Millennials Signal the Political Future

Commentary

Millennials Signal the Political Future

Are Democrats and Republicans ready to adapt?

A new field poll shows just 45 percent of Californians approve of the job President Barack Obama is doing, the lowest figure during his presidency.

In the 2012 election, millennial voters – Americans 18 to 29 years old – helped propel President Obama to victory over Mitt Romney. Here in California, 71 percent of millennials voted for Obama.

A recent in-depth Reason-Rupe poll, however, finds these millennials don’t conform to preconceived political stereotypes and aren’t traditional liberals – they are social liberals and fiscal centrists.

Reason-Rupe finds millennials hold many of the positions on social issues that you’d expect. For example, millennials think immigrants strengthen American society (69 percent), believe the government should allow same-sex couples to get married (67 percent) and think marijuana should be legal (57 percent).

While they are more likely to agree with Democrats on social issues, millennials chafe at the Democratic Party’s penchant for nanny state regulations. Reason-Rupe finds 74 percent of millennials oppose bans on large sugary drinks in restaurants and theaters; 64 percent are against bans on incandescent light bulbs; 62 percent don’t think plastic bags should be banned at grocery store checkouts; and 60 percent don’t think e-cigarettes should be banned in public places.

And when it comes to economics, most millennials are not your average Occupy Wall Street activists.

The Reason-Rupe study of young Americans finds strong majorities are favorable toward both profit (64 percent) and competition (70 percent). Millennial support for the free market system also trounces support for a government-managed economy, 64 percent percent to 32 percent. A majority of millennials (55 percent) would even like to start their own business one day.

At the same time, millennials do want government to help the disadvantaged.

Seven in 10 millennials say government should guarantee food, housing, health care and a minimum income to the disadvantaged.

Additionally, 71 percent of millennials favor raising the minimum wage and 58 percent support spending more on financial assistance to the poor.

While millennials often exhibit greater confidence in government than other cohorts, their skepticism is on the rise. In 2009, only 42 percent of young Americans thought government was inefficient and wasteful, but by 2014 this number soared to 66 percent.

Furthermore, in 2009, an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found that 64 percent of young Americans wanted government to “do more to solve problems.” However, the 2014 Reason-Rupe survey found only 48 percent want government to do more.

Despite millennials’ fiscal centrism, their social liberalism dominates when it comes time to vote. Millennials’ top three 2016 presidential picks are Democrats – Hillary Clinton (39 percent), Elizabeth Warren (9 percent) and Joe Biden (9 percent).

Yet millennials don’t like Democrats so much as they view them as the least bad of two bad options. Across 15 salient public policy issues, such as privacy, government spending and drugs, millennials say they trust “neither” party to handle 12 of the 15 issues.

Given millennials’ lack of confidence in both major political parties, it isn’t surprising they are open to change. In fact, a majority (53 percent) of millennials say they would vote for a candidate who is both economically conservative and socially liberal.

Some millennials who fit this socially liberal and fiscally conservative profile were called a “raft of ethnically diverse young libertarians who hold seats in L.A. County’s huge GOP apparatus” by Reuters recently.

“Despite personal politics that might seem more in tune with Democrats – world peace, ending the war on drugs and addressing global warming top the list of concerns for many – these millennials say they are more comfortable with Republicans’ emphasis on freedom than Democrats’ penchant for regulation,” Reuters’ Sharon Bernstein wrote.

Millennials are socially tolerant and support personal freedom, free markets and entrepreneurship. Is either major political party ready to adapt to that?

Emily Ekins is director of polling at Reason Foundation. This article originally appeared in the Orange County Register.

Emily Ekins was the director of polling for Reason Foundation.