It should surprise few that most young Americans are either socially liberal or fiscally liberal. Yet it is not clear that a majority is both socially and fiscally liberal. Nevertheless, even fiscally conservative millennials voted Democratic in 2012.
According to a September 2012 poll, 59 percent of young Americans favored legalizing small amounts of marijuana for personal use, compared to 45 percent among Americans over 30. A similar percentage of millennials thought “we need a strong government to handle today’s complex economic problems” while 41 percent believe “people would be better able to handle today’s problems within a free market with less government involvement.” One might quickly conclude that nearly two-thirds of the millennial generation are liberal Democrats, at least on these issues. However, the data reveals a more nuanced story.
Instead, only 28 percent of millennials want to both legalize pot and strengthen government. Instead, 30 percent want to legalize pot and prefer free markets to a strong central government. Another 29 percent of young Americans want a strong central government but don’t want to legalize marijuana. Another way to think of this is that 50 percent of young Americans desiring drug reform also prefer free markets, and half of millennials who prefer strong government also oppose marijuana legalization. Only nine percent preferred free markets and wanted to ban drugs, a sample size too small to deeply evaluate.
These millennial groups vary demographically. Those who gave a fiscally conservative and socially liberal response to the aforementioned questions are slightly above average income for their age cohort and have significantly higher expectations of upward income mobility than their peers. They are also far more likely to not identify with a religion and never attend church, and are the least likely to say they planned to “definitely vote” in the 2012 presidential election.
Most strikingly, a plurality (48 percent) of these fiscally conservative socially liberal millennials planned to vote for Obama, compared to 38 percent who planned to vote for Romney. However, including Gary Johnson as a potential third party candidate left Obama’s numbers fairly unchanged, but brought Romney’s numbers to 29% of these young libertarians as 17 percent said they’d vote for Gary Johnson.
Not surprisingly, 73 percent of liberal millennials said they planned to vote for Obama, as did 58 percent of millennials who prefer a strong government but want to keep pot banned. Thus, young libertarians were less likely to vote for Obama than their peers, but still a clear plurality intended to do so.
Liberal millennials differed from their peers in that they are significantly less likely to expect income mobility for themselves, but had about average income compared to other millennials. In fact, even though communitarian-leaning millennials had significantly lower income they had higher income mobility prospects than liberal millennials.
Obama’s capturing of young fiscal conservatives explains in part how Obama obtained 60 percent of the millennial vote on Election Day. Young Americans opted for Obama over Romney by 23 points. Obama’s success among America’s millennial generation is not entirely due to its liberal constituency, but also its growing libertarian counterpart.