Young People

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. Click here for full methodological details. NSON Opinion Strategy conducted the poll's fieldwork. View full methodology.

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  1. I absolutely refuse to acknowledge this survey until the collected data is presented in the form of multi-colored giant words.

    1. Strongly Approve.

  2. To summarize:

    The political idiocy of young Americans can be excused only by their inexperience.

    A suggested edit:

    Young Americans’ view of the role for government is nuanced incoherent.

    1. Just reading the headline, I was going to say that young people’s opinions on virtually anything are useless, because 18 to 29 year olds are dumbasses. I know I was.

    2. More summary: Baby Boomers (55 y.o and up) don’t believe in big government. Except for entitlement programs. Also, they worship the political status quo.

    3. The problem is is that most of them are fresh out of the public school system which is the primary propaganda tool of the government. Its not likely to teach students that government is bad when they, themselves, are employed by the government. The teachers are a part of the system.

  3. Wealthy is making $100,000/year? LOL. Maybe in the midwest. $100,000/year in the northeast is solidly middle class. Kids these days.

    1. According to common wisdom in these parts, $20,000/year for a family of four (US poverty level) is practically the wealth of Solomon.

      1. Actually nearly every single person in this country (world even) leads a better life than Solomon.

      2. How can you be so stupid?


        1. According to Team Blue wisdom, a single person making $200K a year is just as evil as a single person making two hundred million a year.

          1. I’m not interested in assessing people’s inner goodness when making tax policy.

            You guys think that’s all it’s about, then you go on to say virtue=wealth.

            1. Bullshit. You equate accumulated wealth with inner goodness every fucking time you go on your tax-the-rich tirades.

  4. Is this where all my Reason money is going? Asking Gen Y’ers what they think? Because they’re idiots. I could have told you that for free.

    1. Come on, my fellow youth just haven’t been in world long enough to be as bitter as everyone else.

      1. I don’t have time for them to play catch-up. And, when I was your age, I was already hating statist crap at an Old Man level.

        1. I did say fellow youth, I lost any vestige of optimism during the 2008 primaries. I mean look at the two elections I’ve been able to vote in so far: Bush Kerry and Mcain Obama, talk about douches and crap sandwiches. (I know history doesn’t exactly do better)

  5. I think someone needs to do a survey to see how many questions a person can go through before they start to suffer decision fatigue and just start checking random boxes.

    1. Q #562:

      Do you think Hitler to be:

      a.)More evil than Osama Bin Laden
      b.)Less evil than Osama Bin Laden
      c.)Neither, he was a misunderstood genius

      Next day’s headline…


      1. Fuck this thing is long… C, C, C, C, C…

      2. Thank you. I needed that. LOL

  6. This poll is a non-scientific survey and its results cannot be generalized to the overall American 18-29 population.

    Lots a fancy talk about the survey ‘methodology’, but key factors are hidden.

    The survey “Response-Rate” is held secret, although it’s a key indicator of poll reliability.

    Telephone surveys like this one typically have a response-rate under 20% — meaning the pollsters have no clue what 80% of their selected ‘random’ sample actually think. So the pollsters guess that the 20% of people they could actually get a hold of…. have the same views as the remaining 80% that they could not talk to.

    Unscientific & bogus — but most media polls work this way, and yet claim to be valid.

    1. This poll is a non-scientific survey and its results cannot be generalized to the overall American 18-29 population.

      That would be true of a scientific poll as well. Unless your sample size is the whole population any numbers you generate are pure speculation.

      1. I guess that really should read any conclusions you generate.

    2. There’s likely some truth to this. I’ve blown off every phone poll that’s ever reached me so the “you’re not wasting my time with this shit” demographic is definitely missing.

  7. Just as a side note, I have found the millenials I deal with are far more trusting of authority and the people in charge than I ever was. I think peak cynicism was achieved sometime in the late 80s and the children brought up after that are not nearly as cynical and distrustful.

    More fools they.

    1. If you should happen to come across the person who decided that we will call these people “millennials,” would you please strangle him for me?

  8. The funny thing is, the results of this poll still would have been pretty close to the same if it had been taken anytime in the last 40 years.

    One problem with making predictions based on the current opinions of young people – young people eventually become old people.

  9. Polls bore me.

    1. It’s cause there is no alt-text.

  10. Hey, we are fucked!

  11. I could’ve come up with these statistics off the top of my head, I don’t need a poll to tell me that 60% of my age group (18-29) are dumber than shit.

  12. The opinions of a high-schooler still living with his parents (18) and a college-educated professional with six years of work experience under his belt (28) should really have separate categories.

  13. I hate my age group. Although they’ve all been brainwashed by college professors into thinking that government is the answer.

  14. We need to retrieve and salvage this word “liberal” from the left and the, so called, progressives. I am certainly very liberal and I would not remotely call myself a conservative – I have zero in common with Newt and Sarah and the rest of those imbeciles. Isn’t live and let live, essentially, what the word absolutely means??? And isn’t that also the definition of what a libertarian is? Certainly, the left is by no stretch liberal with respect to things they don’t approve of. We let anti-liberty people on both end of the accepted spectrum define the terms of the debate. We let the authoritarian left call themselves liberal and we let the authoritarian right call themselves conservative, which is fine if you think dictating morally is what conservatism consists of. There can never be any honest debate until people put their true cards on the table. You are either for freedom or you are not and those are really the only two sides, the left and the right, but actually being on the authoritarian side.

    1. Honestly, conservatives are far more ‘liberal’ in the sense you want since very few conservatives actually encode their religious practices into law. Have you been forced to participate in Catholic Mass? I think not. We may disagree about certain laws but a politician who practices a religion or even expresses in a public platform is harmless since such actions are not legal binding on anyone. I think this rhetoric of they are imposing morality on us is rather silly when you look at it like that.

  15. “Young Americans Age 18-29 Are Less Critical of Government, Proving Teachers Are Not Doing Their Jobs”

    FIFY’d. No charge.

    1. On second thought… teachers ARE doing their jobs – turning kids into li’l socialists.

  16. will one of your writers please debunk the ridiculous piece at the nation about hayek and social security, please?

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