According to exit polling data, in both the 2008 and 2012 elections, Millennials (young adults 18 to 33) were a reliably leftist demographic, both in their voting and their views. Now, it appears that – even though they remain decidedly liberal on political and social issues – this influential group of Americans is up for grabs in the 2014 and 2016 elections. That is to say that no specific politician or ideology can count on their support.
The Pew Research Center's just-released survey reveals that as they move into adulthood, the Millennial generation is "at or near the highest levels of political and religious disaffiliation recorded for any generation in the quarter-century that the Pew Research Center has been polling on these topics." In fact, Pew reports that half of that age group claims to be politically independent, and almost a third see very little difference between the two major political parties.
The growth of Millennial independents is disturbing to both parties because only 38 percent were politically independent in 2004, meaning, as NPR puts it, "both parties have lost ground among young people." So much money spent targeting Millennials by both parties, and yet the voting bloc considered most vulnerable to political advertising and rhetorical manipulation is not falling in line on the issues. The left is losing them on gun control, ObamaCare, and the environment, while the right is losing them on abortion (at least in this Pew survey, in contrast to concessions by the abortion groups and other polls that show Millennials as more pro-life than their parents).
One of the troubling findings in the survey is that "about three-in-ten (29 percent) say they are not affiliated with any religion." Coupled with their lack of political affiliation, this rootless generation, with little grounding in historical knowledge or moral commitments, is ripe for the demagoguery of community organizers and activists pushing special agendas. For example, Millennials see no inconsistency in adamantly advocating their own freedom to express their position and, at the same time, pushing for activist government policies to promote same-sex marriage and censure those whose religious beliefs condemn this unfortunate change in the definition of marriage. Marijuana legalization, the same. Life without boundaries for them, but not for the rest of us.
Without a solid foundation – a worldview of their own – Millennials fall prey to the fads and changing winds of cultural trends. Only one-quarter (26 percent) of Millennials are married (in contrast to other generations when at their age – Gen X 36%, Baby Boomers 48 percent, Silent Generation 65 percent). Obviously, the lack of marriage does not mean a lack of sexual activity; cohabitation and random hook-ups are substitutes for marriage, with predictably bad measurable outcomes for both men and women.
Another substitute for a solid worldview foundation is the dependence upon digital technology – Internet, smartphones, social media, etc. These "digital natives" (the only generation, Pew explains, that has not had to adapt to the new technologies) don't have to connect or relate face-to-face. Instead, their digital world provides a "one-off" connection, impersonal and constructed, rather than spontaneous and relational, adapting to the "other's" facial expressions and non-verbal signals. These impersonal patterns of interaction, many fear, are not preparing Millennials for the workplace or for family life. One indication of the communication problems is the "selfie," which many view as indicative of the me-centeredness of the Millennials. Pew says 81 percent of Millennials are on Facebook, and yet 90 percent of Millennials complain that "people share too much information about themselves online."
Another troubling characteristic revealed by Pew is the Millennials' lack of trust in others. Social scientists could explain that those who feel vulnerable are more apt to lack social trust; obviously, children who feel abandoned by divorce, young adults who've been used and objectified, and those who lack close ties to family or community institutions like the church or synagogue will have had to deal – all alone – with misplaced trust and feel the lack of a mentor or role model as they navigate the often rocky road into adulthood, trusting only big government to step in and provide some security and support.
In spite of their support for big government, liberal social views, lack of patriotism, general optimism, and personal support for President Obama (though that is declining), Millennials, like the three generations preceding them, disapprove of single parenting and believe that it is bad for society.
Pew explains some of the Millennial views by their racial diversity: "About four-in-ten members of the millennial generation are non-white – a much larger percentage than in older age groups." They are also one of the best-educated generations in American history – a finding that many consider highly questionable, given their appalling ignorance both of history and contemporary events.
Pew points out, however, that previous generations have also grown more conservative as they have aged. The Millennials will have encouragement in that direction as they face "higher levels of student loan debt, poverty, unemployment and lower levels of wealth and personal income than their two immediate predecessor generations (Gen Xers and Boomers)." The continuing recession is especially hard on Millennials, who came of age expecting to be ushered into the good life enjoyed by their television-celebrity role models just when the economy tanked and good jobs dried up. They are the ones upon whose backs the financial burdens of ObamaCare rest.
Interestingly, Pew found that older generations agree that the Millennials "face more economic challenges than their elders did when they were first starting out." In spite of everything, though, Millennials continue to believe in their future.
We of older generations cannot help but look on ruefully and wish the Millennials a future as bright as they think it will be. As Oscar Wilde wrote, "[b]ut youth smiles without any reason. It is one of its chiefest charms."
This article first appearing in American Thinker.