How Millennials Are Changing The Political Debate
By John Zogby, September 10, 2015
It has been said over and over that Millennials are looking for something different from American politics. They eschew yelling, ideological warfare, don’t watch Fox or MSNBC – or really much of anything else – and yet they are highly engaged in politics. After all, record numbers have turned out in the past two presidential elections. They tend to favor the Democrats over the Republicans – or at the very least, they tend to reject the Republicans outright and the only choice becomes whether or not they vote Democrat or not vote at all. If they choose not to engage this has little or nothing to do with apathy. It has everything to do with what they are looking for in candidates and political discussions. Very simply they want the job done, they want problem solving, they want authenticity, and they want more consensus than time-wasting posturing and party politics.
They are ushering in a new political dialogue that transcends the old liberal/conservative paradigm. Rather, this is a group that has not been weaned on Democrats vs. Republicans because both parties have failed them. Instead, this is a group that deeply cherishes personal privacy (at least to the degree that they control their own and limits are not dictated to them by an outside agent like government or religion). And, at the same time, these 18-36 year olds were all raised with a passion for community service. For most, community activity was mandatory before leaving secondary school and they have been imbued with a spirit of social involvement by both their Boomer parents and their favorite artists. A huge 85% of Millennials want to leave this world a better place because of their own actions and 85% want to work for an entity that affords them the opportunity to do so. Both these percentages are up ten to fifteen points, respectively, from 2011.
At first blush, the new Zogby Analytics Poll of Millennials (August 25) shows them favoring the Democratic nominee – using the best stand-in name of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton – over a host of major Republicans candidates. Indeed, Mrs. Clinton leads them all by handsome margins – 48% to 24% over former Florida Governor Jeb Bush; 52% to 25% over real estate magnate Donald Trump; 50% to 17% over former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina; 48% to 21% over Florida Senator Marco Rubio; and 50% to 21% over Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. But in each instance those Millennials choosing either another candidate or aren’t sure numbers anywhere from 23% (vs. Trump) to 29% (vs. Walker and Bush); 31% (vs. Rubio); and 33% (vs. Fiorina).
I think I know why. No candidate appears to be addressing the real debate that Millennials are having. The Zogby Analytics Poll posed again – as we have for years now– the following statements:
Which comes closer to describing your overall philosophy on governing?Statement A is a classic libertarian view of governance while Statement B can best be described as communitarian. The results? Almost a tie with 45% choosing the libertarian statement and 42% preferring the communitarian sentiment. In addition to the closeness of identification, it is really fascinating to me how much softer the ideologies are and the degree to which there is crossover appeal. Individuals and groups can actually be both or elements of each without any hard and fast hostility to the other side. Each view is essentially a worldview not a declaration of war. Young men tend to be more libertarian (53% to 38%) while young women lean communitarian (42% to 38%). Those who have no college degree tilt libertarian (44% to 37%), while those with a college degree or more are about evenly split (46% to 44%). Young whites are a major source of libertarian sentiment (50%-38%), though Hispanics also lean libertarian (46% to 39%). Young African Americans are more clearly in the communitarian camp – 54% to 32%. Young Weekly Wal-Mart Shoppers (55% to 37% libertarian), Catholics (51% to 37%), Born Again Christians (47% to 43%), Creative Class (56% to 37%), and NASCAR Fans (57% to 35%) are also more in line with libertarian tendencies than communitarian sentiments.
Statement A – the primary emphasis is on securing the freedom of the individual by limiting the power of government. The preference is for civil liberties with a limited government under the rule of law and an attitude of laissez-faire of the government toward the conduct of private business. In the words of Thomas Jefferson, that government governs best which governs least.
Statement B – it strongly emphasizes the role of the community in defining and shaping individuals. Instead of individual uniqueness, the preference is to talk of where individuals share common values, moral culture, and commitments to each other. Government should protect positive rights like a guaranteed public education, a safe and secure environment, and the rule of law – but the real focus is less on passing laws and more on community members’ responsibilities to each other.
This is the debate of the future. Soon Millennials will be approximately 30% of the electorate and they have no patience for negativity and rigidity. To Republicans, Millennials will never get the invasiveness of pro-life, anti-contraception, anti-global warming, and anti-common sense on guns. To Democrats, Millennials will not choose piling on debt through funding wasteful bureaucracy and pouring money on problems.
The dominant debate of the future (which is now for Millennials) is how to spend wisely, cut where there is waste, implement clean energy, stay out of the bedroom, and enable individuals and collaborative prosumers to grow the economy. The debate of the past is “who has been the real conservative?” or “who best represents progressivism?” That just doesn’t cut it for 18-36 year olds.