The Myth of the Monolithic Youth Voter

June 4th, 2010 at 10:45 am | 14 Comments |

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This week, ampoule at least one piece emerged whose subject matter ought to be of concern to every conservative – an unprecedented news story from Illinois detailing the rise of conservatism among young voters.  Along with its unconventional coverage of youthful conservatism, illness this piece included a highly provocative sidebar explaining that:

One issue where many young conservatives stray from the party line is gay rights–and particularly same-sex marriage… From a political standpoint, drugstore many young conservatives take the libertarian approach, supporting the extension of legal rights to same-sex couples without forcing religious communities to sanction something their members condemn.

It went on in the article proper:

For a generation entering the workforce under the worst economic conditions since the Great Depression, the conservative platform on jobs, economic opportunity and lower government taxing and spending is increasingly appealing.

Both of these assessments – on the issues of gay rights and fiscal conservatism – are entirely correct. Indeed, even Campus Progress, in a poll which has now been mysteriously removed from their website, discovered that while this generation as a whole runs substantially to the Left of previous ones on social issues, it also runs slightly to the Right of previous generations on economic issues, especially relating to trade/taxation. This suggests that a generation of libertarians may be the future – something I think most Tea Partiers, at least, could live with.

However, I still think it’s an oversimplification. In the aftermath of the 2008 election cycle, it was great fashion to talk about “the youth vote.” I found this highly puzzling at the time, and still do, because I don’t think there is such a thing as “the youth vote.” Just by analogy, imagine what would happen if a candidate tried to appeal to the “middle-aged male vote,” or to the “women over 40 vote.” Neither strategy would be successful, because the former group is far too diverse to have singular interests, and the latter group, according to most internal polling done by that group, does not exist. So it is with the “youth vote,” which is far too large and diverse to be an electoral category. Moreover, it’s really a rather insulting designation when you think about it, because it implies that young people can’t possibly form distinct political groups of their own. This especially is nonsense, for if you walk onto the campus of any American high school, and indeed, most American colleges, you will probably find a culture war alive and well, though of a very different kind than the one of the 90’s, and far more focused on questions of relative merit than on questions of religion.

Acting on this understanding is difficult, and should be undertaken with the utmost care by the Right. Nevertheless, if you’ll permit me a slight stereotype for the sake of illustration, I would wager that the average American party girl and the average American Dungeons and Dragons enthusiast have as much in common as a supporter of Nancy Pelosi would have with a supporter of Newt Gingrich.

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14 Comments so far ↓

  • Smarg

    These “youth voters” did indeed elect the Great Kenyan Teleprompter Reader.

    God help us all.

  • Ruminant

    That sidebar is dead accurate about young conservatives and gay rights, especially on college campuses. Even many students who would otherwise fit the “religious conservative stereotype” (abstaining from premarital sex, drugs, alcohol, and profanity) still support gay rights and gay marriage. Most conservative students also have “left-leaning” attitudes towards sex and drugs (especially marijuana legalization).

    The GOP’s problem with attracting young voters isn’t because all young voters are liberal. It is because the candidates with the greatest appeal to the GOP’s base (social conservatives, the religious right) have “social values” that young conservatives strongly disagree with. Those young conservatives might not go out and vote Democratic, but they might decide that going out to vote Republican just isn’t worth the effort.

  • Rabiner

    “These “youth voters” did indeed elect the Great Kenyan Teleprompter Reader.”

    And I’d do it again when given the same choices.


    “the average American Dungeons and Dragons enthusiast”

    I would wager that most 95% of American youth have no idea what Dungeons and Dragons is. Using that phrase is a way of revealing to your audience that you are extremely, hideously old and do not know what youth play in the days since the Interweb was invented.

    Next time, use “average World of Warcraft enthusiast.”

  • mpolito

    If young voters (and as a 19 year old, I am one of them) are so libertarian, why did they support the health care bill in higher rates than other groups? There are many good things about the health care bill, but to call it a victory for libertarianism is pretty ludicrous. Why do younger voters consistently have higher positive views of “socialism” than other groups? If they are to be called libertarian, then it seems to me that we have engaged in a big program of defining libertarianism down.

    But even if they are favorably disposed to all this big government, surely they are ‘libertarian’ on social issues, right? Mytheos declares that ‘young conservatives’ aren’t ‘socially conservative.’ (Incidentally, if they are really young conservatives, how can they not be socially conservative? Are you sure we aren’t talking about young libertarians? Social conservatism is part of conservatism, after all). The evidence for this is that they are less inclined to oppose same-sex marriage. Okay, that’s one issue: social conservatism includes, but is not limited to, that one issue. ‘Social issues’ that ‘social conservatives’ care about include other things too, most notably abortion. There is nothing in this piece to note that younger voters are much more pro-life, for example, which is something that has even gotten NARAL’s attention.

    So even if it is true that younger voters are more ‘libertarian’ on economic issues (again, a highly dubious assertion), the statement that they are more ‘libertarian’ on social issues is not entirely true either. I am not disputing that they are more liberal on same-sex marriage: but again, that is only one social issue; not the whole lot of them. If younger voters supported keeping Social Security as is, but were for lower taxes, would we say that they are “economically liberal” because they oppose the dominant economically conservative/libertarian position on one issue?

    Now I have a final question: does anyone really think that young voters, by virtue of their youth, possess some unique wisdom? Of course not. On the contrary, they are ignorant, because they lack experience- and sitting through Introduction to Gender Studies at Bard does not count as experience.

  • LFC

    For a generation entering the workforce under the worst economic conditions since the Great Depression, the conservative platform on jobs, economic opportunity and lower government taxing and spending is increasingly appealing.

    What conservative platform? The endless cry for tax cuts have driven us deeper and deeper into debt. Deregulation was the necessary basis for the the current collapse. Lower government spending? Tell me, please, what things of significance will get cut?

    The problem with the GOP is that the “conservative” economic platform has been a huge disaster.

  • easton

    Show me a young Conservative and I’ll show you someone with no heart. Show me an old Liberal and I’ll show you someone with no brains. – Winston Churchill

    Well, I guess according to Mytheos Holt, Churchill was all wrong.

    Of course younger people will be more Liberal and older people more conservative, and of course Churchill was right in this assumption. Honestly, do some of these “Conservatives,” even know history in the slightest?

  • mlindroo

    Easton, your Churchill quote is a myth — Sir Winston never said this!


  • Smarg

    “And I’d do it again when given the same choices.”

    I must agree with you there. There haven’t been any good choices since 1984, IMHO.

  • Craig Berger

    How does that fit with your assertion that youth are libertarian?

  • Craig Berger

    How do you cite a journalist’s assertion based on nothing and turn it into something empirical?

    Here are links to three recent studies that demonstrate Millennials (those born between 1982 and 2000) support government intervention:

    The latter study is even entitled “A Pro-Government and Socially Liberal Generation.” The notion that Millennials are libertarian is popular among conservatives, but in reality it’s more of a dream. Millennials are strongly pro-government in their political views, and the numbers back it up.

  • Rabiner

    people my age (I’m 26) and younger tend to be socially libertarian and support government intervention in the economy. That’s just from the people I’ve spoken to and know. More often than not they support legalization of drugs, abortion rights, and gay marriage.

  • easton

    Rabiner, this is right, most young libertarian males simply want to smoke weed and get laid a lot, and Libertarianism tells them this is OK.

  • Rabiner


    It isn’t about smoking weed or getting laid a lot. When we see our friends go to jail for smoking pot in their home where they aren’t committing a DUI or hurting anyone then I think our laws have gone too far. I have a few friends who smoke medical marijuana for glaucoma and I don’t see why it should be anyone’s damn business if I want to smoke a joint or snort a line. If my job is okay with it and I’m not harming anyone else but myself then how is that any worse than getting drunk? The War on Drugs is a failure and all it has done is profit the prison industrial complex which has cost States billions annually, made people unproductive in society and created a new disenfranchised class of citizen.

    Personally I don’t want the government also telling any woman what she should do with her body within reason. I’m fine with restricting abortion after the fetus is viable outside the womb but before then it should remain legal WITHOUT these policies trying to make it as difficult to get the procedure as it is. OK and FL this year passed legislation mandating women get ultrasounds before an abortion. There is 24 hour waiting periods, women sometimes need to get a psych evaluation. OK actually eliminated doctor liability for lying to women if it can save the life of the fetus from an abortion.

    And with gay marriage, please can anyone tell me how allowing a gay couple marry so they have the same legal protections as other married couples affects straight married couples? If not then why is this even a discussion?