There is a reoccurring myth in American politics that states that youth are generally extremely liberal. Conservatives are invited to write off the new generations until they mysteriously reappear later on their voter rolls when they become older, presumably after gaining experience in life.
However, there are other explanations as to the cause of the continuous drift to the right over the last decades. One of them is that many young people have always been conservative in the first place. Reports about cohorts of liberal young people are grossly exaggerated.
This is particularly the case with millennial voters. A new paper analyzing voter trends reveals three surprising facts that should encourage people to rethink conventional wisdom on their political outlooks. Published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, the new study collected data from three surveys that monitored about 10 million American adults from 1970 to 2015. The paper especially recorded the political views of the last three generations.
Sun Valley residents vote at the polling station located at Our Lady of The Holy Church on election day at the Sun Valley's Latino district, Los Angeles County, on November 6, 2012 in California.AFP PHOTO /JOE KLAMAR (Photo credit should read JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty Images)
Fact 1: Young People Are More Conservative than Ever
The findings are indeed surprising, if not shocking. According to this new paper, millennials are much more likely to identify themselves as conservative than members of Generation X or even the Baby Boomers when they were the same age.
Equally astonishing is the fact that more high school seniors identify as political conservatives than those ten years ago. Finally, there is the extraordinary finding that more young people today consider themselves conservative than in the eighties, a heyday of young conservativism during the Reagan era.
Fact 2: Young People are More Polarized Than Past Generations
A second surprising fact is that not only are millennials more conservative, but they are more polarized than previous generations. Young Americans are more politically polarized now than at any time since 1970.
Overall, researchers found that twice as many adults hold "extreme" political positions in the 2010s than in the 1970s. But millennials are not trailing their elders; they are leading the way. This polarization is not around the extremely liberal positions that have long been assumed to be the domain of youth. Rather researchers are finding this polarization is driven by conservative issues.
Incredibly, the young people are even more conservative than their parents or grandparents. Among new college students, for example, some 23 percent of millennials lean far right, while only 17 percent of Baby Boomers and 22 percent of Generation Xers now accept the same identifier. Never have such figures been found in previous generations.
Fact 3: Researchers Don’t Know Why Millennials Are More Polarized or More Conservative
The final fact is that researchers don’t understand why millennials are more polarized or conservative, which is an indication that the data is not biased. Indeed, the research runs counter to the liberal narrative about youth that automatically assumes them to be extremely liberal and Democratic Party-aligned. According to the progressive leftist view of history, youth over time should become more liberal not less. Conservatives should be losing support not gaining it.
There is nothing in the credentials of the study’s survey takers and compilers to indicate they have a political agenda. If anything, they would probably tend to lean left. This is confirmed by the fact that the researchers and those commenting on the study have expressed surprise by the findings.
Some have conjectured that the rise of the Internet and 24-hour news has made the social identifying process more robust. Others point to a political climate that is much more ideological than in the past. However, the search for causes for the increasing shift right have yielded no firm conclusions save that further follow-up research is needed.
The importance of these three facts is highlighted by the growing influence of the new generations. Millennials and Gen Xers are now the largest sectors in the American electorate with 126 million voters compared to 98 million Baby Boomers and those from prior generations. It will also force the political parties to be more articulate and convincing since nearly 59 percent of millennials now identify politically as independents.
Studies like that of the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin are good news for conservatives who desire a return to order. To those who feel blue about the nation’s political future, there is a lot of political red on the horizon.
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