George Washington warned about the dangers of the party system in his presidential farewell speech. With the stubbornness of today’s partisan politics, is it any wonder why the congressional approval rating is at an embarrassingly low 15 percent? But when it comes time to vote, voters overwhelmingly continue to choose the candidates that most rigidly adhere to the established party structures.
As unlikely as electing a non-traditional or third party candidate sounds, the millennial generation might be the key to making it a reality. More likely, though, we will see a shift in one or both of the main party platforms to adopt the values of this generation of young voters.
The Reason-Rupe 2014 Millennial Survey collected responses from 2,000 young adults ages 18-29, bringing to light numerous political tendencies of this generation. Most notably, 34 percent of millennials self-identify as independent – over triple the rate of older cohorts.
They tend to be socially liberal and fiscally centrist, with social values being the defining factor in selecting one’s political label (i.e., considering oneself liberal for supporting gay marriage while not necessarily being financially liberal).
They also don’t trust either of the two parties when it comes to effectively handling numerous issues, from privacy to drug policy to education. The survey report breaks down the level of trust on each individual issue – Democrats see some favor on issues like gay marriage, poverty and the environment – but in total, 28 percent of responders said they didn’t trust either party on any of the 14 issues surveyed.
Such high levels of distrust show that millennials desire leadership that isn’t currently available, but until it is, they view the Democratic Party as the “better of two bad options.”
In fact, 53 percent of those surveyed said they would support a socially liberal, fiscally conservative candidate, which bodes well for Libertarians. This young cohort – 80 million strong – helped push over the first domino on issues like gay marriage and recreational marijuana legalization. Eventually, one of the parties is going to have to adopt the values of the millennials.
Can the Republican Party shift its rigid, backwards social platform in time to win over this new demographic? Probably not. The more enmeshed the GOP becomes with religion, the less willing they will be to compromise their “traditional values.”
Rather, in the years to come, I think we can expect to see a more fiscally moderate Democratic Party. Until then, the party’s social policies will make sure most millennials begrudgingly vote for Hillary Clinton in 2016.