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Center for American Progress

Public Opinion Snapshot: Millennials Are a Progressive Generation
Press Release

Public Opinion Snapshot: Millennials Are a Progressive Generation

May 18, 2009

By Ruy Teixeira

WASHINGTON, DC—It’s a “New Progressive America” out there, as I argued in my recent Center for American Progress report, with a new demography and a new agenda. The new demography refers to the array of growing demographic groups that have aligned themselves with progressives and swelled their ranks. One of the most important of these growing demographic groups is the strongly progressive Millennial generation, whose demographics, voting behavior, and policy preferences are covered in detail in my new CAP report with David Madland, "New Progressive America: The Millennial Generation."

Between now and 2018, the number of Millennials of voting age will be increasing by about 4 and a half million a year and Millennial eligible voters by about 4 million a year. 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.

Last November’s election was the first in which the 18- to 29-year-old age group was drawn exclusively from the Millennial generation, and they gave Obama a whopping 34-point margin, 66 percent to 32 percent. This compares to only a 9-point margin for Kerry in 2004. Behind this striking result is a deeper story of a generation with progressive views in all areas and big expectations for change that will fundamentally reshape our electorate.

How big are these expectations for change? Consider these results of a national survey on "The Political Ideology of the Millennial Generation," by John Halpin and Karl Agne, that was released by CAP at the same time as my new report. The survey included a battery of 40 statements, each of which was a positive expression of either a conservative or progressive argument, with an even mix between conservative and progressive arguments.

Overall, Millennials expressed far more agreement with the progressive than conservative arguments. Indeed, of the 21 values and beliefs garnering majority support in the survey, only four can be classified as conservative. Moreover, six of the top seven statements in terms of level of agreement were progressive statements. These statements included such items as the need for government investment in education, infrastructure, and science; the need for a transition to clean energy; the need for America to play a leading role in addressing climate change; the need to improve America’s image around the world; and the need for universal health coverage.

But wouldn’t a lot of this mean a larger and stronger role for government? The Millennial generation does not seem scared by this possibility. When asked in the 2008 National Election Study whether we need a strong government to handle today’s complex economic problems or whether the free market can handle these problems without government being involved, Millennials, by a margin of 78 to 22 percent, demonstrated an overwhelming preference for strong government.

If conservatives are hoping to frighten the Millennial generation away from progressives and progressive policies with their usual scare stories about “big government,” they should be forewarned that those scare tactics are unlikely to work. Instead, they might want to try something novel like, say, offering solutions for the problems Millennials actually care about. Now that would be a refreshing change.