The Kids Are: 1. All Right, 2. All Left, 3. About the same

June 27, 2007
Posted by Jay Livingston

The New York Times published the results of a poll of young Americans — ages 17 to 29. The headline is “Young Americans Are Leaning Left.” In fact, on most issues, there’s not much difference between the young and the rest of the country, even on issues where you might expect the young to be more concerned, notably global warming.

On the topic of Iraq, the young were more sanguine than their elders, who 47%-38% were more likely to see the war as going very badly.

It’s not that the young are more pro-war. They’re just more optimistic. The only way that this attitude makes them more left-leaning is that while traditional conservatives want less government and think that the private sector can do everything better, young people are more optimistic about the ability of government to do good. Health care is a good thing, and the young — 62% to 47% — are more likely to favor a government-run health care program. Similarly, winning wars is a good thing, so the young are more likely to think we can win the war.

This raises the question of whether these are true generational differences or merely differences of age. If they are age differences, then the Gen Y’ers, as they grow older, will shift their opinions more towards those of older people today. If the differences are generational, they will keep their current beliefs even as they get older and have children.

Tastes in music, for example, are strongly generational — as I’m regularly reminded when the Allman Brothers play at the nearby theater, and I see who’s lined up on the sidewalk. Not exactly the same crowd that turned out for Pink. I suspect that the young will retain some of their political views — their more libertarian view of homosexuality and marijuana (on abortion their views are almost identical to those of the country as a whole)— in the same way that they’ll save and listen to their Outkast MP3s. But other political positions like party preference may change as they grow older.

Methodological note. The poll was sponsored by the Times, CBS News, and MTV. The sample size was 659, which means that the confidence interval was 8 percentage points. You’d think that with three heavy hitters like these bankrolling the survey, they’d have had a sample at least twice that size.

1 comment:

trrish said...

yay! You have brought new meaning to the phrase "the kids are alright". That is very funny to me.