Millennials on the move

Obama for America

Article Highlights

  • Young people often lead change, and two new surveys provide some clues as to where that change is headed

    Tweet This

  • While a solid majority of millennials, 57%, currently approve of the job Obama is doing, 73% approved in February '09

    Tweet This

  • Demographically the millennials are distinct. They are more racially diverse than in the past

    Tweet This

Young people often lead change, and two new surveys provide some clues as to where that change is headed.

Last week the Pew Research Center released its new report on "millennials," who the survey defined as 18- to 29-year-olds. At 50 million strong, the group is larger than the boomer generation, so we can expect its members, as they age, to exert disproportionate influence on everything from politics to fashion.

"The president's ratings on handling the economy have dropped 22 percentage points among millennials since April 2009." --Karlyn Bowman

Barack Obama did extraordinarily well among millennials in 2008: 62% of 18- to 29-year-olds voted for him vs. only 32% for John McCain. The way you cast your first vote can anchor you as you age, and Obama's big margin suggested he had an opportunity to cement a generational allegiance to the Democratic Party, like Franklin Roosevelt before him. Those who came of age politically during the Roosevelt era became wedded to the Democratic Party and carried their Democratic identification with them as they got older.

Interestingly, 18- to 29-year-olds are the only age group to give the president majority support today.

The evidence a year after the election, however, isn't as promising for the president. While a solid majority of millennials, 57%, currently approve of the job Obama is doing as president, a whopping 73% gave their approval in February 2009. (Interestingly, 18- to 29-year-olds are the only age group to give the president majority support today.) The president's ratings on handling the economy have dropped 22 percentage points among millennials since April 2009 (from 66% to 44% in January 2010) and 17 points on handling health care (from 63% to 46%).

Fifty-four percent of millennials identified themselves as Democrats (and 40% as Republicans) in Pew's fourth-quarter 2009 data, but the Democrats' advantage was much larger a year earlier. Not only are the president's marks lower, but the early enthusiasm young people showed for him didn't carry over to Democrats in the Virginia and New Jersey gubernatorial elections in 2008 nor in the Massachusetts Senate election this year. In fairness to Obama and the Democrats, millennials are hardly warming to the Republicans. When asked how they will vote this fall, 37% of millennials say they will vote for a Republican and 51% for a Democrat.

Demographically the millennials are distinct. They are more racially diverse than in the past. Today 61% are white, 20% Hispanic, 14% black and 5% Asian; in 1972 the age cohort was 90% white. Millennials are more accepting of interracial dating and interracial marriage than older groups. They are also more supportive of immigration and less likely to worry about assimilation.

Although they express more liberal attitudes than older people on most social issues, they split pretty evenly on ideological identification: 32% call themselves moderates, 29% liberals and 29% conservatives. This should raise some questions about their possible long-term allegiance to the Democratic Party.

Furthermore millennials display some conservative family values. Nineteen percent of in Pew's survey said they grew up in divorced homes. Most of their mothers work outside the home. Their life experiences may explain why they place strong emphasis on having good marriages and being good parents. These conservative values seem to have extended to the younger generation as well: A survey for the Girl Scouts done by Harris Interactive suggests teens and tweens are less likely than 20 years ago to think smoking is OK (27% in 1989, 18% now), more likely to say they will wait until marriage to have sex (24% to 33% now) and more likely to say they would refuse a drink at a party (36% to 58% now). However, like their older brothers and sisters in the millennial survey, they value diversity and accept homosexuality.

The millennials are somewhat more pessimistic than other age groups about where they are financially today. That's hardly surprising. They are at the bottom of the ladder and just starting out. But they are very optimistic about their prospects. Two-thirds told Gallup in a 2003 survey that they would be rich.

And, as all of us know, they are tech-savvy. Eighty-three percent in the Pew poll say they sleep with their cellphones or keep them nearby at night. As for fashion, 38% sport tattoos, but of that group, 72% say the tattoos are hidden.

Karlyn Bowman is a senior fellow at AEI.

Also Visit
AEIdeas Blog The American Magazine
About the Author

 

Karlyn
Bowman
  • Karlyn Bowman compiles and analyzes American public opinion using available polling data on a variety of subjects, including the economy, taxes, the state of workers in America, environment and global warming, attitudes about homosexuality and gay marriage, NAFTA and free trade, the war in Iraq, and women's attitudes. In addition, Ms. Bowman has studied and spoken about the evolution of American politics because of key demographic and geographic changes. She has often lectured on the role of think tanks in the United States and writes a weekly column for Forbes.com.
  • Phone: 2028625910
    Email: kbowman@aei.org
  • Assistant Info

    Name: Andrew Rugg
    Phone: 2028625917
    Email: andrew.rugg@aei.org

What's new on AEI

image Getting it right: US national security policy and al Qaeda since 2011
image Net neutrality rundown: What the NPRM means for you
image The Schuette decision
image Snatching failure from victory in Afghanistan
AEI on Facebook
Events Calendar
  • 21
    MON
  • 22
    TUE
  • 23
    WED
  • 24
    THU
  • 25
    FRI
Wednesday, April 23, 2014 | 12:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.
Graduation day: How dads’ involvement impacts higher education success

Join a diverse group of panelists — including sociologists, education experts, and students — for a discussion of how public policy and culture can help families lay a firmer foundation for their children’s educational success, and of how the effects of paternal involvement vary by socioeconomic background.

Thursday, April 24, 2014 | 12:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.
Getting it right: A better strategy to defeat al Qaeda

This event will coincide with the release of a new report by AEI’s Mary Habeck, which analyzes why current national security policy is failing to stop the advancement of al Qaeda and its affiliates and what the US can do to develop a successful strategy to defeat this enemy.

Event Registration is Closed
Friday, April 25, 2014 | 9:15 a.m. – 1:15 p.m.
Obamacare’s rocky start and uncertain future

During this event, experts with many different views on the ACA will offer their predictions for the future.   

Event Registration is Closed
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.