Young Americans Age 18-29 Are Less Critical of Government, More Open to Entitlement Reform, and More Socially Liberal


According to a recent Reason-Rupe survey, young Americans ages 18-29 are less critical of government, more open to change, more trusting overall, and more socially liberal. 

Young Americans are the only age group in which a majority approves of President Obama's job performance (52 percent approve, 42 disapprove). More young Americans approve of Congress' job performance compared to all other age groups. Nevertheless, congressional approval remains extraordinarily low, even for young Americans at 23 percent.

Interestingly, young Americans are most likely to favor a government spending cap at 86 percent, and a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution at 74 percent. They are also most likely to want to primarily rely on spending cuts (62 percent) to deal with the national debt. They are also the most likely group to favor increasing taxes on the wealthy—with the plurality defining wealthy as those earning $100,000-$249,999 a year.

Young Americans also differ from their older peers on entitlement reform. More than any other age group, they overwhelmingly support allowing workers to opt out of Social Security and Medicare at 64 percent and 65 percent, respectively. This is compared to 41 percent among those 65 and older for Social Security and 44 percent for Medicare. They are also the most open to reducing Social Security and Medicare benefits if recipients are guaranteed to still get what they put into the system, with 73 percent for Social Security and 70 percent for Medicare.

The 38 percent of young Americans who do not expect to receive any Social Security benefits and the 44 percent who do not expect to receive any Medicare benefits may in part explain their openness to reforming these programs.

Interestingly, they are the least likely age group to favor raising the retirement age, with 80 percent opposed. They are the most likely to favor means-testing the programs, but still a clear majority (72 percent) believe that all those who paid into the system should receive Social Security benefits. The same is true for Medicare: They are the most open to means-testing, but still a clear majority, 65 percent, believe all those who paid into the system should receive Medicare benefits.

On security issues, they tend to be the most trusting of government security measures, with 61 percent very or somewhat confident that the Department of Homeland Security would prevent a terrorist attack. Seventy four percent believe the TSA has made air travel safer and 59 percent are confident the TSA would catch a terrorist trying to board an airplane.

Young Americans' view of the role for government is nuanced. Substantially more than any other age group—and also the only group to reach a majority—59 percent believe the government should not promote any particular set of values (compared to government promoting traditional values). A majority of young Americans also believe that regulation of business often does more harm than good. At the same time, majorities also believe there is more the government should be doing and that we need a strong government to handle complex economic problems.

Ideologically, young Americans are most likely to be fiscally and socially liberal at 38 percent, then fiscally conservative and socially liberal at 25 percent, then fiscally liberal and socially conservative at 19 percent, and fiscally and socially conservative at 18 percent.

Young Americans are also the most likely to support a presidential candidate who is economically conservative and socially liberal, with 61 percent support, higher than any other age group. They are also willing to consider voting for a third party presidential candidate in 2012, with 62 percent. They are also the least likely to have determined whether or not to vote for President Obama in the 2012 election, with 42 percent who are undecided but will consider voting for him. Young Americans are also most likely to believe (at 37 percent) that the Tea Party is equally concerned with social issues as well as economic issues.

Click here for full survey results.

Survey Methods

The Reason-Rupe Q3 2011 poll collected a nationally representative sample of 1200 respondents, aged 18 and older from all 50 states and the District of Columbia using live telephone interviews from August 9th-18th 2011. The margin of sampling error for this poll is ± 3 percent. The margin of error for the GOP presidential race numbers is ± 4.79%. Interviews were conducted with respondents using both landline (790) and mobile phones (410). Landline respondents were randomly selected within households based on the adult who had the most recent birthday. Sample was weighted by gender, age, ethnicity, and Census region, based on the most recent US Census data. The sampling frame included landline and mobile phone numbers generated using Random Digit Dialing (RDD) methods and randomly selected numbers from a directory-listed sample. Clickhere for full methodological details. NSON Opinion Strategy conducted the poll's fieldwork. View full methodology.