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NYT: Liberal Teenagers May Turn Into Generation of Conservatives

Tuesday, 08 Jul 2014 11:53 AM

By Drew MacKenzie


Republicans who fear that young people today are growing up as liberals have reason to hope that they may turn into a generation of conservatives, according to The New York Times.

During the 1960s, Americans in their teens and their 20s marched for civil rights and condemned the Vietnam War, while also voting strongly Democratic. But less than a generation later they came out overwhelmingly in support of Ronald Reagan.

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Now young adults have gone back to being liberals again, while backing gay marriages, legalizing marijuana, climate change laws, gun background checks, and amnesty for illegal immigrants, all of which most Republican lawmakers abhor.

"But the temporary nature of the 1960s should serve as a reminder that politics change," said Times columnist David Leonhardt. "What seems permanent can become fleeting. And the Democratic Party, for all its strengths among Americans under 40, has some serious vulnerabilities, too."

He noted that millennials, people in their 20s and 30s, believe that the current domestic and foreign policy problems, such as the struggling economy and the crisis in Iraq, have their origins in George W. Bush's era.

But the teenagers born in 1998, the youngest eligible voters in the next presidential election, are too young to recall the Bush presidency, the reasons for the Iraq war, or even perhaps the euphoria surrounding Barack Obama's campaign.

"They instead are coming of age with a Democratic president who often seems unable to fix the world's problems," wrote Leonhardt. "Most Americans think this country is on the wrong track. Our foreign policy often seems messy and complex, at best."

Leonhardt wrote that academic research has found that different generations have different ideological identities, which can impact their view on politics and ultimately decide their long-term political affiliation.

"People are particularly shaped by events as they first become aware of the world, starting as young as 10 years old," wrote Leonhardt, while noting that the generation that "came of age" during the Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry Truman presidencies leaned Democratic as did those "who learned American politics through the glamour" of John F. Kennedy.

"The babies of the late 1960s and early 1970s, who entered political consciousness during the Reagan years, lean Republican. Think Alex Keaton, the conservative child of hippies from the 1980s sitcom 'Family Ties.'

"These identities are a more useful guide to American politics than the largely useless clichés about adults starting off liberal and slowly becoming more conservative. Like a broken clock, that cliché can seem accurate at times, mostly thanks to luck."

Leonhardt wrote that the generational nature of politics means that the second Obama term still has "enormous political import."

He concluded, "If he can execute his basic goals — if the economy improves and his healthcare, education and climate policies all seem to be basically working — it will pay political dividends for decades to come.

"We may not yet know who will be running for president in, say, 2024. We do know that Mr. Obama, like his predecessors, will still cast a shadow over the campaign."

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