clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

This poll proves that millennials have totally incoherent political views

#Millennials doing #Millennial things.
#Millennials doing #Millennial things.
Photo by Victor Chavez/WireImage
Dylan Matthews is a senior correspondent and head writer for Vox's Future Perfect section and has worked at Vox since 2014. He is particularly interested in global health and pandemic prevention, anti-poverty efforts, economic policy and theory, and conflicts about the right way to do philanthropy.

Reason-Rupe, Reason magazine's polling arm, is out with a really in-depth survey looking at the political preferences of Millennials (defined here as adults aged 18-29). Understandably, given that Reason's a libertarian outfit, they're emphasizing findings suggesting Millennials think government is wasteful and abuses power, and as suggesting there'd be widespread support for a "socially liberal, fiscally conservative" (libertarian, in other words) presidential candidate.

You could read it that way. Or you could pick out other results and cite them as proof that the young 'uns are just down-the-line liberals. But probably the best way to read it is as confirming that Millennials, like other Americans, mostly don't have the kind of rigorous and consistent policy views associated with professional ideologues. Consider that these are all findings from the same report:

  • 65 percent of Millennials think it would help the economy to cut spending…
  • …but 62 percent and 58 percent think it'd help the economy to boost spending on job training and infrastructure, respectively.
  • 58 percent think that it'd help the economy to cut taxes…
  • …but 66 percent think it'd help the economy to raise taxes on the wealthy.
  • 74 percent think the government should guarantee that everyone gets enough to eat and a place to sleep, 68 percent think it should guarantee a living wage, and 54 percent think it should guaranteed a college education…
  • …but 66 percent believe that "when something is run by the government, it is usually inefficient and wasteful."
  • If you don't mention the prospect of higher taxes, then they express support for a larger government with more services, 54 percent to 43 percent…
  • …but if you do mention the prospect of higher taxes, they support a smaller government with fewer services, 57 percent to 41 percent.
  • 55 percent say they'd like to start their own business one day…
  • …but a plurality (48 percent) say that businesses mostly get rich at someone else's expense.
  • 61 percent cite "hard work" as a major reason for determining wealth and success in life…
  • …but only 31 percent cite "lack of work ethic" as a major reason for why people are poor.
  • 73 percent agree that "people should be allowed to keep what they produce, even if there are others with greater needs"…
  • …but 58 percent agree that government should "spend more on financial assistance to the poor, even if it leads to higher taxes."
  • 69 percent think the government should guarantee health insurance…
  • …but 55 percent are "unwilling to pay more for health insurance in order to help provide coverage to the uninsured."

Are all of these positions strictly logically contradictory? Of course not. It's theoretically possible to, say, support an overall tax cut that raises taxes on the rich too. But it's worth questioning the value of trying to force these answers into a coherent political framework rather than accept that Millennials, like most people, have much, much better things to do with their time than form highly nuanced and non-contradictory political opinions. Political nerds tend to really overestimate how much most people care about public policy, and how much they feel it connects to their daily lives.

One conclusion we can take away from the report, though, is that Millennials display a certain degree of economic self-interest. Just look at what happens to support for a living wage as you go up the income scale:


Source: Reason-Rupe

Same with closing the income gap:


Source: Reason-Rupe

And expanding the safety net:


Source: Reason-Rupe

And observe how support for socialism or, more mildly, an "egalitarian society" changes based on whether or not the respondent has experienced discrimination in their life:


Source: Reason-Rupe

It's silly to look over the poll's results and try to assign Millennials as a whole a coherent ideology, but it's safe to say that the role of one's own socioeconomic position in forming political beliefs is strong, just as it is with Americans as a whole.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for Vox Recommends

Get curated picks of the best Vox journalism to read, watch, and listen to every week, from our editors.