Reason-Rupe Public Opinion Survey

What Millennials Think Government Should Do


Download the PDF

Reason-Rupe has a new survey and report out on millennials—find the report here.

Millennials Want Government to Do More, But Less So Than in the Past

Several years ago, early optimism for President Obama seemed related to young people's enthusiasm for government action. While millennials remain more supportive of active government than older Americans their confidence in government has waned in recent years. The gap between young and old has narrowed on both the role of government and the perception of government inefficiency.

In 2009, polls revealed that young people were significantly more likely than older generations to say government should "do more" to solve problems.

Aggregating polls over the past few years shows that the share of millennials who wanted government to do more peaked in 2011, reaching about six in 10. Since then, support for more government action has declined among this age group, and the gap between millennials and older Americans has begun to narrow.

Nevertheless, more millennials support greater government action than think government is already too involved. In our survey, 48 percent say government should do more to solve problems, 37 percent say government is doing too many things that would be better left to businesses and individuals, and 15 percent aren't sure.

The survey delved deeper to better understand what millennials want government to be doing more of:

Millennials Want to Increase Spending for the Poor

In contrast to their European peers, American millennials agree government should spend more to help the poor even if it leads to higher taxes. A Demos/IPSOS MORI poll in the United Kingdom found that British millennials were less likely than older cohorts to agree "the government should spend more on welfare for the poor, even if it leads to higher taxes." (Less than 30% agreed). The Reason-Rupe millennial survey found 58 percent of American millennials agree government should "spend more on financial assistance to the poor, even if it leads to higher taxes." Forty-percent of millennials disagree.

Millennials Support Government Guarantees

On a number of specific issues, millennials favor some level of government guarantee to help provide for the least advantaged. Millennials were asked if government should or should not "guarantee" to every citizen enough to eat and a place to sleep, a living wage, health insurance, and a college education.

On each of these issues, a majority says government "definitely" or "generally" should guarantee these goods and services to its citizens. Support is considerably higher for guaranteeing housing and food (74%) than guaranteeing college (54%).

Only a quarter says it is not the government's job to guarantee a place to sleep and food, but nearly double (44%) says government should not have a role in guaranteeing college diplomas. Nearly seven in 10 say government should guarantee health insurance and a living wage.

While support for government guarantees is high, the degree of support varies, with about a third saying government should "definitely" guarantee and 30 to 40 percent saying it should "generally" guarantee housing, health insurance, and a living wage. A quarter says government should "definitely" guarantee a college education while a third says it should "generally" guarantee it.

Millennials Are Divided on Redistribution

Millennials are evenly divided on whether the government should play an active role in closing the widening income gap in this country. Forty-eight percent says it is "not the responsibility of the government to reduce the differences in income between people with high incomes and those with low incomes," while 45 percent says it is government's responsibility.

Millennials are more likely than older Americans to say government should intervene. A national September 2013 Reason-Rupe poll found 65 percent of Americans over 30 thought it was not government's responsibility to reduce income differences, while only 30 percent said it was.

There is reason to believe that support for government redistribution, welfare spending, and government guarantees may recede as millennials age and make more money. Read more about that here.

Millennials Accept Government Regulation of Business, Like Earlier Generations

When it comes to government regulation of business, 46 percent of millennials agree "government regulation of business is necessary to protect the public interest," while 37 percent say "government regulation of business often does more harm than good" and 18 percent aren't sure. These results comport with national surveys that also find millennials are no more likely than older Americans to say government regulation of business is necessary to protect the public interest.24

Education increases the likelihood that a millennial believes government regulation is necessary to protect the public interest. Among those with high school diplomas or less, 40 percent say regulation is necessary, as do 48 percent of those with some college experience, and 53 percent of college graduates.

Millennials' support for business regulation is tempered by their perception that government regulators do not usually act on behalf of the public interest, favoring special interests instead. In fact, 63 percent of millennials say regulators usually act on behalf of special interests rather than the public when they write and enforce regulations.

Millennials Don't Want Government to Promote Traditional Values

Millennials are considerably less supportive than older generations of government promoting traditional values.

Averaging responses to this question across Reason-Rupe surveys from August 2011 to February 2014 finds roughly 47 percent of all Americans think government should promote traditional values. Only 38 percent of millennials agree. Instead, a plurality of millennials (47%) say government should not promote a particular set of values; 15 percent aren't sure.

Education decreases support for government promotion of traditional values among millennials. Of those with high school degrees or less, 41 percent say government should not promote traditional values, but this number increases to 57 percent among those with college degrees.

While millennials support government action, they also think it comes with its own set of problems. They have come to view government as wasteful and inefficient and susceptible to crony capitalism and corruption. Millennials' support for government action also declines as they make more money and become responsible for paying for things.

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