June 27

Inequality is in; discrimination is out. That’s what Pew’s latest survey tells us about the emerging left, which makes up 13 percent of registered voters.

The report identifies a curious slice of young, up and coming liberals dubbed the “Next Generation Left.” They’re relatively affluent and educated; very progressive on social issues but pro-Wall Street.

Most interestingly, the biggest portion of them blame poverty on outside factors but not racial discrimination.

Question 1

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In essence, the Next Generation Left slightly favors the view that outside forces – such as culture, policies or luck – stop a poor person from moving upward. But an overwhelming majority of them reject racial discrimination as one of those factors. Not even a fifth believe that prejudice is the main barrier to black success.

There’s no easy answer to why the Next Generation Left sees discrimination as a small problem. Part of it may be racial bias, since blacks only make up 7% of the Next Generation Left as opposed to 13% nationwide. But there may also be a more historic and personal angle.

Around 70 percent of the Next Generation Left were either not born or too young to remember the Civil Rights Movement. They only understand the civil rights leaders, riots and marches through the distance of books and documentaries. As they grew up in the 70s, 80s or 90s, the United States had already begun correcting its laws. Voting rights and fair employment legislation were being translated into action. Many schools implemented affirmative action, which is supported by this group by a wide margin. In 2008, America elected its first black president. Very likely due to this progress, two-thirds of the group sees the U.S. as having made “the changes needed to give blacks equal rights.” They starkly break away from other liberals who think we still have a long way to go.

Other factors, like economic swings or pure luck, ring much more clearly for this group. The recession is a recent seminal event that left a heavy stamp on the group’s young consciousness. Most were in school or working when Lehman Brothers fell, and virtually all saw their or their neighbors’ fortunes plummet. Inequality is a big focus today, since it is at its highest since 1928. Democrats have seized on the minimum wage issue for the 2014 midterms. Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century sold out in a matter of days, proof of society’s concern about poverty. The Next Generation Left has absorbed this attitude, even as it worries about the growing debt.

Anecdotal experiences are powerful. They’ve rightfully fueled a focus on whether there’s real opportunity for the poor. But they’ve also left addressing discrimination in the dark. Over half jailed in state prisons for drug offenses are black. Students of color are “suspended or expelled” at triple the rate of white students. The Supreme Court struck down part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act one year ago, and Congress hasn’t yet passed a remedy.

We need to keep chipping away at racism. This finding shows that this young left group, an eighth of all registered voters, feels little stake in the fight. Perhaps only a truly concerted effort will engage them.