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Millennials are more conservative than boomers or Gen Xers were at their age, study finds

  • LOS ANGELES TIMES / TRIBUNE NEWS SERVICE

    Donald Trump supporter and Westmont College student Jake Lopez grabs a Trump campaign poster in his dorm room to take out on campus on March 29 in Montecito, Calif.

National polls suggest millennials will vote for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump by large margins in November, but that doesn’t mean millennials lean further to the left than young people of previous generations.

On the contrary, according to a new study, a larger percentage of millennials identified as conservative during their last year of high school than did baby boomers and GenXers when they were the same age.

In 1976, when baby boomers were donning their caps and gowns, 21 percent of high school seniors identified themselves as conservative. In 2014, when it was the millennials’ turn to graduate, 29 percent did so, the study authors report.

Meanwhile, the percentage of high school seniors who identified as liberal was 35 percent in 1976 and 34 percent in 2014.

“In the 1980s, when the GenXers were young, it was considered the height of the young conservative — remember Alex P. Keaton on ‘Family Ties’”? said study leader Jean Twenge, a social psychologist at San Diego State University. “But among millennials, we see a higher percentage of those identifying as conservative than we did then. Considering the reputation of millennials as a very liberal generation, that is pretty surprising.”

The study, published this week in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, found that generational groups have traditionally grown more conservative and Republican over time.

On average, Americans identify as more politically liberal at age 18 and become increasingly conservative between their 20s and 60s. If the millennial generation — defined as those born between 1980 and 1994 — continues that pattern, “they will not be the highly Democratic and liberal generation many had anticipated,” Twenge and her colleagues wrote.

“Right now, millennials look very liberal and more likely to vote for a Democrat, but maybe that’s just because they are young,” Twenge added in an interview.

John Della Volpe, director of polling at Harvard University’s Institute of Politics, said he has seen similar trends in his own work surveying the millennial generation over the past several years.

“My impression is that too many folks across America and even in the pundit class think of this generation as a monolith waving a socialist flag,” he said. “It is so far from the truth. It is much more nuanced than that.”

The new study is based on data from three large and long-running national surveys. That allowed the researchers to track generational differences in both political ideology and party identification over time.

The Monitoring the Future study polls a nationally representative sample of high school seniors. The American Freshman survey interviews a nationwide sample of first-year students at four-year colleges annually. Finally, the General Social Survey, conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago, queries a nationally representative sample of U.S. adults.

“The strength of these surveys is it allows us to look at generational trends without having to worry about what is due to age,” Twenge said.

The surveys show that millenials, in addition to being more conservative, are more politically polarized than boomers or GenXers were at the same age, and that the rise in polarization has happened mostly on the right. More 12th-graders in the 2010s identified as strong Republican (22 percent) than in earlier decades, while the number of those identifying as strong Democrat (21 percent) has remained relatively flat. Only 23 percent expressed no preference for a political party in 2014, down from 29 percent in 1988.

Among college students, 50 percent of boomers identified themselves as middle of the road, compared to 53 percent of GenXers and 47 percent of millennials.

One of the biggest surprises for Twenge was the huge jump in the percentage of people identifying as independent across generations. Among all adults, 46 percent identified as independent in 2014, she said. Among those between the ages of 18 and 29, it was even higher — 59 percent.

For context, from the early 1970s through the late 1990s, the percentage of all adults who considered themselves independent ranged from 41 percent to 39 percent.

Twenge, who wrote a book on millennials called “Generation Me,” said her previous research could help explain why so many of them identify as independent.

Among Americans of all ages, confidence in large institutions like government and corporations is at an all-time low, but that is especially true for young adults, she said.

“Millennials are very individualistic,” she said. “For them, joining a political party is kind of antithetical to the way they see the world. I think that explains a lot about what happened this election year.”

Della Volpe said this new paper and his own work at Harvard suggest that Republicans could do well with millennials, if they can figure out how to talk to them.

“The key finding in my last big survey in the spring of 2016 was that young people are indicating they are open to a more nuanced conversation about politics, and listening to views of Democrats as well as Republicans,” he said. “Why hasn’t the Republican Party in Washington and across the country figured this out and tried to take advantage of it?”

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©2016 Los Angeles Times

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  • Advancements in technology have revealed that the arguments regarding the liberal ideology to be deeply flawed. Example, when life begins. Before technology the argument “at birth” made sense. But after learning so much about development through ultrasounds, etc. we now know that life begins considerably earlier. Although some views are simply personal preferences, others are indisputable fact!

    • The two major parties are targeting people they know will get out and actually vote.
      Gary “And what is Aleppo?” Johnson is trying with his ad:
      “To America’s millennials, I say this. By not standing up and voting two-party system corruption out of office years ago, people my age have made a real mess of things for people your age,”
      If he believes his own message he should ask himself why would/should millennials, or anyone else vote for him?

        • Yes I did. Only someone living under a rock wouldn’t know about the crisis in Syria. Johnson is someone asking for our vote and should have been prepared yet his response “And what is Aleppo?” was ridiculous. No one expected him to give an in-depth answer to the question, there are no easy answers when it involves war. However he looked totally befuddled, as if he was hearing about Aleppo for the first time.

        • Inferring that Johnson was not aware of Syria is disingenuous, even though the specifics of Aleppo obviously escaped him. Perhaps an earbud might have helped. An absence of specific information can be easily remedied, whereas an absence of integrity is a far more challenging obstacle.

        • Considering the relatively endless supply of legitimate criticisms available to levy against either Hillary or Donald, I’m amazed anyone would even hesitate to overlook Johnson’s slip. Or are we simply anxious to feel somehow justified for the candidate we’re supporting?

    • IRT Star08, Mr. Trump has reached out to the Millennials through the Churches with the nomination of Conservative Originalist Justice to the U.S. Supreme Court and all the Federal Courts. He is also announced that he will work to repeal the 1954 Johnson Amendment that limits the voice of Millennial Pastors. The message is getting out and Millennials are supporting Mr. Trump.

  • Some of them got smart and rejected Barry Hussein’s banana republic style of governance. If you’re not a socialist before you’re twenty-five, you have no heart; if you are a socialist after twenty-five, you have no head.

  • A young mind is more open to newer ideas, especially in regards to personal behavior. Much more forgiving as themselves prone on experimenting and finding decisions as faulty. Nevertheless they are young enough to correct error made in judegement.

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