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JANUARY 17, 2012 9:06AM

The 3 Reasons All Young Adults Are Liberal

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Last month, I wrote a fairly innocuous piece on this very blog. To say the least, I was surprised by the waterfall-velocity at which comments flooded the article. At first, I was determined to respond to all of them, but soon gave up. What was the point of responding to a comment if I had to write something that was as long – and took as long – as an actual blog post?

As I pondered the deluge, one sentiment from conservatives struck me: that I was too young to understand the wisdom of conservative ideology. As if my neocortex needs to evolve for another ten years, until finally developing that Personal Responsibility Radar that seems to be a byproduct of age.

 As if, given the fact I haven't paid too much in taxes makes me unqualified to speculate about how our country spends the money. I understand, and sympathize with some of the more burnished conservative talking points. Yes, government could be doing a better job. But could private sector companies be doing a better job than the government? Sure, if you want those jobs done overseas. After all, that was the corporate solution to the Great Recession. And how are the workers at Foxconn? 

More like job craters, eh? Hahaha. 


Also: I'm perpetually amused by the assumption that every millionaire or billionaire is Bill Gates or Thomas J. Watson, instead of a swarm of celebrities, musicians, athletes, overly compensated, tax-evading CEOs, and investment bankers who do very little, in fact, to bolster the national economy.

Additioanlly, I noticed that one of the responses of my article pointed out that 53%, the percentage of Americans found to be support gay marriage, is hardly a majority. Ironic, given that this was the number that won one Barack Obama the presidency. This brings me to the first reason that young adults are liberal:

1. Holy Crap, We Don't Care About Social Issues.

  • A survey of more than 30,000 people found that more than a quarter of millennials (Americans born after 1980) profess no religious affiliation

  • A poll of evangelicals age 18-29 found that 44% support gay marriage. Another showed that 65% of Americans 18-29 support gay marriage.

  • Our more diverse demographic – 18.5% Hispanic, 14.2% black, 4.3% Asian, 59.8% white (record-low) makes us more likely to support immigration 

I think that people often envision sign-touting masses when they hear that young adults “support” something. That's not the case. In fact, I would argue that for a lot of us, “support” is synonymous with “Really? We're wasting our time debating that?” That's why moments like this stun us and manufactured debates about things like “Don't Ask, Don't Tell” utterly befuddle us. Really? Are Church and State actually separated or... what? More importantly, are we really arguing about whether an openly gay soldier has the right to die for the United States of America?

The Republicans, forced to bend to the rumblings of a very active part of their constituency, have had to cater to these issues. In effect, that pushes away millennials who are looking for the issues that concern them: higher education and finding a job.

2. We Don't Deify Capitalism

Almost everyone in our age group knows someone who is unemployed. Not because that person is lazy, but because the lowest percentage of Americans age 16 to 29 are employed since World War II, with 55% of young adults employed. If we dwell on the fact that many of those jobs are not careers, and many of those are part-time, the picture gets bleaker.

We haven't had the time, nor reason, to develop the near-ubiquitous attitude of conservative Americans: “Well, things worked out for me. Why wouldn't they work out for everyone?”

I'm going to avoid citing various facts about how students are crushed by loans that were sold to us through brochures about high-priced colleges and unemployable career prospects fed to us by go-lucky culture that raised us in a fantasy world fueled by the belief that, if you just did what you loved, things would work out.

The fact is, at this point, a lot of us know that we should have majored in something differently. Or tried to somehow afford a college degree. A lot of people argue that we should have known that all along. On behalf of my generation, I extend our deepest apologies for being idealists in our adolescence and majoring in things capitalism doesn't like, such as education, social services, and environmental studies.

We saw parents struggle with unemployment after years of working up a ladder. We saw the friends of parents devastated by the loss of a job, a home, and health insurance, all the while struggling to pay for exorbitant college tuition fees outpacing inflation by 500% and taking care of younger kids at home. In part, this experience could explain why 47 percent of millennials have a negative view of capitalism.

We don't equate self-worth with net worth, because we know so many people who have worked so hard and gotten so little, and so many with so much that have given so little. Millennials know that our grasp on a reliable income is very tenuous and very precious. This doesn't mean we won't keep trying to find a way into the system, it just means that we're distrustful of the system itself: after all, 70% of millennials plan on changing jobs when the economy improves.

3. This Guy 


I was listening to a song a few weeks ago and a verse came on that said, roughly, “And poor kids are dying for billionaire's profits.” I actually sighed. “This again?” I thought. That's when it dawned on me: we actually live in a time where the exploitation of American lives for corporate revenue is a cliché.

If you want to know why my generation seems recklessly liberal, take a look at the president under whom we became (somewhat) politically cognizant. George W. Bush was an embarrassment to the country at best, and ran it into the ground at the very worst. Here are some facts that are generally taken to be common knowledge at this point:

  • The Iraq war was fueled by a lie

  • There is convincing evidence that George W. Bush stole both the 2000 and 2004 election

  • Halliburton, of which Dick Cheney was CEO before becoming Vice President, profited immensely from the deaths of thousands of Americans, and tens of thousands of Iraqis, through no-bid construction contracts that have been acknowledged as a source of billions of dollars in losses

  • No central figure from the Bush administration was so much as slapped on the wrist 

I love it when Republicans accuse Democrats of lingering on the Bush administration. That's because the Bush Administration was unequivocally the worst administration in the history of our country and embodied many of the values still espoused by Republicans.

Oh wait, except this new batch of Republicans will be more fiscally conscious by cutting unnecessary social support services like welfare, education, and unemployment benefits rather than end the Bush tax cuts, a move thought to be a one-stop solution for keeping debt at manageable levels. You know, since austerity measures have worked so amazingly well for economies overseas, and garnered so much public support.

But I digress. Back to Bush.

No one has done so much damage to America's reputation in so little time, both domestically and internationally. No one has set such a dangerous precedent for foreign policy.

Yes, you can point to individual incidents, most of which elicit a very blasé and unapologetic attitude from Americans: from the wholesale slaughter of Nicaraguans under the careful eye of Reagan to the Watergate scandal to the Gulf of Tonkin incident to the Cuban Missile Crisis to the CIA-led coup of the democratically elected government of Iran to the sinking of USS Maine to Polk's intentional machinations to start the Mexican War to the Trail of Tears, but nothing really compares to the years of 2000-2008.

With the creation of The Department of Homeland Security (blighted by political appointees), the passing of the Patriot Act, the national endorsement of torture as an interrogation strategy, the flexing of the term “terrorist” and “unlawful combatant” in a conflict of our own invention, the internationally recognized torture camp at Guantanamo Bay (known to frequently house innocent victims indefinitely), George W. Bush established a systemic abuse of power that has since become the public and acknowledged foreign policy of the United States. As opposed to previously, when our abuse of power was more subtle.

Note: I'm aware that President Obama (or at least his administration) has been an advocate for new & improved torture camps (Bagram) and a huge fan of killing civilians with drones. I'm not even going to talk about the administration's pick-and-choose foreign policies when it comes to Egypt, North Korea, Iran, Yemen, Libya, and Syria.

Fortunately for Obama's election prospects, Republicans have proven to be even more belligerent. And, since everyone in Washington seems to agree that the remote killing of Pakistanis in the hopes that one or two terrorists with no capability whatsoever of attacking the United States is the right thing to do, the determined shouldering of war down a very slippery slope hasn't become a campaign issue.

Instead, we get to focus on whether Obama loves America and whether corporations make enough money to stay here.

I take a little comfort in the fact that Mitt Romney is at least intelligent (can you imagine two intelligent presidential candidates in a debate? Can anyone tell me the last time that happened?).

I know Romney is just lying his way to the general election, like any pragmatic candidate. I'm eager to see what new economic platforms he advocates, but I'm not holding my breath.

Yes, I Guess We Could

 In the end, millennials are going to stick with Obama. After all, he gave us health insurance until age 26, which is great, since half of us are unemployed and, wow, the policy actually makes financial sense.

Most of us are blissfully unaware that one bargaining chip in the budget ceiling debate was that anyone in graduate school has the privilege of accruing interest on their loans while still studying. But I rest assured that, since the debate was the Republican's fault, we can say that this anti-education policy was their fault, too.

The big risk is that the “Yes We Can!” marketing campaign deployed so successfully by Obama in 2008 will sag to the heaving sigh of “Yes, I Guess We Could, But Do We Have To?”

As millennials mature, we're learning that education and jobs and capitalism and presidents and life are presented to us much differently than they are in reality.

That's a general evolution in the early twenties, granted, but, again, I just don't see the Republicans appealing to my generation by fervently maintaining the same tired Bushisms of the past and hoping no one notices. Honestly, why are all young adults “liberal?” Because there's no real conservatism anymore. We're not old enough to remember any kind of Republican other than Bush. What are we supposed to think?

Like any generation before us, millennials have been defined by a series of landmark events: experiencing 9/11 as a preteen or teen, the colorful and diverse corruption and murderous deceit exposed throughout the Bush administration, the Glenn Beck Show's fomenting of political paranoia and unimaginable partisanship, the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, the burgeoning global powers overseas, the advent of the internet, the availability of thought leadership channels like MSNBC, Huffington Post, Fox News, and NewsMax rather than journalism and intelligent, measured debate.

We are 80 million Americans who will be defining politics for decades to come and we've grown up in a world where politics has become increasingly harder to define. Whatever it is, it's apparently not a system of thoughtful leaders seeking compromise for the betterment of all. 

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Well said. I couldn't agree more.
It's always the same reply from Boomer conservatives. "when you're older you'll get it", "when you start making money you'll become conservative".
They seem incapable of understanding that times have changed and that jobs and opportunity doesn't come as easily for our generation as it did for them. The days of walking into a factory or plant or what-have-you and rising to the point of earning $15-25 an hour with twenty+ years of job security, benefits, retirement- those days are over.
Now the standard benefits they enjoyed as part of their compensation are undeserved perks too much to ask of employers by our generation. We should be expected to earn less and be charged more for everything. We will never be offered retirement, only the few lucky ones will be offered insurance. We are expected to take less in compensation and stretch it further. And if it doesnt stretch its clearly our "materialistic spoiled nature".
I always get surprised when they feign shock and ponder "Where did your generation get their values?" it always reminds of an old anti-drug ad where a father asks his kid 'who taught you to do this stuff' . The kid yells back 'you alright, I learned it by watching you!'
They told us we had to go to college cause it would guarantee us a job, they told us we had to buy a house cause 'its how grownups build equity'.
And when the 99% took to the streets to protest the well known fact that the game was rigged, they called them parasites and layabouts and spoiled kids who knew nothing of work. But when their generation took to town halls with guns are their shoulders preaching revolution against the govt, a phenomenon that only gained mass appeal when a black guy was president, they called them patriots.
As you noted they were silent Bush created the largest expansion of big brother govt in the Patriot Act, they were supportive of the torture and the spying programs and indefinite imprisonment.
But when Obama tried to give everyone health insurance, well that was the last draw. Somehow THAT became the intolerable over reaching hand of government.
And they wonder what WE are thinking.
Real Long but great work!!
Oh hell yeah. Growing up during the Bush years definitely permanently soured my views on conservatives. The damage is undoable.
"That's because the Bush Administration was unequivocally the worst administration in the history of our country and embodied many of the values still espoused by Republicans."
That's why liberalism is wasted on the young. You weren't around for Nixon.
But then again, now that I'm 60 and went through Nixon...I'd say that it sucks a lot worse today than way back in the ancient history of the 1970's. I thought my generation, by the time we got to the age we are now would be a bit more "charitable" (for lack of a better word) but instead we seem to be more selfish than ever before.
It ain't fun be 60 and unemployed with no retirement.
and what scares "older" liberals like myself is that the lesson of Bush has still not sunk-in, and the likelyhood your generation will walk away from the next election is high. I hope you are speaking for many, otherwise, the rest of us are going to stuck.

conservatives are loyal, liberals by and large are not.
wow! Well-said! I'm not a millennial, but I agree with everything and I feel the same discontentment and frustration with the system. I anticipate with great excitement your generation's contribution to the world.
Yes, but.

Your demographic cohort may lean liberal but all that opinion is for naught if they don't register to vote and then show up on election day.

If 18 to 24 year-olds would vote, the electoral calculus would be very different. But they don't and therefore their concerns are largely ignored.

The corruption of politics by money has been aided and abetted by voter apathy. Numbers at the polls can still outweigh campaign dollars if people bother.
Well, you young whippersnapper, congatulations on a very well written and insightful post.

I am 51 and along with Mr. Blevins above, am unemployed and basically unemployable because my skills have been demanded on the outsourced to another country list.

I have been mostly liberal in my outlook with some conservative values. What I call conservatism, though, the current Republican Party calls Liberal. What I call radical liberal ideas are still radical liberal ideas, but not even the Democratic Party is liberal enough to accept that the ideas are based on historical examples of the failure of many conservative and some other liberal ideas pushed down out throats by "those with more experience" over the last hundred and fifty years.

Simple notes: Progressive taxation works to flatten the financial pyramid and offers the greatest hope to maintain and support necessary infrastructure to allow for job growth, entreprenuerial enterprise and the education to a minimum standard of excellence in our population. These are so such things like: Journalistic Integrity, Business Ethics, Honest and Critical Observation of Facts don't, in point of actual fact die out. Politics are where two or more are gathered in debate where the exchange of competing ideas takes place (hopefully it's not just arguing loudly to win by volume.)

You show me that there's still hope for our country -- along with many other younger people I work around and with to help them realize their dreams of a better life through hard work, ingenuity and determination to succeed.

Hang in there and keep up the high minded posting. You credit your generation, sir.

You are, indeed, a credit to your generation, as the owl said below. Now get out there and pound the pavement on behalf of your causes, so that others will follow where you lead!
[r] blucey, I only got to skim this now but am impressed, save for your troubling surrender to back up Obama. Why not the Green Party or an alternative since you certainly have the skinny on both legacy betraying Parties. That is not wise pragmatism to support Obama or Dem Party, that is NOT thinking -- not quite making it -- outside the real status-quo toxic box imho.

Anyway, I spent a rainy overnight in Zuccotti Park and got to relate to quite a few millennials not long ago and was very very impressed by their spirit, their stamina, their courage and their grace. I noted to a brother the other day that either my age is showing as an incentive or male millennials are hopping up on the subway out of chivalry to surrender their seats more often. In NYC world for a long time this has not been the MO of most younger, not all, of course, males. Sometimes it is the little indicators of a generation's personality, as well as the big ones, like the occupy movement!

But I hope you millennials will not be co-opted by the too cool for school MSNBC-type "pragmatic" Dems. The Dems don't deserve your support. The Dems that didn't push for single payer or expanded medicare for all health-care but decided to go incrementally for the trojan horse public option. The Dems that don't get excited over war crimes as long as Obama is the one committing them.

Following the fullout principle and moral compass is what we need. We need an absolute paradigm shift to humanism of partnership and cooperation, not more gamesmanship bullshit in a patriarchy that plays winner take all, and power and control and might makes right, rather than right making right. my 2-1/2 cents. best, libby
I agree that they're liberal, but they're also very cynical. They believe the Republicans are pure evil, but Obama - a man who inspired a lot of hope in them - has compromised with that evil too much. And as far as third-party candidates or protest votes, they know that under the Electoral College system, they haven't a ghost of a chance.

That bitterness was familiar back in the 1970's, with Nixon and Reagan firmly in control. Ever see the movie The Big Fix with Richard Dreyfuss? He played a small private detective investigating a murder. He ran across everyone who got screwed in the 1960's, from former draft dodgers to black radicals cynical about how white America had shafted them. The murder, by the way, was committed by a rich Republican conservative trying to frame his hippie son, in his continuing undying hatred of him and his politics.

So yes, a lot of young people are liberal, but in terms of doing anything to change the world, they've already laid down and awaiting the Reaper. And they know Reaper has (R) behind his name.
nice to read someone with fire in his belly. good luck: you'll need it! (we all do)
Wonderful post. I'm considerably older than you and tend to agree with everything you've written here. Sadly, however, I know several people your age who are extremely conservative.
Yup. As an also-screwed-over Gen X'er, I support Gen Y'ers wholeheartedly.

Indeed, capitalism -- business as usual, the status quo -- is good only for a certain group of Americans, most of them baby boomers, who have lived and financially thrived in the nation's most prosperous decades (say, the 1950s through the 1990s). As you note, their attitude toward those of us who are young than they for the most part has been, "Things have been GREAT for ME -- what's YOUR problem?"

Indeed, we members of Gen X and Gen Y have had only the baby boomers' crumbs and scraps to feast upon. The obnoxious bumper sticker that I've seen that boasts "I'm Spending My Children's Inheritance" is pretty much the baby boomers' motto. (Fuck, they're taking the polar ice cap along with them, too!)

Finally, there is, I think, another factor that accounts for why Generation Y is more progressive than its forebears: the Internet.

The Internet has freed information like no other technology in our history, and also has enabled disgruntled citizens to communicate with each other -- and to see that they're not alone in how they feel about the status quo and the powers that be.

The boomers, I believe, didn't realize how powerful a political organizing tool the Internet is until it was too late -- which is why the corporations are now trying to stifle free expression on the 'Net. However, my guess is that at this point the toothpaste is out of the tube, and that the Internet cannot be stifled unless totalitarianism is established... And it is our job, of course, to prevent that...
And, this post is a perfect example of why Republicans are trying to disenfranchise young voters. I said to a friend the other day, "How do I begin to tell people why I will not vote for a Republican?" I shall refer them to this post should the question arise.
Thanks for reading, everyone! I wanted to note two things:

1) I didn't mean for this to be a slight against baby boomers, I know everyone generation is still hurting. Just the attitude of some older conservatives.
2) Millennials have tried activism through the Occupy movement. I was at Times Square. People only watched, they didn't listen. A leaderless movement is apparently a good idea, until it comes time to enunciate the needs of the group.
3) A third party system would be very attractive, but the system is so enmeshed that I personally think that the only hope is to keep pushing for liberal candidates - if the Tea Party can make Congress so utterly intractable, then why can't we push in the opposite direction?
4) @baltimore aureole I'm aware that some millennials may be leaning Republican. I think it's an attitude of "Well, we tried this and it didn't work." I've talked this through with some of my friends, who want someone who can "get things done."

Also: this is an opinion piece.

Finally: While the Harvard study you may be citing says millennials believe Obama will lose, it actually found that more millennials will vote for him than any Republcian, and in a match-up against Romney (the most popular candidate) among 18-29-year-olds, Obama would beat Romney by 11 percentage points (37% vs. 26%).


I wasn't basing my opinion on any kind of self-delusion of conceited grandeur, I was basing it on an NPR study that showed millennials favored Obama by 26%, which I linked to several times.


Is there another study you're referring to (maybe)?
A wonderful use of the word "burnished."

And I agree with most of what you said. It's also worth pointing to the recent Pew poll that showed for the first time a majority of young Americans favor socialism over capitalism--it's not hard to find, it was all over the news a few days ago. How they define socialsim, after all the confusing rhetoric about it lately, is another matter. Gallup--probably the best source overall for numbers on virtually anything--has consistently showed Obama beating any Republican challenger among young voters by more than 15 points. But it's worth noting that his support in that group is no longer as great as it once was--he used to score above 60 on overall performance with them--and that the largest drop is among the most liberal, and not the most conservative, millenials.

And I don't know any young person who actually uses the word "millenial." It's a stupid invention of boomer marketers.

And one quibble: more than a million Iraqis have been killed by US actions there and the fallout. One should NEVER use the most conservative numbers on civilians killed in any modern conflict. After all, it's what power wants and, being civilians ourselves, it's not too bright.

As a 48-year old mom of 3 kids in college, I am so relieved to find out that young adults ARE paying attention! I just hope they also show up at election time.
Well-written and right on. As mentioned - but worth repeating - eligible voters your age are least likely to bother to vote. A voice and leadership like yours is necessary to get those folks to the polls, where every vote is going to count more this election (imho) than ever before!
Thanks again for reading -- I'm planning to do what I can to keep up at least a little dialogue about getting out to actually vote. I know that a lot of my demographic tends to... not show up on election day. And God knows Obama has blundered by trying to compromise on most issues, while doing a remarkably poor job of advertising the GOOD things he's done.

Also: I know "millennial" is kind of a rhetorical flourish of the boomers, but I figured we shouldn't escape the nomenclature when "baby boomers" have had to suffer with their nickname for so long. Haha.
I'm 52 and have always been a liberal, and I'll die a liberal.

Having said that, with age one's political views are tempered by experience, which adds a natural sense of caution and an appreciation of how difficult solving problems and building consensus really is. One has more patience, and is less apt to quickly criticize a candidate or leader for not being perfect or fulfilling all my expectations immediately.

I've heard it said that if you are not liberal in your youth, you have no heart, and if not conservative after you turn 40 you have no brain. I've always thought that was an offensive and insulting simplification.

I certainly have no used for doing things the way they've always been done just because that's the way they've always been done. And I'm not obsessed about my taxes, fretting over every percentage point of income that might be taken away for the good of society at large. My freedom is in the freedom of my mind to fill it's hunger for knowledge, and I don't care a wit about legislating someone else's morality. My happiness could only be enhanced by ending hunger and poverty, providing health care for all, and ensuring a free education for everyone.

I guess it's very sad that so many people think it's necessary to lose one's heart and become narrowly preoccupied with one's own self-interests as one ages. But then, those people are conservatives, and they just don't know any better.
But what about the millenials for Ron Paul?
You seem like a smart kid. You live in a different America than the one I grew up in. The idea of a Great Society has been replaced by good enough for the"best" fuk the rest. I think it is sad. We had Wallace in the door and that sawed off Georgia Gov with the axe handle you all get Santorum and Gingrich, no bargain there. Draining wars we will always have with us ? I think the next one will break the bank if Obama gets sucked in with cheap talk of Chamberlain. Read up on the Sicilian Expedition--nothing is sooo new, my friend. But I find more to hope for from your generation and what you have written here makes me more hopeful. You guys may save this country yet but you gotta vote or lose it to guys who think the world is like 6000 years old. (Or will say that to get into office to serve their sponsors.)
Another big reason youngsters are "liberal": They like sex, and don't want to have to raise kids just yet. This pretty much excludes membership in most "serious" religions and implies an approval of the use of contraceptives (unless you are willing to be a total hypocrite).
But what about the millenials for Ron Paul?

That form of libertarianism also holds a certain appeal to the young and unencumbered. I was a libertarian until I became an unemployed diabetic.
I just love to read posts like this where someone is able to articulate exactly my sentiments. BRAVO. Please stay involved and please keep writing. We cannot allow our country to forget or not understand how the policies set in motion by the Bush Administration have set us on our course to financial, emotional and moral ruin. I know that we liberals are accused of having no moral standards. I myself am an athiest/agnostic. However, I understand the golden rule of do unto others as you would have them do unto you and the concept of love for humanity. I have yet to see these ideals in the so-called religious 'right' and conservatives. All I have seen is a hatred the likes I have never seen before...
I'm just going to take a WAG here and say that when you see those billboards featuring "W" asking if you miss him yet, your answer is NO?
Where do you people get all these facts from? Do you have any numbers that show this will lead to unemployment, state debt, and high taxes Do you understand that half of the four "on-demand" forms of energy production you mentioned ARE green? Do you own a business? What type? My guess is you have more common cents than education (pennies)

People think that this is some sort of Bay Area retirement community, which makes since that republican grandma and grandpa vote in these people to make the decisions for us. I understand that we live in a conservative county, but you still live in a liberal state :) Sorry. And as the great circle of life tells us, the old will go, and the young will replace them. FYI the young are liberal. Looking for cheapest auto insurance in Florida?

This is liberalism folks, plain and clear. Grow government, raise taxes, regulate business to death. And yet you blame conservatives for a bad economy.

If "the young are liberal", then may God have mercy on this country.
As I pondered the deluge, one sentiment from conservatives struck me: that I was too young to understand the wisdom of conservative ideology. As if my neocortex needs to evolve for another ten years, until finally developing that Personal Responsibility Radar that seems to be a byproduct of age. Arab