Two Reasons Why Predictions About Gen Y's Ideology are Dumb
To further fuel his fantasies of a future of Ron Paul acolytes, Andrew Sullivan highlights an article from The American Conservative:
Daniel McCarthy makes the case that the libertarian has begun an "architectonic shift" within the GOP:
More significant than the overall percentage Paul claimed [in Iowa] is the 48 percent he won of the under-30 vote. This augurs more than just a change in the factional balance within the GOP. It’s suggestive of a generational realignment in American politics. The fact that many of these young people do not consider themselves Republican is very much the point: Paul’s detractors cite that as a reason to discount them, but what it really means is that the existing ideological configuration of U.S. politics doesn’t fit the rising generation. They’re not Republicans, but they’re voting in a Republican primary: at one time, that same description applied to Southerners, social conservatives, and Reagan Democrats, groups that were not part of the traditional GOP coalition and whose participation completely remade the party.
Let's just put aside for a moment the obvious: that the number of young Ron Paul supporters who can be rounded up in Iowa says nothing about the overall ideological temperament of all the 18-29 year olds in America. (One should be accustomed to this kind of backward logic at a paleoconservative publication.) What's more important to address is the general assumption which is more widely held: that the voting behavior of millennials in the 2008, 2010, and now the upcoming 2012 elections says something meaningful about how this generation will behave ideologically over the coming years.
It doesn't. And here's why:
1. One's political views are usually in flux from age 18 to 29.
I know the angsty, radical, 18-year-old, high school newspaper columnist Dave would have some terrible things to say about the politics of his 28-year-old, married, domesticated, new media conservative editor counterpart... And that's just one (of many, many) reasons to disregard the designation of an 18-29 voting group and dismiss it for what it is: an artificial construct on a political scientists's spreadsheet, not some meaningful group of flesh and blood people. People can change a lot over the course of their 20s. (And on the political front it's usually not in a direction favorable to utopianists of either the Marxist or anarchist varieties.)
2. The First cohort of Generation Y (1982-1988) is different from the middle (1989-1995) and late waves (1996-2000)
Generational theorists of the Howe-Strauss school tend to place the beginning of the new generation as starting in 1982. The exact year is up for debate but in the end not important because at the edges of each generation we see blendings. Boomers born at the beginning of their generation (1943-1946) tend to share qualities with the Silent Generation (1925-1942) that came before them. Likewise, the first few years of Generation X births (1961-1966) often have more Boomer qualities -- frequently more optimism in my experiences with them -- than the full-blown, generally more depressive Xers of 1967-1977.
So far the only Millennials of voting age have been primarily in this first wave born in the 80s -- those of us who have been strongly influenced by our Gen X peers and their 1990s youth culture. (We tend to share just a bit of Gen X's more nihilistic baggage.) But the Gen Yers born after 1990 are really a whole different species altogether -- more fully embodying civic generational archetypes. I'm still formulating my views and researching the nature of this middle Millennial cohort but so far I'm optimistic about the kids just finishing up high school and college. Many of them seem to have their heads screwed on better than one would expect for teenagers.
Am I the only one thinking that? Are the teens and young adults of today different than those who emerged 10, 20, 30 years ago?