When political conservatives met last weekend in Washington, a split in their ranks emerged. Younger activists urged the right wing to focus on economic issues and downplay opposition to same sex marriage and marijuana legislation.
That divide is concrete evidence of a newly reported break between younger and older adults, not limited to conservatives.
The widely respected Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan, independent organization, found through its surveys the so-called Millennial generation, young adults between 18 and 33, has different views from older adults.
Young American adults are less connected to political parties or formal religion than their elders. They are big users of social media, marry late or not at all, distrust others and carry big debt.
They are better educated than any young Americans have ever been, but they suffer greater economic hardships than others in the past few decades. The recent recession hit them hard.
This group is more racially diverse than any before in American history. About 43 percent are nonwhite as is about half of all newborns in the country.
Most Millennials are political independents and not formally aligned with either the Republicans or Democrats. Only 31 percent of them think there’s a great deal of difference between the parties. Those with party affiliation are Democrats by a big majority.
They are less likely to affiliate with any religion and or to say they believe in God.
They have a different life style. Only 26 percent of Millennials are married. When they were the same age, 65 percent of the Silent generation, those now 69 and over, were married.
Don’t all young people go through this stage and then grow wiser with age? Pew says that’s not the case, because on identical matters, the Millennials hold different attitudes from those held by older adults when they were as young. And the older people seem to have held onto many attitudes they had when they were youthful.
How do all these findings translate politically?
The country is changing, not merely going through a growing-up phase. And that change can have a huge effect on American politics. The Pew report may not be good news for Republicans.
Political polls have shown Millennials vote “strikingly Democratic,” Pew reports. They hold “liberal views on many political and social issues, ranging from a belief in an activist government to support for same-sex marriage and marijuana legislation,” according to Pew.
The Census Bureau projects a majority of Americans will be nonwhite in less than 30 years. As this group ages and adds their children to the population, their views are expected to count more in voting.
Current GOP opposition to resolving the immigration problem, mainly a Hispanic issue, could cost the Republicans in elections as early as this year.
In short, if the Republican Party cannot find a way to appeal to younger nonwhites, it risks losing power to the Democrats. In solidly Republican Texas, for example, voting analysts expect that Hispanics there will be numerous enough in the next ten years to turn power over to the Democrats.
These days, in many parts of the country, the GOP bases its political domination on social issues having a religious basis. Opposition to same-sex marriage and abortion, so-called “wedge issues,” have helped it gain political victories.
If the Millennials take their attitudes into later life, which Pew appears to see as possible, faith-based issues may count for less among the voting public. Such a shift could weaken GOP support.
The young conservatives at last weekend’s annual conservative conference complained these social issues highlight what conservatives oppose, when they should be talking more about positive policies.
Young adults, not only conservatives, are favorable to business, traditionally linked to the GOP. If the Republicans emphasize economic issues more and stress social concerns correspondingly less, they may be able to capture support from Millennials.
Despite its low trust of others and the economic worries of many of its members, the generation of young adults is more optimistic about the future of the country than were the Boomers (now 50 to 68) when they were the same age.
And Boomers have become more conservative over time, so it is possible than Millennials will as well. But the racial mix and more difficult economic conditions of today’s young adults might produce a much different result.
Millennials are about a quarter of all adults. While Maine has the highest median age in the country, the percentage of Millennials among the adult population is only slightly less than in the country as a whole.