Election 2016

Millennials: Disillusioned, Politically Disengaged, And…Getting More Libertarian!

Majority agrees that "government is not the solution to our problems. Government is the problem."


The big headlines coming out of a new Harvard Institute of Politics poll of millennial voters (ages 18 to 29) have been that almost half believe the "American Dream" is dead. Just 17 percent think the country is heading in the right direction, versus 44 percent who thinks it's going south and another 37 percent who aren't sure.

Those sorts of findings paint a picture of a disillusioned, despondent group but they only scratch the surface of the poll's genuinely comprehensive and interesting look at millennials. There's actually a lot positive news in the findings, especially from a libertarian perspective. Twenty-five percent classified themselves as politically independent (not leaning toward either Republicans or Democrats) and only 9 percent considered themselves "strong Republican" and 17 percent "strong Democrat."

For all the talk about political correctness and continuing racism on campus, 51 percent agreed with the statement "I feel comfortable sharing my political opinions at my college without fear of censorship or negative repercussions." Just 14 percent disagreed, suggesting that campuses are neither the hotbeds of repression or racism that various people seem to believe.

This bit, with its Reaganite undertones, jumped out at me:


As Reason found in its 2014 poll and analysis of millennials, there's not a huge amount of super-tight philosophical consistency throughout the results. Yes, "government is the problem," but at the same time, large numbers of millennials want more government spending on…well, the things that would come their way (education, health care, etc.).

Yet there is a general ethos that's pretty evident, too. Just one in five are politically engaged and relatively few see political affiliation or even political action as the most important part of their lives. And there's this, too:


I can see why either conservatives or liberals might find such answers disquieting. But from a libertarian perspective, it's inspiring to see that younger Americans are skeptical of the efficacy of government action and diktat. This is broadly consistent with the idea that millennials are growing up in a different world than any of us who remember the moon shot or the Cold War did. Theirs is a crypto-libertarian, decentralized, and DIY world in which most people inherently grok that quality-of-life improvements and self-fulfillment are going to come through commercial and voluntary activities rather than old-fashioned politics and top-down programs.

The poll also sketches out millennial attitudes about work as an expressive activity, rather than simply something you do to earn money so you can enjoy yourself during evenings and weekends. Sixty percent agree that "being successful in a high-paying career" is important to them but 58 percent also agree that having a "job or career that benefits society" is important. Fully 85 percent say it's important that having time spend with family and friends is important, so millennials are neither simply careerist or atomized, trustless drones, either (that latter charge was popular a few years back).

Lord knows that every generation is filled with an effectively infinite number of douchebags (trust me, I'm a baby boomer), but it seems to me that millennials are actually a pretty happening bunch. Yes, they're facing a terrible economy (abetted if not fully a function of stupid 21st policies enacted by Republicans and Democrats alike) and an entitlement-funding crisis that threatens to steal every nickel from them.

As Emily Ekins and I wrote back in Reason in 2014, when it comes to ideology, they definitely lean libertarian in many obvious ways but they remain up for grabs. The best thing that libertarians can do is help them understand that the world they want to live in is one characterized by "Free Minds and Free Markets." We've got the right prescriptions regarding the size, scope, and spending of government, especially if you value a world that is dynamic, individualized, innovative, prosperous, and filled with endless opportunites to leave the world better off than you found it.

NEXT: Watch Anthony L. Fisher on Tonight's Stossel, Talking France's Crackdown on Civil Liberties

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  1. The poll also sketches out millennial attitudes about work as an expressive activity, rather than simply something you do to earn money so you can enjoy yourself during evenings and weekends.

    They’ll be disabused of that notion after a few years in the real world.

  2. Millennials: Disillusioned, Politically Disengaged, And…Getting More Libertarian!

    The same generation known for grievance politics and campus speech censorship is getting more libertarian? What a load of horseshit.

    1. It’s almost like “millennials” aren’t a monolithic bloc with a very small set of interests!

    2. In fairness, millennials didn’t invent grievance politics, they were just raised on them.

  3. …51 percent agreed with the statement “I feel comfortable sharing my political opinions at my college without fear of censorship or negative repercussions.”

    They haven’t tried sharing the wrong opinion yet.

    1. This was my first thought. It’s possible that the 51% have mainstream views that jibe well with other millennials.

      For funsies, I’d wonder what it would look like if they segregated (racist!) students by political affiliation.

      Ask College Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, Greens etc

      You know, just for yuks.

    2. A whopping 51 percent?

      1. That’s the other problem with that: only 51% feel comfortable sharing their opinions.

    3. I wrote a paper recently that I definitely expect to lose points on for wrongthink.

      1. Sounds like you didn’t learn a thing.

      2. No, I haven’t. Teacher basically told me I was wrong when he made us submit our proposals. He was rolling his eyes when I had to present the thing despite government officials on record blatantly agreeing with my argument. He also has a habit of cutting me off the few times I bothered to speak to say I was wrong. I felt like bringing articles into class showing my points a few times, but I’m no where near motivated enough for that. I think the more frustrating part is how they think they’re the smartest people in every room.

        1. They’re so sure they’re right, they don’t need to argue it.

        2. I had a history professor like this a couple years ago. A big part of our grade was discussion and at the start he went on a spiel about how he encouraged open debate.

          Needless to say he was full of Shit and would shut down any opinion that didn’t follow the proggie line. He actively encouraged victim hood and pitted students against ea h other based on color and sex.

          I remember trying the whole women make less obey than men on a young girl. She said that it wouldn’t affect her because she was gonna be a teacher. He still tried just at a different angle.

          1. Damn phone.

  4. Where are these libertarian millennials? I’ve met only a scant few in my life and I’m in an age bracket that is often lumped in with those delicate snowflakes. My opinion, millennials must have been born in the 90’s not the 80’s. I do see a cultural shift between those groups.

    1. Well, I wouldn’t expect to meet more libertarian millennials than libertarians of any other generation. Outside of the small handful of people from here that I have met in person, I think I know about 2 people who are more than casual acquaintances who you might call libertarian or an-cap.

      As much as I’d like to believe that everyone could be convinced of my political philosophy, I think a lot probably comes down to a persons particular temperament and I wouldn’t really expect to see a lot more or less libertarians in any generation. Though you might see more or less libertarian-ish views on certain issues come and go.

      1. Most libertarians are in their 40’s.

        1. Political views do tend to change with age as well.

      2. Some research indicates that libertarians are born, not made.

        1. Do they come out of the womb screaming “FUCK OFF SLAVEEEER”?

          Because for some it seems more like a Mugged By Reality situation. Maybe they received first hand exposure to the public sector. Maybe the pigs stole their house. Or shot their dog. Or ruined their own kids’ life and employment prospects with petty drug charges.

          1. I don’t dispute that’s possible. But think of all the people who get fucked by the drug war, asset forfeiture or livelihood ruined that don’t reflexively see the libertarian light.

            As the “born libertarian” argument goes, it takes a certain kind of person to be psychologically inclined towards libertarianism to make such a libertarian awakening within that person possible to begin with. That argument is derived from analyzing the personality types that tend towards libertarianism and further that certain personality types are determined at birth. I don’t necessarily agree with it or disagree with it, but it’s interesting.

            1. Certain people do crave to be ruled. Maybe that’s what sets apart the atheist progs vs atheist libertarians. The progs look to the state to give them benevolent guidance and take care of them. The libertarians would rather be self sufficient and get pissed off when somebody claims to know what’s best for them.

    2. I think technically I am a “millennial” but only just barely (1981). I don’t think I was raised under the same culture as the 1990’s millennials.

      1. I’m ’87 and I notice a remarkable difference in attitudes between myself and someone born in ’90 or ’91.

  5. Most of them don’t get censored in college? I wonder why-maybe they don’t challenge the progressive worldview?

    1. They meant on snapchat.

  6. The problem, like most surveys, is that they’re too open ended. When they say government is the problem, is because government is not doing enough thanks to evil Reagan and Boosh? Are this investments from business and volunteering at the point of a bayonet?

  7. Despising the fat lady at the DMV doesn’t make you a libertarian.

    1. Crusty would

      1. I’m sure he would, but he’d probably at least just hate fuck her. Because everyone despises that fat bitch.

  8. And…Getting More Libertarian!

    Hoo boy…

    1. Inches out of miles is still “more”…

  9. I am not seeing this down here. Maybe Florida millennials are different.

    1. You need to get out of the strip clubs on occasion.

      1. But where else is he supposed to meet loose chicks with low self esteem and daddy issues?

        1. Hey, I’m happily married, guys. To a non-millennial.

  10. “government is the problem,” but at the same time, large numbers of millennials want more government spending on…well, the things that would come their way (education, health care, etc.).

    Hmm, I thought that healthcare spending wouldn’t come their way, being the “young invincibles” that the Obama administration so desperately needed signing up for O-care to offset the geezer costs.

    In fact, isn’t O-Care by definition taking healthcare dollars away from the millennials to redistribute elsewhere?

    1. isn’t O-Care by definition taking healthcare dollars away from the millennials to redistribute elsewhere?

      Yes, but the snowflakes are too stupid to have figured that out yet.

    2. … which any self-respecting lolbertarian should be rankling against… what with their ‘snuh snrr taxes r teh theft QQ’ trope-ish arguments…

  11. Talking about generational cohorts like this is dumb.

    Millennials are probably going to be 5-10% libertarian, just like every other generation is. Also like every generation they will become more conservative as they age and eventually they will wonder what the hell is wrong with this new generation of asshole kids.

    1. As long as they stay off my lawn.

  12. I don’t know, “kids don’t trust government” isn’t much proof. You can draw a lot of “I don’t trust government” answers out of Donald Trump fans amidst their calls for more government to keep the brown people away. Not trusting government was freaking huge among Democrats in the mid-2000s, until they got a government in their image.

    That said, as a 26-year old libertarian I’ll still accept your kudos, we young folks have to take them where we can get ’em nowadays since everyone learned that bashing millennials on the Internet gets a trillion clicks.

    1. Really, most lefties I know will claim to distrust government and politicians generically. They just don’t make the connection.

    2. Lots of people don’t trust government. The problem is that most people still believe that it is possible to construct a government that you can trust.

      1. Just like everyone hates Congress, but 95 percent of Congress gets reelected every other year.

  13. Yes, “government is the problem,” but at the same time, large numbers of millennials want more government spending on…well, the things that would come their way (education, health care, etc.).

    Dennis: How could they do that? That’s insane!

    Dee: I guess it’s either do that or raise our taxes.

    Dennis: What?! Raise my taxes? How much do these vultures need? I already pay a ton in taxes.

    Dee: Then I guess they’re gonna have to shut down more of these places.

    Dennis: What!? We gotta have somewhere to keep our lunatics!

    Dee: Then they’ve gotta raise taxes.

    Dennis: WHAT?! I’m not paying more in taxes, Dee. I won’t do it! Don’t speak of it again!

  14. Going out on a limb here, as this is purely anecdotal and base on my personal experience, but most young people are dumbasses.

    1. That’s probably about right. It’s quite possible that that is just because most people are dumbasses, but I like to think that something is gained with age and experience.

  15. Twenty-five percent classified themselves as politically independent

    That could just as easily be because neither of the main parties are socialist enough as it is because neither are libertarian enough.

    For all the talk about political correctness and continuing racism on campus, 51 percent agreed with the statement “I feel comfortable sharing my political opinions at my college without fear of censorship or negative repercussions.”

    Again, that could be because they’re part of the prog-tard hive mind/ echo chamber and therefore they feel comfortable in their campus “safe space” as opposed to college campuses actually being tolerant places for dissenting viewpoints.

    This bit, with its Reaganite undertones, jumped out at me:

    Even the seemingly “Reaganite” leanings wrt whether or not government is the problem could be interpreted differently. For instance, maybe some of those answering yes feel that government is the problem because of those EVUL OBSTRUKSHUNIST RETHUGLIKKKANZ AND KOCHTOPUSS stopping the good enlightened progressives from solving all of life’s problems or some such horseshit.

    1. I know Nick’s whole schtick is the cool, optimistic, libertarian Fonzie, but I see no reason to be optimistic about the near or long term future. The sooner I can get off this planet and nuke it from orbit on my way out of orbit (it’s the only way to be sure) the better.

      1. My main reason for optimism is that, as long as you maintain some degree of realism too, it doesn’t cost anything and makes life a little more pleasant. Sure, lots of things are headed in terrible directions. But some things get better and you might as well be happy about those things. Might as well make the most of it. I’m pretty sure my pessimism isn’t going to fix the world.

        1. My problem with where Western Liberal Society is going is that when I was much younger, the fear I had for my government was more abstract. Now my fears are more tangible and immediate. Things I used to do as a kid or were done by kids around me and no one gave a second thought to can now land a kid in jail, or the parents of the kid in jail, or shot in the face by an angry cop who’ll keep his job after arbitration.

          And I don’t accept that these things were happening before but we just didn’t hear about them because there was no 24 hr instant news cycle. Yes, I believe that cops have been brutalizing poor and minority populations for a long time– in a broad sense. But I’m talking about specific situations where a teenager who’s pulled over for flashing his lights ends up going home in a body bag. Or a kid that steals his dad’s truck in a family dispute goes home in a body bag. Or a kid that gets mouthy in class gets thrown across the room by a cop.

          1. I’m sure getting murdered or beat up by the cops has been going on for a long time. It may well be more common today than it once was. But it may also be that they could more easily get away with it in the past. I’m not sure what to believe there.
            What is definitely worse is the more common everyday stuff like getting arrested when you are caught with some beer or a little weed or something where once they might have take it and given a stern warning. Or being treated like a terrorist for bringing a knife or a gun to school. Or arresting people for letting kids walk to the park. I think that’s the stuff that is really affecting lots of people’s lives and changing the culture, as maddening as seeing cops keep getting away with murder is.

      2. “Cool, optimistic libertarian fonzie”

        I loled

        1. Although I totes don’t even know what a fonzie is

  16. Millenials, voting Democratic again.

    1. I’m sure they’ll be “ready for Hillary” by next fall.

      1. I’m sure that’s true but I would also bet that quite a few disaffected by the Obama presidency won’t bother to vote at all.

  17. You know who else had very little faith in his government?

    Vladimir Lenin, in 1917.

  18. I personally believe that U.S. Americans are unable to do so because, uh, some, uh, people out there in our nation don’t have maps and, uh, I believe that our education like such as in South Africa and, uh, the Iraq, everywhere like such as, and, I believe that they should, our education over here in the U.S. should help the U.S., uh, or, uh, should help South Africa and should help the Iraq and the Asian Countries, so we will be able to build up our future [for our children].

  19. Majority agrees that “government is not the solution to our problems. Government is the problem.”

    Unless that government has free shit to hand out. Then millienials are #ReadyForBernie.
    Some way, somehow, I just don’t get the impression that my generation is getting more libertarian… at all.

    1. Time will tell. People do tend to shed their lefty idealism as they get older.

      1. I shed it when I started reading about economics. Most people have no interest in the subject, but have strong opinions with economic implications anyway.

      2. I shed my lefty idealism as a child, without having heard of libertarianism or Austrian economics, the logical fallacies alone were enough to see it. It absolutely amazes me that most who are smart enough to abandon leftoid ideologies don’t shed it until their twenties or thirties or older. I guess most people don’t give their opinions much critical thought, not that that prevents them from spreading their opinions around as though they had. For those people, to change their mind they must first be standing at the business end of those lefty policy preferences.

  20. I get the sense that OP REALLY REALLY WANTS the Millennials to be overwhelmingly Lolertarian…

    I admit… I have seen more of them (than, say, Gen X) with their heads stuffed firmly up their own asses… but nothing that would come even remotely close to any form of ‘groundswell’ movement.

    Oh… at the risk of starting ‘something’… lolbertarians and ancaps are right-leaning. Their capitalist mindsets belie any leftist ideologies they might try to espouse. Lolbertarians aren’t ‘liberals’ no matter what mises-dot-org or the Cult of Rothbard tell them.
    They’re the movement of ‘Freedom for me, but not for thee’… and while it seems to mirror that prototypical ‘youth’ mindset, it’s by far from a mainstream ideology.

    1. a good troll doesn’t tell you that he’s a troll with his username

    2. Of course if something is mainstream, then it must be right….right?

      Please give an example of “Freedom for me but not for thee” that you have heard libertarians promote.

      Also, the traditional use of liberal is very capitalistic as it promoted breaking down the barrier to wealth of the underclasses whereas a conservative view would have restricted such a thing and kept wealth in the hand of the aristocrats and nobility.

      Liberal stands for liberty and the freedom to succeed and accrue wealth is a very liberal ideal.

  21. My generation isn’t becoming anti-gov. You’d be a fool to think that. Just because they want legal weed and gay marriage doesn’t mean we are having a coming to light thank god hallelujah moment here.

    Millenials majority support more social spending, are prone to social shaming and campaigning to ruin lives due to wrongthink. They want government to forgive student loans, they want universal healthcare, strong climate change policies, special rights based on gender and sex, etc.

    Their problem with government is that it isn’t doing enough.

    1. Agreed. The cradle to grave mentality is back in full force with the youngest generation wanting mommy and daddy government to make everything fair and right all the time. They will continue to bludgeoned with the reality (or try to deny the reality) that the government isn’t very good at making anything fair or doing anything efficiently.

  22. Politicians promise you a fantasy land, that they can make your life golden by decree, raise your pay, give you free education, free health care, paid retirement, cheap housing, easy credit and protect you from the evils of the greedy businessman. In reality they can do nothing of the sort.

    To give you anything they have to take something from you, do not be fooled when they say they will take it from the rich, the rich get it from you (increased prices), in the end it always comes from you. Politicians point at the rich guy as they pick your pocket. They are selling you an illusion that does more harm than good, because in the process they disrupt the free flow and balance of the market causing unintended consequences.

    Politicians that promise to fix your life by taxing the greedy rich to cover the cost are really the sleaziest of middlemen that are selling you pixie dust while they take their cut, which is power.

  23. Big government is owned by the wealthy and paid for by the middle class and poor one way or another. The tax code is manipulated by the wealthy; cost to comply is paid by consumers through higher prices. It increases lobbyists, corrupts politicians – increases difficulty of entry for competition, which causes less employment opportunities for workers and higher prices.

    Excessive regulation increases cost for consumers, decreases job opportunities, corrupts politicians, increases lobbyists – increases difficulty of entry for competition. National debt: $151,000 cost per household paid by the consumer not the rich, through higher prices or lower standard of living. Federal Reserve: low interest loans for wealthy and connected, by the time it reaches lower rungs – rates higher, prices higher – including CEO pay increasing the inequality gap.

    We have more socialism now than the liberal left’s golden age of the 1950s. We have the FHA, HUD, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, Community Reinvestment Act, Social Security, Medicare, Student Loan Programs, Obamacare/ACA, Snap Program, Earned Income Tax Credit, Unemployment Insurance Program and more. So the theory is false and the opposite is true. Socialism hurts the middle class. Big government equals more income inequality, smaller government equals less income inequality.

  24. The national debt keeps increasing because of deals, aka compromises, between Democrats (social programs and entitlements) and Republicans (corporate welfare and defense). The middle class pays the heaviest burden for the debt; as it goes up, it further increases the inequality gap by lowering their standard of living. National Debt: $18 trillion costs or is financed by each household, who is ultimately responsible for that debt. This comes out to $151,000 per household if paid for in one lump sum. Financed for 15 years at 5% interest it would take a monthly payment of $1186. Do not be fooled each household pays this one way or another, not the rich; whether you pay it directly in taxes and fees, higher prices or by a lower standard of living than you would otherwise have if the government had not spent that money. The question is: Is your household getting its money’s worth?

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