Millennial voters are not what they appear to be.
A new study published on Wednesday in the journal Personality and Social Psychology suggests that Americans are more politically polarized now than they’ve been in the past 46 years, and surprisingly, the millennial generation is guiding this trend.
The study found that Americans born between 1980 and 1994 are presently more politically polarizing than Generation X-ers or Baby Boomers.
Jean Twenge, author of a book about millennials entitled “Generation Me,” is a Professor of Psychology at San Diego State University, and lead author of the paper published in the journal. In it, she said:
“Additionally, millennials are more likely to identify as conservative than either Generation X-ers or Baby Boomers were at the same age. High school seniors are more likely to identify as political conservatives now compared to 10 years ago.
Most surprising, more identify as conservatives now compared to the 1980s, presumably the era of the young conservative, such as the character Alex P. Keaton in the 1980s show ‘Family Ties.’
That goes against the common view of millennials as very liberal.
So the current view of millennials as liberals might be due to their age — young people are more likely to be liberal. But if you compare young people now to young people in previous decades, those now are more conservative.”
The study reviewed data on about 10 million American adults, collected from 1970 to 2015, as part of three separate surveys: the national Monitoring the Future study, the Higher Education Research Institute’s American Freshman Survey and the General Social Survey.
Twenge and her team examined and analyzed data from all three surveys, which included participants’ party affiliations. They compared the data on millennials’ responses to those from Generation X-ers and Baby Boomers.
Surprisingly, in their findings and analysis, they discovered that twice as many adults had “extreme” political identifications in the 2010s compared to in the 1970s.
1.6% of Americans identified as “extremely liberal” in 1972, as compared to 3.7% in 2014. About 2.4% of Americans identified as “extremely conservative” in 1972, compared to 4.2% in 2014, according to the new paper.
A coauthor of the study, Ryne Sherman, Associate Professor of Psychology at Florida Atlantic University said:
“We were not really sure what to expect because [separate] research looking at Americans’ responses to specific issues — such as government spending, taxes, military — consistently shows that Americans are not polarized on the vast majority of the issues.
However, our research does show increasing polarization in terms of political identification. This is intriguing because it suggests that Americans are becoming increasingly divided over a relatively small number of differences.”
And they are becoming more polarizing because of small differences.
Sherman says, “Small differences between groups can give rise to polarization as leaders repeatedly emphasize these small differences and members rally around them.”
Twenge says that one specific difference between the generations is that “we know from other research that millennials are more supportive of LGBT rights, gender equality and racial equality compared to previous generations. Given that, it suggests that millennial conservatives may be focusing on issues other than these, for example, economic issues or gun rights.”
One possible reason for this difference is the rise in 24-hour news networks, the Internet and social media since the 1970’s. This brings social identity to the forefront and makes it much more powerful.
Do you think this is surprising news? Tell us what you think in the comments.