Mil­len­ni­als will have a big say in our pol­i­tics

The Community Connection - - OPINION -

They have ar­rived. “Mil­len­ni­als” the largest age co­hort in Amer­i­can his­tory is now push­ing 80 mil­lion. They were born roughly be­tween 1982 and 2000. (There is no pre­cise agree­ment on this.) The youngest is about 18 and the old­est about 35. Over the next 10 to 20 years they will dom­i­nate the na­tion’s econ­omy, gov­ern­ment and pol­i­tics.

Some call them shal­low, nar­cis­sis­tic, overly cod­dled as children and of­ten lazy as adults.

Oth­ers, how­ever, like the highly re­garded schol­ars Strauss and Howe, ar­gue that Mil­len­ni­als are emerg­ing to re­sem­ble what Tom Brokaw called the “great­est gen­er­a­tion,” his iconic term for those who sur­vived the Great De­pres­sion and fought and won World War II.

Some su­perb work by the Pew Re­search Cen­ter, Gallup and oth­ers now al­low us to learn a good bit about the views of Mil­len­ni­als across a spec­trum of sub­jects likely to in­flu­ence the na­tion’s fu­ture.

• Po­lit­i­cally — Mil­len­ni­als tend not to be at­tached to a po­lit­i­cal party. More than four in 10 (44%) con­sider them­selves in­de­pen­dent. But on a range of po­lit­i­cal and so­cial is­sues, Mil­len­ni­als’ view are closer to the Democrats.

In past pres­i­den­tial elec­tions the Baby Boomer and prior gen­er­a­tions dom­i­nated turnout. But early in 2017 Mil­len­ni­als be­came the largest pro­por­tion­ate of the elec­torate. Inex­orably, the Mil­len­nial share of the vote will con­tinue to grow, pro­foundly af­fect­ing Amer­i­can pol­i­tics.

• Cul­tur­ally — They are quite lib­eral. Re­gard­less of po­lit­i­cal party pref­er­ence they over­whelm­ingly sup­port the le­gal­iza­tion of mar­i­juana, with Democrats (77%) and Repub­li­cans (63%) do­ing so. More­over, half of them (50%) be­lieve it’s morally ac­cept­able for cou­ples to live to­gether with­out any in­ten­tion of get­ting mar­ried while 40 per­cent think it’s morally ac­cept­able to have children with­out be­ing mar­ried.

They are also strong sup­port­ers of gay mar­riage, trans­gen­der rights, and a range of is­sues sur­round­ing women’s equal­ity. In gen­eral, this gen­er­a­tion tends not to be as re­li­gious as pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions.

• Eco­nom­i­cally — Mil­len­ni­als tend to de­scribe them­selves as nei­ther “cap­i­tal­ists” nor as “so­cial­ists.” More­over, they place a heavy em­pha­sis on ed­u­ca­tion.

They are ex­tremely tech savvy and they are shop­pers. Gallup re­ports that Mil­len­ni­als shop on­line more than any other gen­er­a­tion. Pro­fes­sion­ally they are less com­mit­ted to re­main in their cur­rent em­ploy­ment. Given a new op­por­tu­nity, they are likely to move on. They are much less likely to own a home, be mar­ried, or have kids. Al­to­gether, onethird of them live with their par­ents. In their per­sonal lives they have as­sumed sub­stan­tially more debt than ear­lier gen­er­a­tions, pri­mar­ily at­trib­ut­able to student loans and un­em­ploy­ment.

Some be­lieve, fol­low­ing the schol­ars Strauss-Howe, that this gen­er­a­tion is des­tined to con­front great chal­lenges and large crises — in many re­spects com­pa­ra­ble to that faced by the World War II gen­er­a­tion.

But much of this anal­y­sis ig­nores the well-es­tab­lished pat­tern of suc­ceed­ing gen­er­a­tions to move from lib­er­al­ism to­ward con­ser­vatism as they age.

Sim­i­larly, it is too early to know if Mil­len­ni­als will be­come the “hero” gen­er­a­tion of the Strauss-Howe world, or more sim­ply, just an­other Amer­i­can gen­er­a­tion now emerg­ing into Amer­i­can his­tory to­ward a des­tiny largely hid­den.

What’s abun­dantly clear, how­ever, is that some 80 mil­lion Mil­len­ni­als, as did the Baby Boomers be­fore them, are be­com­ing the new 800-pound go­rilla in the room, soon to dom­i­nate Amer­i­can cul­ture, pol­i­tics and eco­nomics for a very long time.

G. Terry Madonna is pro­fes­sor of pub­lic af­fairs at Franklin & Mar­shall Col­lege, and Michael Young is a for­mer pro­fes­sor of pol­i­tics and pub­lic af­fairs at Penn State Uni­ver­sity and man­ag­ing part­ner of Michael Young Strate­gic Re­search.

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