New Survey: Are Millennial Voters Up for Grabs?

On Thursday, Reason-Rupe released a new survey on millennials, focusing on the cohort’s views on government, calling them the “politically unclaimed generation.” The survey finds that, despite overwhelming support for President Obama in 2008 and 2012, millennials are increasingly politically disaffected; a plurality say they trust “neither party” to handle issues such as privacy, the budget deficit, government spending, drug policy, education, taxes, or immigration. However, more millennials (although still a minority) trusted the Democrats than Republicans on every issue except “promoting entrepreneurship,” reflecting the perception that the Democratic Party is the “better of two bad options.”

Some of the findings are old news: 34% of millennials identify as independent compared with only 11% of the population over 30. A plurality (43%) identify as Democratic or lean Democratic, while only half as many (23%) identify as Republican. The survey finds millennials are overwhelmingly liberal on social issues such as marriage equality and marijuana legalization; they more are ethnically and racially diverse than older cohorts, and fewer are married relative to previous generations when they were the same age. However, the survey has some interesting findings that add nuance to the already saturated debate over millennials’ political leanings.

Despite record-breaking Democratic presidential voting among 18- to 29-year-olds, millennials have little confidence in either of the major political parties.

To distinguish from traditional political party affiliation, the survey asked millennials to identify themselves among a series of ideological labels: conservative, liberal, moderate—but also libertarian, progressive, or “something else.” Unsurprisingly, 55% chose either moderate or liberal, reflecting millennials’ independent and Democratic affiliations. But more millennials selected each of the other categories—libertarian, progressive, or ‘something else’—compared with Americans over 30, and fewer millennials (14%) chose conservative relative to older Americans (34%).

The survey also finds that millennials’ views on social issues, rather than economic ones, tend to drive their ideological identification. Among self-identified liberals, 67% indicated they were socially liberal, while only 49% said they were liberal on economic issues. In addition, 14% of moderate millennials said they identified as such because they were to the left on social issues, but more conservative on economic issues. However, conservative millennials identified as such based on both social and economic issues.

Millennials are predominately (62%) socially liberal, but only 49 percent indicate they are fiscally liberal. In other words, the average millennial is a social liberal and fiscal centrist.

Building on millennials’ fluid political ideals, the survey asked respondents how they would approve of various ‘nontraditional’ candidates. Among likely 2016 presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton fared the best, but the survey found that the same percentage who would vote for Clinton (53%) would support a hypothetical candidate who described him or herself as “socially liberal but economically conservative.” Interestingly, a majority of likely Hillary Clinton voters (60%), Chris Christie voters (71%), and Rand Paul voters (61%) would support a fiscally conservative but socially liberal candidate.

The report also broke down support for government programs into specific policies. More millennials (48%) think the government should “do more to solve problems” while 37% think the government is “doing too many things.” Millennials think the government should help those who are least advantaged, including guaranteeing enough to eat and a place to sleep, a living wage, health insurance, and by a slim margin (54% to 44%), a college education. However, millennials are divided on whether or not the government has a responsibility to reduce income inequality. Despite their support for government programs, more millennials agree than disagree with the statement that “when something is run by the government, it is usually inefficient and wasteful.”

The report contains a wealth of information on a host of other political topics. For further results and in-depth breakdowns, read the full report here.