September 25, 2014

The GOP’s Millennial problem runs deep

Wide Ideological Divide by Generation, Particularly Stark Within the GOPThe Republican Party’s struggles in appealing to young people have been well documented. And even those Millennials who do identify as Republicans or lean toward the GOP are decidedly less conservative than older Republicans.

Overall, Millennials (currently ages 18-33) are the most liberal age group. In our report on Political Polarization in the American Public, we used a scale based on 10 political values questions about the role of government, the environment, homosexuality and other issues to measure ideological consistency. This survey of more than 10,000 Americans finds that, on this scale, Millennials are considerably more liberal than other generations: About four-in-ten Millennials are mostly (28%) or consistently (13%) liberal in their views, compared with 15% who are mostly (12%) or consistently (3%) conservative (44% are ideologically mixed). Older generations are progressively more conservative.

The relative liberalism of Millennials translates into a greater likelihood of affiliating with or leaning toward the Democratic Party compared with those in older generations. Today, about half of Millennials (50%) are Democrats or lean to the Democratic Party, while just 34% affiliate with or lean to the GOP. By comparison, Baby Boomers (those ages 50 to 68) lean slightly Democratic (46% Democratic/Democratic leaning, 42% Republican/Republican leaning), while those in the Silent generation (ages 69 to 86) are about evenly divided (47% Republican/Republican leaning, 44% Democratic/Democratic leaning).

But in addition to the generation’s Democratic tendency, Millennials who identify with the GOP are also less conservative than Republicans in other generations: Among the roughly one-third of Millennials who affiliate with or lean Republican, just 31% have a mix of political values that are right-of-center, while about half (51%) take a mix of liberal and conservative positions and 18% have consistently or mostly liberal views. Among all Republicans and Republican leaners, 53% have conservative views; in the two oldest generations, Silents and Boomers, about two-thirds are consistently or mostly conservative.

In short, not only are Millennials less likely than older generations to identify as Republicans, but even those who do express significantly less conservative values than do their elders.

Millennial Republicans More Liberal than Older Republicans on Homosexuality, ImmigrationNo such generational divide exists among Democrats. Across all generations, majorities have values that are left-of center, while most others have a mix of liberal and conservative values.

The generational divisions among Republicans span different dimensions of political values. Some of the most striking generational differences within Republicans concern social issues like homosexuality and immigration, but younger Republicans are also less conservative when it comes to values related to the environment, role of government, the social safety net and the marketplace.

By a 64% to 30% margin Millennial Republicans say that homosexuality should be accepted by society rather than discouraged. Among older generations of Republicans, no more than about half think homosexuality should be accepted.

There is a similar generational split in the GOP over immigration: On balance, younger Republicans say immigrants strengthen our country with their hard work and talents, while older Republicans say immigrants are a burden on our country by taking our jobs, housing and health care.

The generational divide in the GOP carries over to views of business and regulation as well. While Boomer and Silent Generation Republicans overwhelmingly see stricter environmental regulations as hurting the economy, Millennial Republicans are divided almost evenly over whether this is the case or whether they are worth the costs. Similarly, older generations of Republicans believe business corporations make a fair and reasonable amount of profit these days, while half of Millennial Republicans think they make too much profit.

Millennial Republicans Less Critical of Government, But Nearly as Skeptical of Social Safety NetAnd younger Republicans are far less skeptical about government than are older Republicans. About six-in-ten (59%) Millennial Republicans think that “government is almost always wasteful and inefficient,” compared with roughly eight-in-ten of Republicans over age 33.

But there is little difference across generations within the GOP over social safety net programs: About three-quarters of those in older generations say the government can’t afford to do much more to help the needy, compared with 68% of Millennial Republicans.

And while Millennial Republicans have more liberal views than older Republicans on a number of issue dimensions, they nonetheless are more conservative than Democrats across age groups. For instance, Millennial Republicans are 19 points more likely than all Democrats and Democratic leaners to say that government is wasteful and inefficient (59% vs. 40%) and are 19 points less likely to think that business corporations make too much profit (69% of Democrats vs. 50% of Millennial Republicans).

Generational Divides Less Pronounced Among DemocratsAlthough younger and older Democrats don’t agree on everything, their general profile and priorities are far more in alignment than is the case within the GOP. The age differences among Democrats are generally a matter of degree, not direction. Millennial Democrats are 21 points more likely than Silent Generation Democrats to say homosexuality should be accepted by society (84% vs. 63%). And they are also more positive toward immigrants.

There are other realms where younger Democrats are, if anything, more conservative than their elders. Millennial Democrats are slightly more likely than older Democrats to say government today can’t afford to do much more to help the poor and needy in this country or that blacks who can’t get ahead are responsible for their own condition, for example; but these differences are very modest.

Topics: U.S. Political Parties, Political Attitudes and Values, Political Party Affiliation, Political Issue Priorities, Political Polarization

  1. Photo of Jocelyn Kiley

    is an associate director of research at Pew Research Center.

  2. Photo of Michael Dimock

    is the president of Pew Research Center.


  1. William Blain2 years ago

    Trump has damaged the GOP for the next 20 years…

  2. Frank Lee2 years ago

    This isn’t a real problem, on the contrary it’s good for the country and will be good for the GOP in time. What we label “conservative” nowadays is really rather extreme conservatism. It was a big story ten to fifteen years ago that the GOP was forcing out all their moderate conservatives for hardliners only. But how long can giving the entire party over to the hardliners really work? Well it’s already failing, there’s a blue firewall in the electoral college and Republicans have had to gerrymander harder than they’ve ever gerrymandered before in order to keep from losing the House. Republicans aren’t moving along with the times, they’re regressing against them. In twenty or thirty years they’ll have imploded and a migration of moderates will come in to represent and lead the party. People who respect empirical science, and the rights and dignities of people who aren’t exactly like them, but also don’t think blaming racist cops for America’s crime problem is really going to solve anything.

  3. Alvinmunk2 years ago

    Millenia ls are young and still haven’t had a chance to learn at life. The “anything goes”with the liberal lifestyle is attractive to the younger generations. As they grow older and mature, their nature will change too. Look at the Boomers. Back in their young hay daysIin the 60’s and 70’s, they were the radical liberals. Today for the most part, many are much more conservative compared to 40-50 years ago.

    1. Greg2 years ago

      Alvinmunk, what you’re suggesting has been studied, and contrary to what you’real saying political views follow more generational trends rather than lifetime trends. This means that the political views between generations differ more than they do at different points in a person’s lifetime. So no, it’s not that young people tend to be more liberal, it’s that this generation is more liberal. If this is a problem with you, send a “thank you” note to the Bush administration.

  4. Dallas M.2 years ago

    It is evident in this article that the writers are Democrats, and even though this article was to speak of Republicans and their problems, it prefers to paint the Democrats in agreement on most things, and ends with a chart representing them, and even ends with more comments about the “modest” differences in generations. I don’t think this is a non-partisan research center at all.

  5. John Cate2 years ago

    None of this is surprising. It’s well established that people tend to become more conservative as they get older. If you’d done a survey like this 20 years ago, Generation X would have scored as much more liberal. If you’d done it in 1970, the Baby Boomers would have probably scored as more liberal than present-day millenials do now.

    The Republicans don’t have a “Millenial problem” that they can do anything about, short of changing their policies to be like the Democrats, in which case all of their current supporters would leave. The GOP, by its nature, is the party of older, established people, and a lot of people start out as Democrats and become Republicans later in life. Starting with one of the most famous Republicans in recent memory, a man by the name of Ronald Reagan.

    1. Just Wondering2 years ago

      Hi there. I’m sorry, but I’m very curious as to the research that supports your conclusion that people just gradually become more conservative as they get older, seemingly no matter how liberal they are in their earlier years.

      1. Anthony2 years ago

        Agreed. I’ve gotten older and if anything I’m more liberal. I side with the Millenials.

  6. GOP Millennial2 years ago

    This is ridiculous! Proud Republican millennials, like myself, come up “sometimes liberal” based on your rankings. But that’s because I’m a LIBERTARIAN, not a LIBERAL. I believe in freedom and liberty in all sectors and believe government should stay out of all sectors, economic AND social. That doesn’t make me a “liberal Republican,” it makes me a libertarian. And that’s a growing STRENGTH, not a weakness, in the GOP.

  7. ArtB2 years ago

    Let’s come back to the issue of illegal vs. legal immigration. ANY survey question today that does NOT clearly differentiate between the two can NOT be considered valid.

  8. Greg Ripps2 years ago

    You seem to have come to some conclusions based on hazy terminology. You confuse being against illegal immigration with being against immigration. You also confuse being against changing the definition of marriage with being against gay rights. The answers depend on how you asked the questions. Those who do not see distinctions between these positions are accepting premises of the Left.

  9. Ex turpi causa3 years ago

    The young are more liberal than the old? And Democrats are roughly as liberal as each other? Who would have thought?

    Must be of comfort to those who need to have it all scientifically quantified though…

  10. angelique3 years ago

    Thank you public education for brain washing our youth. I mean, liberals, cause you run the schools. I can’t believe anyone would be shocked by this.

    1. Art3 years ago

      Are rural schools different from urban schools? Living in a inner city school with a majority being non white, I had teachers that are implied to be liberal. Or are teachers not supposed to express political views?

  11. Brandon Pliska3 years ago

    Denying progress, which is the single constant of the universe, is not a good platform for success.

  12. Daws3 years ago

    Give the millennial republicans time, am sure they’ll eventually be fully inundated and integrated into the cult and their groupthink…

  13. D.3 years ago

    Wasn’t Hillary Clinton a Republican before she left college? Then she became a democrat.

    1. Art3 years ago

      True, in a book I read she was described as a ‘Goldwater girl’ but seems to be off put by government not doing enough to help the poor. Dissent may have come with political affliation.

  14. J.M.3 years ago

    I for one am shocked that young people are more liberal than their parents. That’s definitely something we’ve never seen before.

    1. Austin3 years ago

      Humanity’s collective consciousness is growing. We are gradually becoming more accepting, more open to different walks of life than our own. A more tolerant society can focus on issues grander than what makes us ‘different’. It seems “liberal” but it is simply what is right and just.

      1. Brandon Pliska3 years ago

        Indeed, it’s because of the Internet. When you see the perspecives of others, you can empathize with them. Otherwise, fear of the unknown is usually what us simpleton humans revert to by default.

    2. E.C.3 years ago

      I think the interesting point of the article is that this is not the case among people who identify as Democrats: young and old are consistently liberal. And so this suggests that something else is contributing to the more liberal shift among young Republicans.

    3. Jon3 years ago

      Except for Gen Xers, who were more conservative than their parents–the “Alex P. Keaton” effect.

    4. mr3 years ago

      Young people are FED UP with these useless labels. Major corporations own both parties anyway. Why even bother doing these polls.

    5. gary3 years ago

      Why are you shocked? If you grew up entitled, trophies for winning nothing, everybody is a winner, no keeping score, no child left behind, everybody is special, etc., why wouldn’t you lean toward a more liberal stance.

      1. Chris3 years ago

        Because no child left behind was instituted by Bush JR…

      2. RP_McMurphy2 years ago

        Boomers ought to do us a favor and can it about “entitlement.” Y’all grew up in one of the most prosperous periods of the nation’s history, and when you entered the workforce, it wasn’t in the midst of worst recession since the Depression. So show a little gratitude.

        1. Benjamin Brown2 years ago

          ^ This. Also, it doesn’t exactly help that you lot are belittling our generation. I think the GOP could win millennials if they did three things.

          1: If they learned anything from the 2008-2012 elections, and GWB administration. So far that hasn’t been the case.

          So far they’ve belittled, and written millennials off because they know better. Ignoring why Obama won in 2008-2012 is something the GOP do at their peril and yet so far it seems like that is exactly what they’ve done.

          2: Stop with the social issues. It is insane that abortion is a policy issue in 2015 in a Presidential election. That is insanity.

          The GOP should be talking about what they’re going to do for the economy, but nope. Lets talk about abortion!

          3: The GOP continues to be outdated on a number of issues, whether its climate change, social issues, economic theory, etc. The GOP may have diverse faces running for president, but they have the same failed policies of the past 30 years. No thank you.

        2. Anonymous1 year ago

          Baby boomers are the worst