Millennials lean more toward being politically ‘purple’
National polls tell us that America is in a deep freeze of political polarization. Democrats are more liberal and Republicans are more conservative, according to a Pew Research Center study in 2014.
The numbers add: up-people are moving away from the middle. But while this may be true of adults, there is reason to believe the younger generation hasn’t yet fallen into this divisive trap.
Young people are more likely to be politically “purple,” identifying more with issues than the party line. Some are even throwing out the partisan rulebook altogether and choosing not to identify. The political landscape for young Americans is changing and may be on its way to going out of style altogether.
A debate on current issues among a group of 18 to 24-year-olds would sound very different than the same debate among people over 40.
According to a 2014 Gallup poll, people aged 18 to 40 are less likely to lean toward one party or the other. Younger opinions on hot political topics tend to come more from personal feelings than loyalty to their party’s school of thought.
Contrary to the dire predictions of many researchers and teachers, the up-and-coming generation does care about what’s going on now — they just take a different approach.
Identifying with a party can be a major stressor. By saying, “I’m a Republican” or “I’m a Democrat,” a person opens himself up to a host of preconceived ideas, which may be why more and more young people are straying from the party label.
Computer science sophomore Joseph Nguyen said he chooses not to identify, describing himself as apolitical. Nguyen said that he is neither Republican, Democratic nor Independent, but he finds himself leaning towards different parties based on the specific topic.
“I agree with (the Democrats) more on … social topics,” Nguyen said. “Economically, I’m much more conservative.”
Ultimately, Nguyen said he follows a simple principle.
“I feel that every human being should have basic human rights,” he said.
The prevailing narrative today is that young people, especially college students, are more liberal — that is, if they are politically engaged at all. But then there exists a third category: the politically purple.
Modern youths are “relatively unattached to organized politics,” according to a 2014 study by the Pew Research Center on millennials. The study also reports the millennial generation “(has) emerged into adulthood with low levels of social trust.” In a climate in which only 19 percent of young Americans report feeling as though “most people can be trusted,” the stage has been set for them to listen to themselves rather than to their parties.
For undeclared junior Rocky Bush, the question isn’t colored in red and blue either. Although Bush describes himself as more liberal-leaning, he says he is not big on political parties, and he doesn’t agree with all of the Democrats’ policies. He cites the party’s sliding-scale taxation ideal as a sore spot.
“I don’t like that the more money you make, the more tax has to come out,” Bush said. “I think it should all be equal.”
The late-teens and early-twenties set experiences more social and political efficacy than their predecessors. We no longer live in a world where children are seen and not heard and teenagers are seen as caterpillars, waiting to blossom into the butterflies they will be as adults. 17-year-olds start campaigns to change the world-and often succeed; a person can be a billionaire before the age of 25.
Youth culture’s focus is centered around independence, self-questioning and breaking societal molds. The way has been paved for those who don’t fit a specific mold.
We are taught in school, at home and in the world to think for ourselves and to respect the opinions of those who don’t share our feelings. Although partisanship is unlikely to disappear completely, it feels good to live in a society that encourages free thought and debate.
Without the strict lines that have divided previous generations, we are poised to understand each other better, think more deeply and make the changes we want to see in the world.
Opinion columnist Elizabeth Murphy is an advertising sophomore and may be reached at [email protected].