Millennials will have a big say in our politics
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.