The New York Times has a great article today about the politics of the under 30 generation. The overall thesis is that the politics of young people reflects a belief that government can solve problems and we do indeed need to continue funding programs like Medicare and Social Security. This is the anthesis of the conservation revolution of the 1980s that helped elect Ronald Reagan twice, followed by George Bush I and later George Bush II. It is also very much possible that this generation, much like the younger generation that supported Reagan, could reshape American politics in profound ways for years to come. Essentially, after seeing President Obama get re-elected twice and Democrats winning five out of the last six federal elections, we could be seeing the unraveling of the Reagan revolution and trickle down economics.
The article, titled “Young, Liberal and Open to Big Government,” focuses on college students in Montana. The setting is significant because Montana is considered a deep red state. However, the article notes that because of the under 30 generation, Montana elected two Democratic senators and a Democratic governor in the last few election cycles. This points to the influence that young folks can have at the ballot box, especially in off-year elections when senators, governors, and state legislators are on the ballot.
Throughout the article, the young people interviewed expressed a desire for a system of government more in line with FDR’s philosophies than Reagan’s. Sam Thompson, a 22-year-old college students, is quoted as stating that while he considers himself fiscally conservative, but he opposes cuts to Medicare and wants expanded healthcare coverage. Billie Loewen and Heather Jurva, editors of a student newspaper, state the under 30 generation has a Depression-era mentality. Panicked they won’t find good jobs, or will lose healthcare coverage once they turn 26, they believe government needs to play an active role in helping the economy. These quotes are backed up by a nonpartisan PEW Research Center poll from November that found under 30 voters are the only age group in which a majority said the government should to more to fix the nation’s problems.
This trend of young people voting for Democrats is not new. They’ve been casting more and more ballots for Dems since 2004; however, the under 30 crowd now composes a bigger slice of the electorate, 19 percent this most recent election, up from 18 percent in 2008. Furthermore, the millennial are the most ethnically and racially diverse crowd.
Republicans should be rattled by these figures. The Democrats, President Obama especially, have built a new coalition, the most diverse ever, that can win national elections even without a majority of the white vote. This will fundamentally alter U.S. politics, just as the Reagan revolution did. It will make it easier and easier for Dems to win elections.
What has yet to be seen, however, is whether or not the Democratic Party will truly reflect the views of its base. President Obama has faced a lot of criticism on the left for not doing more to fix the economy and not pushing greater FDR, New Deal-like policies during his first two years in office when his party had supermajorities in the House and Senate. What has changed, however, is the conversation regarding the tax system and fair economic policy. Recently, during the debt ceiling talks, the president got the GOP to cave on taxes and he secured a tax increase for top percent of income earners, certainly the opposite of the trickle down theory. Now he is pushing to close tax loopholes. However, the president still believes in some “grand bargain” to lower the debt, a bargain that will probably include cuts to social programs, the opposite of what a lot of his base wants.
The millenials are also liberal on social issues, and it has yet to be seen what will be done regarding immigration and gay rights, though the president has vowed to push those issues hard during his second term.Immigration was one of the cornerstones of his recent inaguration speech, and it’s likely it will be pushed again tomorrow during his State of the Union address. He can even use the power of executive order to pass some progressive laws, especially regarding gay rights and immigration.
What is clear is that this country is rapidly changing, and the shifting demographics will indeed play out at the local, state, and national level. There is a new coalition now, one that believes in a larger role for government, the opposite of austerity and trickle down economics.