Define Politically liberal

Compared to Americans over 30, millennials are half as likely to identify as politically conservative (14% to 34%), and nearly twice as likely to say they’re liberal (25% to 14%). The latest Reason-Rupe study of millennials finds their political ideologies may largely be an expression of their social and cultural values more than their economic policy preferences. In fact their social values are what draws them closer to President Obama, more than their economic policy preferences.

Overall, 30 percent of millennials say they are moderate, 25 percent liberal, 14 percent conservative, 7 percent libertarian, 7 percent progressive, and 17 percent say they are “something else.”

Does Liberal Mean "Liberal"?

The fact that millennials are so much more comfortable using the liberal label and less willing to use the conservative one raises several questions. Does the word “liberal” mean something different to millennials than older cohorts? Does it convey liberal policy preferences across both social and economic issues?

It appears that liberal millennials do distinguish between social and economic liberalism: 67 percent indicate they are strong social liberals while only 49 percent say they are strong economic liberals. In fact, when liberal millennials used their own words to explain why they are liberal, only 32 percent mentioned both economic and social issues. Fully a third (33%) only described their liberal label based on social tolerance, inclusivity, and personal freedom.

Ideology in Their Own Words

To better understand what these political labels mean to millennials, they were asked to use their own words to explain why they describe themselves as a liberal, moderate, conservative, libertarian, or progressive. The results indicate that social issues largely define these terms, particularly for liberal millennials.

Coding millennials’ responses reveals that for most liberal and progressive millennials, their ideological label primarily reflects social liberalism, not necessarily economic liberalism. Overall, 68 percent of self-identified liberals’ explanations mentioned elements of social tolerance and personal freedom, while only 35 percent mentioned economics. Progressives were similar on social issues (64%), but more mentioned economics (47%).

Conservative millennials are considerably less likely than liberals to rely on social matters to define their label. Instead, conservatives’ affiliation equally conveys their views on both economics (41%) and social issues (41%). For libertarians, economic conservatism (67%) as well as social liberalism (48%) define libertarians’ label. Among all millennials, 37 percent mentioned something about social issues and 27 percent mentioned economics. (More found here).

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