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The 2016 presidential election has been a disaster for young people.
Between the dishonest pandering of Hillary Clinton and the perceived boorishness of Donald Trump, many millennials are stuck in no man’s land.
But the future of politics may not be as bleak as it seems. Libertarian views will likely shape the ideologies of tomorrow, and as this shift occurs, millennials will become increasingly eager to engage in the political landscape.
The political views of young people overwhelmingly fall somewhere between those of mainstream Democrats and Republicans. Millennials have consistently ranked as socially liberal, with many leaning fiscally conservative. In other words, these young adults are overwhelmingly libertarian in their views—even if they don’t know it.
The GOP’s socially conservative platform simply does not align with modern sensibilities and wears thin on a generation less likely to attend church or even believe in a religion. Among millennials, 68% support gay marriage, 56% think abortion should be legal in all or most cases, and 69% support legalizing marijuana. Young people aren’t engendered to respect old men lecturing piety from the pulpit of social morality.
The Democrats don’t cut it for millennials either. At a time when the average college graduate has nearly $30,000 in student loan debt, these young Americans want jobs. And many understand that increased regulation and taxes proposed by the left isn’t going to yield a healthy business climate and job market.
As millennials come of age, create businesses, and become politicians themselves, a fresh set of ideas will rise to prominence. This new way of thinking will increasingly become associated with the ‘live and let live’ ideology of libertarianism.
This shift is already happening. Recent candidates on the local, state, and federal level are building a new libertarian brand. The rise in popularity of Senator Rand Paul and former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson is just the tip of the iceberg. As young people become less likely to identify with a party, maximum freedom—in both their personal lives and their wallets—becomes a number one priority. But as diverse lifestyles become more acceptable, social issues will take a back seat to fiscal issues.
A conservative approach to economics is squarely in the interest of young people. Government subsidies on college education have had disastrous effects, including the exploding student debt crisis. Intrusive government regulations regarding licensing of professionals, increased tax rates, and interference in the housing market all disproportionately affect the youngest generation. The home ownership rate of millennials lags far behind other age groups and has helped push overall home ownership rates to the lowest in over 50 years. States with heavy Democratic majorities tend to have a demographic imbalance; California, Illinois, and New York have seen many more people leave for opportunities than come in.
Changing demographics will also play a role in the evolution of an increasingly libertarian mindset. The Tory Party in Britain has been able to tap into the British psyche to win the last two general elections. The Conservative Party of Canada, while currently out of power, won three straight elections, in part because it attracted many young, immigrant families. Young Black people in America’s cities have suffered due to the policies of Democrats that have run those localities for decades. Only a radical political shift can help break the cycle of poverty sparked by well-meaning but disastrous policies. Certain issues seem to create single-issue voters including gay marriage and abortion. Taking some or all of these policies off the table will prevent fiscal conservatives from inadvertently alienating a large and growing voting bloc.
Millennials were attracted to Bernie Sanders’ 2016 campaign because of lofty ideals that would have hurt their bottom line in the long run. If presented effectively, policies that can reduce the cost of health care, reduce student loan debt, and allow for more personal freedoms will be attractive to young Americans. What matters to all generations are results—young people are no different. As youthful idealism recedes, the hard reality of self and community interest will take over.
Demographic and political trends show that millennials—the largest generation alive today—will drift even further into libertarianism. Fiscal conservatives will ignore these opportunities at their own peril. With the emergence of articulate, camera-ready candidates that toe that fine line already, the door is open. The modern sensibilities of today’s youth and a core small government ideology line up in such a manner that young people will begin to equate the two and the benefits that it brings to them.
Let’s hope that happens before the door closes.
Kristin Tate is a political columnist based in New York City. She is a contributor to The Hill and author of the new book Government Gone Wild: How D.C. Politicians Are Taking You for a Ride—and What You Can Do About It. Kristin appears regularly on Fox News, Fox Business Network, CNN, and PBS. In 2016, Red Alert Politics named her to their list of the 30 most influential right-of-center leaders under the age of 30.
Fall | Winter 2017