News & Politics

Study: Millennials Support Liberty and Free Speech, Yet Get Definitions Wrong

A national survey reveals that 93% of Americans aged 18 to 34 support religious liberty, and 92% support freedom of speech. However, the survey shows many millennials incorrectly associate government restrictions with the upholding of those rights.

The Support for Freedom Index survey polled 806 respondents nationwide to measure how much government intrusion they would accept. Millennials believe that more government is necessary to protect freedoms, but also that government should be more involved in safeguarding liberties than guaranteeing security:

Almost 6 out of 10 millennials would choose liberty (60%) over security (40%) as opposed to individuals age 55-64 who are evenly split in their support for security (49%) and liberty (51%).

Millennials on both the left and the right showed similar preferences for liberty over security — but differed on what that entails. Republicans and conservatives scored highest in overall support of freedom, while Democrats and liberals associated freedom with a more intrusive government.

The survey was commissioned by The Fund for American Studies (TFAS). From its site:

[TFAS] offers transformational programs that teach the principles of limited government, free-market economics and honorable leadership to students and young professionals in America and around the world.

Roger Ream, president of TFAS, offered this statement on the survey results:

The media keeps showing us images of violent protests on college campuses, young Americans being angry and disruptive, but the truth is that millennials support religious and social freedoms more than non-millennials. There’s a vast, silent majority of millennials who embrace these freedoms and those are the young men and women we are seeing in our programs.

However, continued Ream, a large misunderstanding of terms is evident in their answers about government involvement in ensuring liberty:

Also of note are Millennials’ attitudes toward freedom. Millennials, categorized as ages 18-34, have a higher overall support for freedom than their elders 35+. In particular, what is driving their scores is their support for religious and social freedom, at a higher rate than non-Millennials. When looking from the active government perspective only, non-Millennials view the need for an active government in ensuring security more than liberty, while Millennials view the need for an active government in ensuring liberty over security.
A majority of Millennials would support an active over a passive government and liberty over security indicating that Millennials believe an active government ensures liberty. With non-Millennials on the other hand, a majority would support a passive over an active government and liberty over security.
Ream attributes these results to an educational system and a culture that has failed them:
This is due in part to a failure on the part of traditional education to teach economics and the media to explain economics to the average American.
Even Republican millennials gave inconsistent answers. Most strongly support property rights, but a large majority of Republicans and conservatives believe the government should regulate gas and drug prices, and implement tariffs on imports. Ream referred to these answers as “the Trump effect,” implying that President Trump has led right-leaning Millennials to believe such policies are are in fact conservative.
They do seem to sense that natural rights had been infringed during the Obama years, however: almost four times as many feel less free than they did ten years ago (38%-11%).