Survey: Millennials Love Big Government?


Millennial Vote/Facebook

Last week Youth Engagement Fund and Project New America released a new survey on millennial ideology. Millennials—roughly defined as those aged 18 to 33—are my people. I tend to stick up for us. I tend to take heart in this generation's support for marriage equality and ending the drug war, among other things…

But holy geez Gen Y, this is a poor showing. On measures from "creating jobs" to "making college affordable" to "protecting the rights of women," millennials overwhelmingly said they favored greater government involvement. And when asked whether they would rather have government "off their backs" or "on their side," 59 percent of millennials voted for friendly paternalism. 

For the survey, Harstad Strategic Research polled more than 2,000 18- to 31-year-olds in March and April 2014. Of course, it should be noted that Youth Engagement Fund, Project New America, and Harstad are all progressive organizations. Maybe there's some subtle linguistic bias driving these results? One can hope. [It should perhaps also be noted that polling was conducted online.] 

Harstad Strategic Research
Harstad Strategic Research
Harstad Strategic Research

Harvard University's Institute of Politics and Pew Research Center have also recently released surveys on Gen Y political attitudes. While some broad similarities can be seen among these, "it is not easy to make direct comparisons across polls (most obviously, because of differently worded questions and other methodological issues)," as John Tierney notes at The Atlantic

All three polls showed more millennials aligned with Democrats than Republicans. But they also showed relatively large subsets of political independents—50 percent in the Pew survey, 38 percent in Harvard's survey, and 19 percent in this latest survey. And while this one undeniably detects a strong big government, progressive streak in young people, Harvard's research may paint a decidedly more libertarian picture. From Casey Given at The Hill

"Regarding fiscal discipline, Harvard's November 2013 survey reported 58 percent support for reducing food stamps to 2008 levels and limiting the program's growth to the rate of inflation. The same survey also showed strong support of reducing military expenditures, with 51 percent approval of decreasing the Navy fleet to 230 ships and 70 percent of lowering the nuclear arsenal to 1,5000 warheads. Regarding social tolerance, Harvard's April survey reports 66 percent support of legalizing marijuana for medical purposes and 61 percent responding that 'a friend's sexual orientation is not important to me.'"

Writing in The Washington Post yesterday, British political scientists Anja Neundorf and Kaat Smets cautioned against reading too much into any of these millennial surveys, noting "the importance of distinguishing between the effects of aging and the effects of belonging to a certain cohort or generation when predicting political attitudes and behaviors over the lifespan." A series of articles in the latest issue of the journal Electoral Studies, co-edited by Neundorf, looks at the impact of aging and generational cohorts on voting behavior.