Thursday, May 3, 2012

Millennial's Libertarian Leanings

As we saw in The Transformational Generation, the generations that grew up on the Internet have a different view of the future than that represented by the left-right, progressive-conservative, Democrat-Republican paradigm. We saw that play out when The Largest Libertarian Society in History took on the crony capitalism machine and sent SOPA and PIPA to the graveyard.

Most recently, we observed that The Underground is Surfacing, with people of all ages taking their destiny into their own hands, refusing to wait for solutions from an increasingly bloated and incapable political machine. And now, courtesy of the Harvard University Institute of Politics, we have data on the 18-to-29 year old generation that backs up these observations.

Although Harvard's report leads with the possible impact of their findings on the 2012 election, the real story goes far beyond November, and it's mostly bad news for the two-party system and the political machine in general. Forbes took their own look at the data and arrived at somewhat similar conclusions, although they too generally focused on the short term and the upcoming election.
These attitudes betraying both the traditional left and right fall generally within the bounds of libertarianism. Live and let live. Individual responsibility is as important as collective responsibility. Avoid military interventions. Distrust both government and corporations. Protect civil liberties.
Let's look at some numbers, not just from the press release or executive summary, which focus on the November election, but the top-line data itself. (numbers in parentheses are question numbers in the data)

In general terms, only 20% of Millennials feel the nation is generally headed in the right direction, opposed to 43% who think it's off on the wrong track and 36% who aren't sure. (15) Only 15% disagree with the statement "Politics today are no longer able to meet the challenges our country is facing." (77)

The economy is the top national issue for 58%, compared to 7% for healthcare, 5% for immigration and education, and 4% for national security and energy. All other issues showed lower levels of concern.(16) Contrast these issues with those that seem to occupy center stage in the media.


Political offices and institutions are generally distrusted by Millennials, with only 41% trusting Obama to do the right thing, compared to 23% for Congress, 27% for the federal government, 32% for their state government, and 37% for their local government. (56, 58, 60, 62, 63) Note that trust in government increases as the governmental body becomes more local to the respondent. Banks and megacorps are even more distrusted; only 13% trust Wall Street to do the right thing. Only 24% believe that school choice would not improve the education system, underscoring the general distrust of centralized decision-making and a desire to move decisions closer to the individual. (87)

Politicians themselves fare no better. Fifty-nine percent believe that elected officials seem to be motivated by selfish reasons, while 55% feel that elected officials don't have the same priorities they do. (66,78) While 69% consider community service an honorable thing to do, only 35% consider running for office honorable. (71,72)

This generalized distrust of large institutions and political systems is common among libertarians, and is indeed often the impetus that makes libertarians out of conservatives and liberals alike.


Twice as many Millennials feel that cutting taxes is an effective way to increase economic growth as disagree, at 39% to 21%. Forty percent have no opinion. (79) Only 20% believe government spending is an effective way to increase economic growth. (91) Only 9% strongly agree government should do more to curb climate change, while 19% somewhat agree. (85) As with politics in general, we see little indication that Millennials are likely to look to government for solutions to the problems that ail society. Taken together, they send a decidedly libertarian, and rather Reaganesque message: "...government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem."

Social Issues

The Millenials are by no means social conservatives, however. Only 21% agree that religious values should play a more important role in government. (83) Although twenty-five percent view homosexual relationships as morally wrong, including 15% who strongly agree, the question as to whether that's an issue for government intervention was not asked. Given that as recently as 1993 homosexuality was sufficient reason in and of itself to fire any federal employee, and that until December 1973 the American Psychiatric Association classified homosexuality as a mental illness, those figures are unsurprising.(86) The Millennials appear to separate religion from morality, however, as more than twice the 21% that support religious values in government, 49%, are concerned about the moral direction of the country. (88)

Foreign Affairs

Only 22% of Millennials support the concept of pre-emptive attacks, with only 6% agreeing strongly. (84) However, slightly more, 29%, believe the U.S. should stop development of nuclear weapons in Iran, even if it requires unilateral military action. (94) The continual ramping-up of the surveillance state finds little support, as only 23% are willing to give up some personal freedom and privacy for the sake of national security. (93)


Entitlements enjoy broader support than any other area, although not a majority. Forty-three percent believe that food and shelter are rights that should provide to those unable to afford them. (92) Only 44% support basic health insurance as a government-provided right, and less than half of those, 21%, strongly agree. (81) However, given those beliefs, it's interesting that only 37% support increased government spending to reduce poverty.(90)

Examined in detail, the numbers add up. The attitudes expressed by Millennials betray both the traditional left and right, but fall generally within the bounds of libertarianism. Live and let live. Individual responsibility is as important as collective responsibility. Avoid military interventions. Distrust both government and corporations. Protect civil liberties.

This survey bodes well for the future of American political discourse, and American society.

...and that's all I have to say about that.


  1. Good news. Gotta love those young, unwarped minds. :)