The PJ Tatler

The Millennial Generation: Dazed and Confused

It’s no surprise that younger voters are more liberal.  Currently, the Millennial generation sees no problem with big government, and the entitlement spending that will sink all of our futures.  Sheryl Gay Stolberg penned a column in the New York Times on February 10 about the current crop of younger voters in Montana, and how that’s a microcosm for how young people skew politically overall.  While some might say winning the youth is a lost cause, the game is far from over.

The body of Stolberg’s piece dealt with Forward Montana, which is an advocacy group that seeks to engage young Americans in politics.  She also mentioned how the current economic climate is pushing the youth to support Democrats.  At the same time, Millennials are oblivious to the fact that they’re being screwed over by the politicians they adore.

Billie Loewen and Heather Jurva, editors at the student newspaper, speak of a Depression-era mentality that is pushing their generation to back Democrats. Saddled with student debt, they worry about health care and are terrified that they will not find good jobs. “You might be just one accident away from losing everything,” said Ms. Jurva, who has worked 40 hours a week waiting on tables to put herself through school.

It is no secret that young voters tilt left on social issues like immigration and gay rights. But these students, and dozens of other young people interviewed here last week, give voice to a trend that is surprising pollsters and jangling the nerves of Republicans. On a central philosophical question of the day — the size and scope of the federal government — a clear majority of young people embraces President Obama’s notion that it can be a constructive force, a point he intends to make in his State of the Union address on Tuesday.


Under-30 voters are “the only age group in which a majority said the government should do more to fix problems,” the nonpartisan Pew Research Center reported in November. In a Pew survey a year earlier, more than 8 in 10 said they believed that Social Security and Medicare had been good for the country, and they were especially supportive of seeing the programs overhauled so they would be intact when they retire. (Young people were also more open than their elders to privatizing the programs.)

And while Washington fights about how to cut the federal deficit, young voters believe that it is more important to create jobs, have affordable access to health care and develop “a world-class education system,” according to the Institute of Politics at Harvard… one attendee, Michael Graef, an 18-year-old who started a fitness business rather than attend college, said he rarely thought about the deficit.

Education is top on my list,” he said. “If everybody is better educated, most of the other issues can work themselves out.”

One positive note is that Millennials are open to privatization of entitlement programs.  This could be an area where conservative Republicans can build a base of support if the messaging is executed correctly.  Furthermore, it also shows that Republicans need to better engage young Americans on two areas that are killing our economy: health care and education.

“Issues can[‘t] work themselves out” when you graduate college with student debt that’s the size of a home mortgage loan.  Second, you don’t make health care more affordable by creating another trillion dollar entitlement program – ObamaCare – and force young people into an insurance pool where they would receive services that they aren’t paying for.  There’s still a shift in cost.

Also, older – and sicker – Americans will continue to drive up costs, and force young people to opt out. In both cases, government is responsible for ballooning student loan debt, and the inability to make health care more affordable.

Given Millennials’ passion for education, conservatives should hammer away that since student loans can only be spent on higher education, why shouldn’t colleges drive up tuition?  It’s a guaranteed revenue stream.  Coupled with gift drives – and other forms of fundraising –  the revenue from student loans has incentivized perverse behavior on behalf of colleges and universities.   As Neal McCluskey and Vance Fried of Cato wrote in 2011:

Politicians have enabled schools to charge these skyrocketing rates in the name, ironically, of helping students. Indeed, inflation-adjusted federal aid to students has quadrupled since 1980, going from $35.4 billion to approximately $146.5 billion. Meanwhile, total student debt has leapt ahead of total credit card debt, blowing past the $800 billion mark. In other words, the feds have been blasting helium into the college-cost bubble, enabling profits — which, if driven by undistorted demand, could be good — to balloon at the expense of students and taxpayer

Again, this is all about marketing.  As a young activist at the Conservative Political Action Conference said back in 2012, when Millennials are asked if they would support their parents making their life decisions for them (health care, education, etc) – the reaction is strongly against that sentiment.  We need to frame big government as helicopter parents on steroids, who are suffocating economic opportunity – and are aggressively paternalistic in their approach to governance.  There’s still a window of opportunity to disseminate that message.

baby boomers, who supported big government in their 20s and 30s, have become more conservative over time, the Pew center has found. While today’s young voters are more likely to identify as Democrats than Republicans or independents, their ideas and philosophies are not quite fixed yet, said John Della Volpe, the polling director at Harvard’s Institute of Politics.

This is a right-of-center country. If we can successfully get this point across, Republicans can definitely siphon off enough young voters to maintain Republican competitiveness in national elections.  Nevertheless, Millennials’ liberal disposition on social issues could be a roadblock, albeit a temporary one.

Here in Missoula,[Montana] young people who voted for Mr. Obama last year said in interviews that they would be open to voting Republican, particularly if a candidate supports same-sex marriage. Young Republicans, too, hope their party will shift on that issue.

“The social issues are hard,” said Ashley Nerbovig, a 19-year-old who backed Mr. Romney. “It’s not realistic that you can be against gay marriage and abortion.”

 The power of culture is what drives the bases in both parties.  For my moderate Republican friends, fiscal issues are important, but they aren’t going to cut it with the youth, especially when most of them don’t think about the deficit – or have it listed as a high priority for government action. Nevertheless, it doesn’t mean we should go squishy defending the values of life and the marriage.
Conservatives may need to consider moving away from the more absolutist positions we have on abortion and gay marriage, and allow states to decide these issues.  Adhering to the principle of Federalism isn’t moderation.  It’s remaining faithful to the Madisonian experiment in limited government.
We should fight hard and aggressively to combat pro-abortion and pro-gay marriage initiatives in the states.  However, if the residents vote to permit such activities, like the did in New York in 2011, we need to swallow the defeat, respect the voters in that respective state, learn from our defeat, and move on to the next battlefield.