Millennials are on the cusp of surpassing Baby Boomers as the nation’s largest living adult generation, according to population projections from the U.S. Census Bureau. As of July 1, 2016 (the latest date for which population estimates are available), Millennials, whom we define as ages 20 to 35 in 2016, numbered 71 million, and Boomers (ages 52 to 70) numbered 74 million. Millennials are expected to overtake Boomers in population in 2019 as their numbers swell to 73 million and Boomers decline to 72 million. Generation X (ages 36 to 51 in 2016) is projected to pass the Boomers in population by 2028.
The reign of the baby boomers — who will leave their children and grandchildren with massive debt, who were critical to President Trump’s rise (he lost younger voters but won strongly among the 45-to-64 and 65-and-older age brackets) and who keep Fox News afloat (the median age for its viewers is 66) — is diminishing. (“They peaked at 78.8 million in 1999 and have remained the largest living adult generation. There were an estimated 74.1 million Boomers in 2016. By midcentury, the Boomer population is projected to dwindle to 16.6 million.”)
Millennials take plenty of flak, but they are more diverse, read more books than their baby boomer parents and do not pine for the pre-globalized economy. As a generation, they are strongly anti-Trump and don’t seem to be getting more conservative with time, as their parents did. Pew’s survey found:
Just 27% of Millennials approve of Trump’s job performance, while 65% disapprove. … But even taking the greater diversity of younger generations into account, younger generations – particularly Millennials – express more liberal views on many issues and have stronger Democratic leanings than do older cohorts. …
Millennial voters have generally favored Democrats in midterms, and that trend continues. But, comparing early preferences this year with surveys conducted in previous midterm years, Millennial registered voters support the Democrat by a wider margin than in the past.
The GOP is not popular with this generation of voters. “More than four-in-ten Millennial registered voters (44%) describe themselves as independents, compared with 39% of Gen Xers and smaller proportions of Boomers (32%) and Silents (27%),” the poll says. “However, a majority of Millennials (59%) affiliate with the Democratic Party (35%) or lean Democratic (24%). Just 32% identify as Republicans or lean toward the GOP.” They are less religious than older generations and less likely to be married. Their skepticism of institutions runs high.
On specific issues, millennials take a more liberal stance on the size of government. (“Millennials and Gen Xers are more likely than Boomers or Silents to say the government should do more for the needy, even if it means going deeper into debt. And Millennials are more likely than older generations to say it is the federal government’s responsibility to make sure all Americans have health care coverage.”) They are more concerned about economic inequality (66 percent say government favors powerful interests).
There are warning signs for future politicians, however. Millennials are more skeptical of the United States’ role in the world and don’t express support for American exceptionalism. Those who think the United States plays a critical role as the only superpower will need to make the case for international action and make clear that hard power is a last but sometimes necessary element of maintaining the international order that millennials have come to enjoy.
The good news is that 80 percent of millennials “say America’s openness to others is essential, compared with 68% of Gen Xers, 61% of Boomers and 54% of Silents.” In keeping with their more inclusive views, “Millennials are the only generation in which a majority (55%) says Islam does not encourage violence more than other religions. … By about three-to-one (64% to 20%), more Millennials say NAFTA is good for the U.S. than say it is bad.” In addition, they are extremely supportive of immigration. “Millennials, in particular, stand out for their positive views of immigrants: 79% say they strengthen rather than burden the country. ” Unsurprisingly, as a generation, they are more likely to recognize that there is global warming (81 percent).
In sum, if we want “change” in politics, it might be better to look to someone other than a 70-something billionaire. Millennials may not be very partisan, but they are inclusive, open to the world, science believers and concerned about the poor. To the extent that the GOP goes the way of European ethno-nationalist parties, it is going to lose among these voters by a mile. So long as the GOP is headed by a president who stands for many of the things this generation abhors (racism, protectionism, anti-science, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim)Democrats have an opportunity to make inroads. They will do that not by appealing to party labels or loyalty, but by stressing those values and beliefs — especially openness and inclusion — that they share with this generation.
What may be most reassuring is that we’ve already seen how effective millennials can be in energizing public opinion and using social networks. They are coming of age in an era in which citizen participation (generally in opposition to Trump) is flourishing and mass movements are once again emerging. Engaging this generation as active citizens rather than passive consumers of partisan media may pay huge dividends in future years. Millennials provide some rare good news in the Trump era — here is a generation that believes in civic engagement and has confidence in its ability to influence political debate. We could use both.