This November will be a watershed moment for the American electorate: It will be the first presidential election in which Generation Y—a.k.a.: Millennials—makes up the same proportion of the U.S. voting-age population as the Baby Boomers.
And if there’s one thing people are learning about this young generation, it’s that they are liberal. Even leftist. Flirting with socialist. In Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada, more than 80 percent of voters under 30 years old voted for Bernie Sanders, a democratic socialist so outside the mainstream of his party that he’s not even a member.
Whether or not Sanders scores an upset victory in the Democratic race—and to be fair, his odds look long—his support raises a serious question for future elections about the generation wave of voters. Why are young people so liberal; what’s behind their revolutionary spirit; and how close are they to ushering in a true liberal political revolution?
There are three compositional reasons why young people lean left. First, they’re just plain young, and young people are typically to the left of the rest of the country on social and economic issues. Second, the under-30 cohort is the most diverse adult demographic in American history, and minorities have historically been to the left of the country as well. Third, even young white men and women are more liberal than their parents, particularly on three social issues—gay rights, immigration, and marijuana—and generally on their willingness to accept more government involvement in income redistribution and universal health care. (On gun rights and abortion, interestingly, Generation Y is right in line with the rest of the country.) Although several polls find that young people are less likely to identify as Democrats, that has much more to do with an aversion to establishments and labels. Their overwhelming support for Obama was the most any young cohort has leaned toward a Democrat since 1972.