The 2008 election was the first in which the 18- to 29-year-old age group was drawn exclusively from the Millennial Generation (birth years 1978-2000), and they voted for Barack Obama by a 34-point margin, 66 percent to 32 percent, compared to a 9-point margin for John Kerry among 18- to 29-year-olds in 2004. Behind this striking result, however, is a deeper story of a generation with progressive views in all areas and big expectations for change that will fundamentally reshape our electorate.
Consider the sheer size of this generation. Between now and 2018, the number of Millennials of voting age will increase by about 4.5 million a year, and Millennial eligible voters will increase by about 4 million a year. That means in 2012 there will be 16 million more Millennial voters in the electorate than there were in 2008. And in 2020, the first presidential election where all Millennials will have reached voting age, this generation will be 103 million strong, of which about 90 million will be eligible voters. Those 90 million Millennial eligible voters will represent just under 40 percent of America’s eligible voters.
That’s a lot of progressive voters. And just to remind us of how progressive that generation is, even in the midst of the currently challenging environment for progressives, the Pew Research Center has just released a massive report on the Millennials that thoroughly documents their views on a wide range of issues. Consider two areas that vividly illustrate the progressive leanings of Millennials relative to older generations.
First, in views on social issues, the Pew study found that Millennials are far more progressive than any other generation. Consistent with this pattern, Millennials in the study favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry legally by 50-36, compared to a 43-46 split among GenXers, 58-32 opposition among baby boomers, and 66-24 opposition among the Silent Generation.
Millennials are also the most progressive generation on the role of government. By 53-42, Millennials think that government should be doing more to solve problems rather than that government is doing too many things better left to businesses and individuals. GenXers are split 45-47 on the two statements, while boomers favor the antigovernment statement by 50-43, as does the Silent Generation by 47-39.
It is difficult to overestimate the importance of these results. While conservatives are busy doubling down on the most retrograde parts of their agenda, more and more of this generation is pouring into the voting pool. This is just one more reason why a hardline conservative strategy that seems clever and effective in the short term will look much less clever—in fact, disastrous—in the long term. But by the time conservatives figure out their mistake it will be way too late. Say goodbye, conservatives, to an entire generation.
Ruy Teixeira is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress. To learn more about his public opinion analysis go to the Media and Progressive Values page and the Progressive Studies program page of our website.