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One of the most seismic changes in American politics over the last decade has been the emergence of a sharp generational split among the electorate. The Democratic Party owes its success in the last two presidential elections almost entirely to overwhelming support among the very young, which has overcome continued conservatism among older voters. The Pew Research Institute has dominated the field of exploring the ideological cleavages among different generations. And its latest survey shows again how the liberalism of the youngest voting cohort, millennials, remains firm, and likely to continue to recast the electorate.
A few charts from the survey tell the tale. The first shows how, in previous elections, age didn’t matter very much – the young and old voted in mostly similar ways. But a generational cleavage started opening in 2004, and has remained unusually wide:
What is the source of this cleavage? Is it a mere reaction to the disaster of the Bush years, or rising social liberalism? Actually, younger voters are simply much more liberal than their elders across the board.
One way to measure the difference is to ask a generic question about the size of government. Now, there’s a venerable principle that states that Americans are ideological conservatives and operational liberals. They oppose bigger government in the abstract, and embrace the label “conservative” over “liberal, ” but they tend to support specific government programs at a far higher level than these conceptual terms would imply. (Political scientist John Sides had a post yesterday updating this hardy reality.) Traditionally, self-identified conservatives outnumber self-identified liberals by a good 2-to-1, even when the partisan balance is close to even.
Millennials are not only far more likely to embrace the liberal label in comparison to voters in other generations, they’re more likely to call themselves liberal than conservative:
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