parenthood.”
Looking at the Pew and Reason surveys together, Thompson shows how a selective view of the findings can provide encouragement to both “conservatives” (i.e. the American right) and “liberals” (i.e. the American left):
“Conservatives can say: 65 per cent of Millennials would like to cut spending… Liberals can say: 62 per cent would like to spend more on infrastructure and jobs…
“Conservatives can say: 58 per cent of Millennials want to cut taxes overall… Liberals can say: 66 per cent want to raise taxes on the wealthy…
“Conservatives can say: 57 per cent want smaller government with fewer services (if you mention the magic word ‘taxes’)… Liberals can say: 54 per cent want larger government with more services (if you don’t mention ‘taxes’).”
The most interesting finding was this one: when respondents were asked to choose between ‘socialism’ and ‘capitalism’, the margin in favour of the latter was only ten per cent; but that when the choice was between a ‘government managed economy’ and a ‘free market economy’, the rightwing option was ahead by 32 per cent. It would seem there are a large number of ‘free market socialists’ out there.
Are we to conclude that Millennial voters, being unusually apolitical by historical standards, are especially ignorant about basic political concepts – such as the meaning of socialism?
There’s always been a groundswell of popular support for having your cake and eating it, but perhaps what we’re seeing in the super-contradictory opinions of the Millennial generation is a disenchantment with the simplicities of left and right alike. Indeed their entire political experience has been shaped by multiple, catastrophic failures of crony capitalism and the bloated centralised state. Is it any wonder, then, that Millennial politics are in a state of “constant metamorphosis.”
Instead of dismissing their views as “totally incoherent”, the real challenge for the political establishment is to provide our youngest voters with a coherent explanation of the world they’ve grown up in.