Reason-Rupe Public Opinion Survey

The Millennials: The Politically Unclaimed Generation

They have the potential to become the most socially tolerant, fiscally responsible generation in the nation's history.


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A new Reason-Rupe survey and report of millennials, Americans ages 18-29, find this cohort may be more difficult to politically pigeonhole than previously thought.


Despite record-breaking Democratic presidential voting among 18- to 29-year-olds in the past few elections, millennials are no more Democratic (43 percent) than Americans over 30 (49 percent). Instead, they are three times as likely to say they are independent (34 percent) and half as likely to be Republican (23 percent).

Millennials have little confidence in either of the major political parties, particularly when it comes to privacy, spending, the deficit, and drug policy. In fact, 28 percent of millennials trust "neither" party across all 15 policy issues surveyed.

Nevertheless, the GOP's hardline on divisive social issues has distanced the most socially tolerant generation in history. Two-thirds (67 percent) of millennials favor legalizing same-sex marriage—including a majority (54 percent) of Republican millennials. In addition 57 percent support legalizing marijuana. By comparison, Democrats appear to be the better of two bad options.

Perhaps one reason millennials aren't more Democratic is that they aren't simply liberal, but are social liberals and fiscal centrists. They see themselves as similar to President Barack Obama on social issues, but actually closer to Republican Gov. Chris Christie on economics. 

A majority (53%) of millennials say they would support a candidate who is both socially liberal and fiscally conservative. In fact, liberal and Democratic millennials are the most supportive. For instance, liberal millennials are 20 points more likely than conservative millennials to favor a libertarian-leaning candidate.

These results indicate that social issues largely define millennials' political judgments. Indeed, when we asked liberal millennials to describe why they are liberal, only a third mentioned economics. Instead, two-thirds said social tolerance is central to their political identities.

Millennials don't conform to traditional political stereotypes. This generation is pro-business and pro-government. They are free marketeers and a majority (55 percent) say they would like to start their own business one day. They believe in self-determination and that hard work pays off (58 percent). They like profit (64 percent) and competition (70 percent) and strongly prefer a free market economy over one managed by the government (64 percent to 32 percent). Moreover, when asked to choose, millennials opt for meritocracy (57 percent) over a society with little income equality (40 percent).

At the same time, millennials came of a politically impressionable age during or in the wake of the Great Recession. And the ensuing sluggish economy has left a third of millennials under- or unemployed and a third living at home with their parents. As corporate profits soar and millennials' job prospects remain uncertain, they aren't sure if free markets (37 percent) or government services (36 percent) better drive income mobility.

This uncertainty over what promotes opportunity has likely bolstered their support for increased government action. A plurality (48 percent) say there is more government should be doing, while older Americans want government to do less. Millennials favor increased social spending (58 percent), and guaranteeing housing (74 percent), income (68 percent), health insurance (69 percent), and even college (54 percent) to society's least advantaged.

Nevertheless, millennials recognize government comes with its own problems. Two-thirds (66 percent) think government is inefficient and wasteful (up from 42 percent in 2009). They also see the potential for regulatory capture, 63 percent say regulators favor special interests over the public when writing and enforcing regulations. Moreover, 58 percent say government agencies generally abuse their power.

The survey also finds support for activist government declines as millennials make more money and become responsible for paying for things. Here are a few examples:

  1. When tax rates are not explicit, 54 percent say they prefer a "larger government providing more services." But, support flips once taxes are mentioned. If large government requires high taxes, then 57 percent instead favor a "smaller government, providing fewer services, with low taxes."
  2. As millennials roll off their parents' health insurance plans and begin paying for their own policies, they begin to solidly oppose the idea of paying higher premiums to provide for the uninsured. Millennials who pay for their health insurance oppose paying more to subsidize coverage to the uninsured (39 percent favor to 59 percent oppose), but millennials whose parents' pay favor increased premiums (57 percent favor to 42 percent oppose).
  3. As millennials make more money (and pay more in taxes) their support for government social spending and redistribution steadily declines. For instance, a majority of those making less than $20,000 annually support income redistribution (53 percent to 39 percent), but support flips and majority oppose once millennials make more than $40,000 a year (42 percent to 54 percent).

As millennials find employment, get promoted, make more money, pay higher taxes, and take on additional responsibilities, we find their support for activist government declines.

While millennials have ambivalent economics views, it is clear they don't like to be nannied. They opt for personal choice over government regulation across a number of activities and products governments have banned or have sought to ban.

Six in 10 millennials favor legalizing online gambling and favor allowing people to use e-cigarettes in public places, view adult pornography online, and eat trans fats. Two-thirds also think people should be allowed to buy traditional incandescent light bulbs and grocery stores ought to be allowed to offer plastic bags at checkout. Despite New York City's effort to ban the sale of large sugary drinks in restaurants and theaters, three-fourths of millennials say people should be allowed to buy them.

A majority (52 percent) of millennials (and not just college students) also think it's time to lower the legal drinking age. In fact a quarter think we should simply eliminate a legal drinking age.

In sum, millennials' unique combination of values and beliefs is the reason this generation remains politically unclaimed. Their attitudes also signal the potential for them to become the most socially tolerant, fiscally responsible generation in the nation's history. They value individual autonomy and see themselves as socially liberal but not economically liberal. While there is little reason to expect them to become less supportive of gay rights as they age, we already observe them becoming more fiscally conservative as they age, make more money, and take on more responsibilities. Moreover, they endorse the values of hard work, self-determination, and competition that underpin free market capitalism.

Young Republicans are already exhibiting a shift toward social liberalism while remaining fiscally conservative, demonstrating a libertarian trend on the right. Young Democrats are highly supportive of a potential candidate who is both socially liberal and fiscally conservative, also signaling openness to non-traditional candidates on the left. Overall, these trends suggest that millennials are up for grabs and that both political parties, particularly Republicans, will need to move toward greater fiscal responsibility and social tolerance to remain competitive among this cohort.

To learn more about millennials, check out Reason-Rupe's new report.

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  1. Do I smell a pollvalanche coming on?

    Millennials will vote based on the most superficial of criteria, just like everyone else.

    1. The “pollvalanche” was my first thought, too.

    2. Ask millenials whether they would vote for a politician that will give them $50,000 a year, free healthcare (especially abortions!), and perhaps, i dunno, movie ticket? whatever number 3 is, they’ll vote for him 10-1.

    3. If that’s anything like Bruce Valanch I’m getting the fuck out of here.

  2. Do Millenials vote ironically?

    1. Well I did write in Mickey Mouse and Optimus Prime in every election I’ve ever voted in.

      1. So that’s how Michael Maus won the mayoral race.

    2. I write in parties that don’t exist anymore for Canadian elections?

    3. There’s nothing more superficial than voting like you’re too cool for school. Vote school.

    4. I’m a millenial, and I would say yes.

      For instance, in highschool we voted the most socially akward guy we could think of for homecoming king, along with the hottest girl. It was great. It was a 350 lbs guy with a speech impediment.

      1. However I’d still say this poll just shows that these kids are repeating things they say in the media. It’s all over the map, depending on how the question is asked. The dumbing down of our education system is working.

  3. If we replaced Millennials with Americans in this article, the results are probably pretty much the same.

    The survey also finds support for activist government declines as millennials make more money and become responsible for paying for things.

    Isn’t this true for every generation? Surely not all of our individual tax clients are conservative, but all of them are rather unhappy when they hear they have tax due instead of a refund.

    1. How about if you replaced Americans with people?

      Anyway, I agree with your point (if that’s what it is) that any important findings would be those comparing one group’s answers with another group’s.

  4. Unclaimed as in no one wants them?

  5. What is the official name for the generation after the Millennials? We had Generation X and Generation Y, then Millennials. Is Post-Millennials next?


      Maybe I found my own answer. New Silent Generation? :/

    2. World War III generation

    3. I thought Millenials was the new term for (ugh) Generation Y.

      “Gen Y” should’ve never been a term. It makes no sense. A bunch of lazy media pundits were probably responsible for it. At least “Millenials” has a nice ring to it and is distinctive.

      (I’m part of Gen X, by the way, so I don’t have a dog in this fight.)

    4. Is Post Millennnials anything like Sugar Smacks?

      Gotta love a cereal named “smack”.

      1. Like the malt liquor called Crazy Horse.

  6. So millenials, as a group, are no different than any other generation of Americans. The distinguishing characteristic is that we are almost the same size as our parent’s generation, are mostly technologically adept, and got fingerbanged by an economy determined to prop up asset prices.

    But it’s not really that unique of a situation. Millenials will be a sorta-kinda depression generation, but not really because the internet and technology superboosters in the 21st century really soften the blow of any economic armageddon.

    1. The depression generation, now with degrees in Gender Art History and $100,000 in student debt.

      1. That’s not the median though. Those are just the people who whine loud enough to be heard.

    2. So who is the most technologically adept, the generation that built the technology or the ones that use it?

      1. I mean how does SnapChat compare to the Router in the pantheon of invention?

  7. So, as with much of America (and the world), millenials are economic illiterates and cannot think in principles.


    1. Human Sacrifice to make the rains return and the winters end!

      1. The original The Wicker Man is one of my favorite films of all time. The remake with Nic Cage is an abomination.,

    2. Boooosh is bad! Obama’s okay, and The government is here to help us?

      1. No, actually technology and markets are good and creatures evolve. Just stand back and let them.

      2. Don’t lock eyes with it.

  9. The comments here seem to indicate two things to me.

    1) You all are old.

    2) Generation-talky studies are fun and popular but ultimately meaningless. You may as well talk astrology.

    1. old? Why I could pass for 38 all day long.

      1. Behind the mask, who can tell? You could be as old as Pro Lib behind that thing.

    2. 1. Hey, I am 28.

      2. Yes

    3. I could have told you both of those things before reading the comments.


      1. That should be the default alt+text for the alt+text challenged.

    4. 1) I’m old enough to drink but not old enough to retire, what difference does the actual number make?

      2) I want a lawn so I can yell at people to get off of it. I know that has nothing to do with the statement, I just don’t care.

    5. Yeah, I am old-ish. I am proud of it. It is no small feat to have done what I have done, gone where I have been and live to tell about it.

      When you hit 50 we will talk again.

      1. I tell people all the time that I really look forward to my 30s, 40s, 50s. I’m enjoying my present life, for sure, but I think I’ll just keep getting better.

  10. The Millennials have been claimed. By the US Government. They will be slaves their entire lives to repay the debt and unfunded liabilities.

    So will I, but I have fewer years left to live.

    1. Yet we were running a budget surplus in some of their lifetimes.

      1. Tell us again how Obumbles is an ardent defender of the second amendment and how you passed the famed libertarian purity test with a score of 150%.

      2. Crowing about a budget ‘surplus’ while the national debt was still going up is not indicative of a surplus, just an accounting trick.

  11. “despite record-breaking Democratic presidential voting among 18- to 29-year-olds in the past few elections, millennials are no more Democratic (43 percent) than Americans over 30 (49 percent).”

    So they’re not any more Democratic than anyone else, except of course for a tendency to vote Democratic.

    They’ll turn tricks for the Democrats but not kiss them on the lips.

  12. I’m 29 and pretty damn sure that Congress doesn’t give a shit what my generation’s opinion is on anything. The men and women in Congress have proven that they really only care about themselves, then their special interests, and finally their core base when they need to brainwash it further. And because most of their special interest purveyors are most likely baby boomers and older, they scoff at folks my age and younger because we don’t have enough money to be worthy of their time. If you can’t tell already, I’m bitter and disappointed w/ our entire government, and I don’t think I’m going to vote ever again because my vote doesn’t fucking matter anymore because I’m not a plutocrat. Whew. Now I’m done.

    1. Hey, now you’re washing lettuce. Soon you’ll be on fries; then the grill. In a year or two, you’ll make assistant manager, and that’s when the big bucks start rolling in…


      Humor aside, I hate to break it to you, but I’m 46, in the 85 percentile of savers, know some pretty heavy hitters at my state level (borderline national level) pols and they STILL don’t give much of a crap for the opinions of the mundanes such as myself. Politics is a business. It’s a business that has insinuated itself into the abeyance of the use of Force – by us mundanes – Force that we transfer to a mystical “government”. It buys and sells the Power that comes with the commoditization of Force. I work for a small company whose owners are certainly much better off than I am (top 3%), and THEY don’t have much, if any, pull. The government, and the parties, serve themselves first and foremost. Other than a handful of super-wealthy, they don’t give a heap of used-food about anything other than their own insular, ultimately parochial, views.

      So, add another 20 years and $X00,000 to your net worth, and you’re still fodder for the political class.

  13. Saying millenials are unclaimed is absolutely ludicrous. As a 26 year old man, everyone around my age that I know or have met HATES republicans. They might have issues with Obama, but they’re like the knee jerk racist democrats that used to make up the UAW. As soon as they see R in front of a candidates name they projectile vomit and pull the other lever.

    1. Hate bigoted rednecks? You don’t say!

      1. Exactly my point. They have uninformed, knee-jerk reactions and immediately think “bigoted redneck!” “Oh! That guy Mitt Romney is rich! FUCK HIM!!!! I’M VOTING FOR OBAMA.”

        1. John Stewart and the Uncle Sugar edukashun system have brainwashed them to have a ridiculous, cartoonish view of Republicans.

          1. That’s why they’re so confused. They’re like “but we’re the 99%! That’s more than 50! we should win every election!!!!”

    2. I am relatively certain that Millenials will overwhelmingly vote for Democratic candidates for the next 60-80 years until they pass into history.

      That isn’t to say that there might not be a Green or Socialist party that develops to the left of the Democrats that ever younger voters gravitate to. And that the Democrats are soundly the center.

      1. They will vote democrat as long as it means they don’t have to work a real job, they can get knocked up and keep or kill their babies without penalty (if they keep them, they might even get bonus money!), and they can pretend to be saving the planet by not showering or driving a car.

  14. I don’t know, they are for gays but they seem just as likely to vote for gay marriage as to force someone to bake a cake. Each generation seems more likely than the last to separate “I like this” from “I will force this”.

  15. anyone who supports big government but not big taxes does not understand the world

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