Millennials Are Social Liberals, Fiscal Centrists


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

Millennials aren't liberals; they are social liberals and fiscal centrists. And it's largely social issues driving the distance between millennials and Republicans.

Traditional ideological labels don't allow millennials to distinguish their positions on social tolerance from those on economics. But when given the opportunity, millennials do distinguish between the two.

Fully 62 percent of millennials identify as liberal on social issues. While considerably less—49 percent—indicate they are liberal on economic issues. In other words, the average millennial is a social liberal and a fiscal centrist.

Millennials Agree More with Obama on Social Issues than Economics

Interestingly, millennials see themselves as closer to President Obama on social issues, but not so much on economic issues. (Find more in-depth graphics here). When millennials indicate how they perceive President Obama's positions on economic issues alone, they see him as considerably further left than themselves. But on social issues, they see the President as having more similar views to their own.

The survey also asked millennials to indicate where they saw former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's positions on both economics and social issues respectively, as well as Gov. Chris Christie, Sen. Rand Paul, and the Republicans in Congress.

Millennials actually see themselves as closer to Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, on economic issues, but closer to Hillary Clinton, a Democrat, on social issues. (Even still, they are likely voting for Clinton).

Social Issues Driving the Distance Between Millennials and Republicans

Young Americans also perceive themselves as right in between (equidistant) Hillary Clinton and Sen. Rand Paul, a Republican, on economics, but closer to Clinton on social issues. They feel furthest from Republicans in Congress on both social and economic issues, but primarily social.

Overall, millennials are indeed closer to Democrats than Republicans, but social issues are driving this distance. If only economics divided the political parties, millennials would find themselves right in the middle. However, factoring in their social issue positions, millennials move into the Democratic camp. It may be that social issues explain why millennials have increasingly abandoned the GOP in presidential elections since 2004 (see Pew's chart here).

This can be demonstrated using the following chart that plots where each millennial respondent saw themselves on social issues (horizontal axis) and economic issues (vertical axis) respectively. (kdensity plots found here).

(The chart above is somewhat analogous to a Nolan Chart that divides and then plots public opinion on a two-dimensional chart representing preferences for both economic and personal freedoms.)

Mapping millennials' ideological preferences demonstrates several things:

  • First, millennials don't fall into the traditional left-right mold of American politics. A considerable number see themselves as socially liberal and economically conservative (17%) and some as socially conservative and economically liberal (6%).
  • Second, the millennials' center of gravity is socially liberal and fiscally centrist.
  • Third, social tolerance issues, not economics, are primarily driving the distance between millennials and Republicans.

A cluster analysis which finds natural groups of respondents found the following: The largest group was of social liberals who were moderately liberal on economic issues (Grey-28%), followed by left liberals (Blue-18%), centrists (Purple-17%), right conservatives (Pink-14%), libertarians (Green-12%), social conservatives who were moderately conservative on economic issues (Magenta-8%), and communitarians (Orange-4%).

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