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June 3, 2008

a generational shift leftward?

David Madland and Amanda Logan have published a report for the Center for American Progress entitled "The Progressive Generation: How Young Adults Think About the Economy" (pdf). They assert that today's young people are more favorable toward government-funded health care and unions than older people are today, and--more interestingly--than older generations were when they were young. The Millennials also support education spending, even if it requires tax increases; and (more generally) they like government intervention.

I would only offer two caveats. First, the Millennials seem fairly genial or favorable toward most institutions, compared to their predecessors. According to the CAP report, young people are favorable to business as well as government; they like both corporate profits and government regulation. This is not contradictory--in fact, I think I agree with it. But it raises the question of whether the Millennials are progressive, or just (relatively) positive. On the other hand, they are not at all positive toward the press or President Bush. So maybe they are picking the institutions they like, and government is one of them.

The other caveat is that the following may no longer be true:

The general thrust of academic literature ... is that political ideas and attachments that are developed in early adulthood tend to last. Research suggests that a socialization process occurs that leads young adults to hold onto the party identification and opinions that they developed in their formative years.

This theory is important, because it suggests that today's youth will remain progressive as they age. It is plausible, but the direct evidence comes from decades ago when party identification was more a matter of ascribed identity (e.g., ethnic background) than of ideology. Also, the evidence comes from a time when people developed their political identity during adolescence. I think that political socialization may have shifted later in the lifecourse, along with many other aspects of human development. That change would raise doubts about directly comparing today's young adults with their predecessors 30 or 40 years ago.

June 3, 2008 1:35 PM | category: none


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