Mr. KOHUT: Many people, not just whites, I think only 60 percent of this generation is white. They have a positive view of government - a more positive view of government, at least, than other generations. And they even supported higher rates, relatively higher rates, such things as affirmative action with preferential treatment for minorities.Looking down the road, when the up-and-coming generation is 40% white, what will the support-preferential-treatment-for-minorities numbers look like? Will the term "minority" continue to be translated as "non-white", or will it fall out of use as everyone becomes a statistical minority based on their racial compositions?
I wondered more generally whether or not the contemporary political liberalism of those under age 30 is an exception in recent history or a continuation of past trends. Over the last several decades, have young adults been as liberal relative to other age groups as they are today, or are those designated by demographers as millennials especially leftist in their outlooks?
Turning to the GSS, I used Pew's generational conventions for age groupings. Millenials are 18-29, Xers 30-44, baby boomers 45-63, and silents 64-81. Because I was looking back in time, the age groupings do not correspond to static generational labels, of course--the intention is to see if the political orientations of young people have become especially liberal in the last few years. Higher values indicate political conservatism and lower values indicate political liberalism, with 4 representing perfect moderation. The graph shows the mean for people in each age grouping by year of survey.
Still presumably riding the wave of the 60s, young adults tended to describe themselves as considerably more liberal than older generations did through the 70s, at which point the average response became moderate. Since the turn of the millennium, it looks as though those under 30 have remained noticeably more liberal than those over 30 (although only by about one-fourth of a standard deviation). So the Pew report appears to be capturing something not entirely predictable.
As time goes on, the under 30 cohort continues to become less and less European by ancestry. Looking only at whites, there does not appear to have been any detectable shifting over the last three decades, the apparent noise in 1998 and 2002 notwithstanding.
I suspect much of the liberal skew of young adults today stems in large part from the fact that they are, as a group, less white than older generations are. Neither whites nor non-whites are becoming more liberal or conservative than before. Instead, non-whites are more liberal than whites are, and they're coming to represent a growing percentage of the young adult aggregate.