Young Americans are becoming more likely to identify as political independents and have largely soured on President Obama, but don’t expect them to abandon the Democratic Party anytime soon.
According to a new study from the Pew Research Center, the millennial generation — comprised of those born after 1980 — is the most liberal of any of the past four generations and embraces a more expansive role for government in society.
Pew found that half of millennials consider themselves independents, while 27 percent identify as Democrats and 17 percent identify as Republicans. However, when the independents were asked which party they lean towards, those figures jump to 50 percent for the Democrats and 34 percent for the GOP.
Millennials are also the only generation in which liberals outnumber conservatives: 31 percent identify their political views as liberal, while 26 percent say they are conservative and 39 percent call themselves moderate.
When Pew first began surveying the millennial generation in 2004, 38 percent identified as independents, compared to 30 percent who identified as Democrats and 24 percent who identified as Republicans. As for ideology, 27 percent said they were liberal and 29 percent said conservative.
But the liberalism of young Americans is more apparent when looking at specific issues. Nearly 70 percent of millennials support same-sex marriage and marijuana legalization — a double-digit jump for both issues from 2004 — and 54 percent think it’s the government’s responsibility to provide health insurance for all Americans. As for undocumented immigrants living in the U.S., 55 percent of 18- to 33-year-olds say they should be allowed to remain in the country and apply for citizenship, while another 25% say that they should be allowed to stay, but only to apply for permanent residency. Speaking generally about the role of government, 53 percent of millennials say they would rather have a bigger government that provides more services, while 38 percent prefer a smaller government that provides fewer services. Just 40 percent of all adults prefer a larger government.
These results suggest that even if most young Americans aren’t willing to identify with the Democrats, they will still likely stick with them at the ballot box when presented with a Republican alternative, and that as the millennial generation continues to make up a larger portion of the population, they could push the party to the left.
The millennial generation is also growing more racially diverse, which has played a major role in fueling this leftward shift. For instance, 71 percent of non-white millennials favor a larger role for government, compared to 39 percent for white millennials. But white millennials are still more likely to support bigger government than whites in other generations, and their views on gay marriage and marijuana are essentially identical to those of non-white millennials.
This acceptance of liberalism and big government has occurred even as many millennials have become disillusioned with Obama, especially those who have endured economic hardship under his administration. Just 49 percent of millennials approve of the job Obama is doing, down from its high of 70 percent in the infancy of his presidency.