There is a growing body of evidence to show that millennials and other young people (16-30-year olds) are significantly further to the left than their older counterparts. This is by no means a new phenomenon when viewed in isolation because the youth has always tended leftward. That said, today we are seeing a more solidified, cohesive and ideologically aligned left to that which we have witnessed in generations passed. Additionally, the youth of today leans further left than previous generations, with older members of the ‘Millennial’ generation beginning to enter the political sphere (most notably, 30-year old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) and are beginning to influence politics from the inside.
The term Millennial is by no means a scientific one. It is used to loosely describe people born between the years 1981 and 1996. I am a Millennial, born just 15 days before the cut-off. Nevertheless, I generally identify with the broad political trends of my fellow Millennials; progressive, socially liberal, economically left of centre and largely sceptical of aggressive foreign policy. The likelihood of my political beliefs being slightly different had I been born just 16 days later, is minimal. However, I will be using these terms as a kind of catch-all to describe the difference between the political attitudes of the younger, older and middling generations in society. Moreover, this article does not intend to assert that all members of a certain generation think a certain way politically but will be referring to majority opinion and even cultural tropes that have arisen from the intergenerational schism.
Looking at the list of broad political alignments amongst Millennials, it is clear that this is a generation that is the product of its environment. For example, perhaps my earliest political memory (i.e. that which I was cognizant of and could fit into a wider political context) was the War in Iraq. If I think back, I can recall images of the fighting on the news, accompanied by “[X number] of British servicemen have been killed in the War in Iraq this past month alone”. As I grew older, I began to question what a “War on Terror” actually means and whether it is even winnable. I mean, how can you beat that which cannot be beaten?
The War on Terror was not a war against a tangible, traditional enemy. That is, we were not fighting a nation-state so much as we were fighting a series of largely dispersed groups, all of whom had a similar goal, but with different leaders and methods. Add to that, the cynicism around U.S. and coalition forces’ ulterior motives in the region (I’m talking about oil), and you’re setting up young people to grow sceptical of foreign conflict. Why send the sons and daughters of Great Britain to fight an unwinnable war, halfway around the world, all the while the actual threat of terror attacks hadn’t decreased, it had increased.
Following the War on Terror, terror attacks across Europe and North America have changed massively. Whereas before, most Islamic terror attacks would be carried out by men who had genuine links to organised terror cells in the Middle East, often being recruited, trained or supplied by groups in the region, now terror attacks are largely carried out by people who have been radicalised in the West – making them much more difficult to detect before the fact.
To demonstrate this point, all 19 terrorists involved in the September the 11th Terror Attacks were born outside the U.S. (15 from Saudi Arabia, 2 from the UAE, 1 from Lebanon & 1 from Egypt). However, the assailants in the Charlie Hebdo Shooting were both born in France, 7 of the 9 assailants in the November 2015 Paris Attacks were from either France or Belgium, the shooting at the Jewish Museum of Belgium’s assailant was French, so too were the assailants in the 2019 London Bridge Stabbing, 2017 Westminster Attack and the Murder of Lee Rigby all British citizens. It could be argued that the War on Terror, rather than stamping Islamic terrorism out for good, only served to fan the flames of Islamic fundamentalism – allowing for native Westerners to be radicalised and commit atrocities in their home country.
Moving on, there is no doubting that the younger generation is more socially liberal than their older, more traditionalist counterparts. Understanding why this is can be rather straightforward. Millennials are the most educated generation in history, that is, they have the most undergraduate degrees than any other generation. In fact, they tend to go to university to study social sciences. Flick on any clip of Jordan Peterson talking and he’ll tell you in no uncertain terms how radical left-wing cultural Marxists are strangling the humanities.
Putting zaniness aside, Universities are supposed to open one’s mind to question the prevailing order – and that is no truer than in the social sciences. It, therefore, stands to reason that a majority of university-educated, young adults, are emphatically more socially liberal and sceptical of the prevailing social order. Once a sizable population within a certain generation understands the world in a certain way, that view becomes a part of the zeitgeist, so to speak; to be involved is to be included, to not be involved brands you a social pariah. It is by no means a top-down, concerted conspiracy from university professors to indoctrinate young people and turn them into Marxists – as Dr. Peterson would have you believe – but rather a more natural process; the result of standard social relations.
When it comes to understanding why Millennials are typically on the left when it comes to economics, it doesn’t take much to find out why. Some quick facts:
It is worth bearing in mind that these are a short selection of facts I found during my research. This is by no means the full extent of the problem, but, it is no wonder why politicians like Bernie Sanders, who ran on a platform of cancelling student debt received so much support from alienated Millennials. Likewise, in the U.K., politicians like Jeremy Corbyn, who ran on a message of rebalancing the economy to enhance the prospects of the youth, received massive support from Millennials.
However, the biggest factor is undeniable: economic instability. From 2008’s global financial meltdown to the depression, to a decade of austerity, increasing poverty, stagnant wages, workplace precarity, dwindling long-term career prospects and an overall decrease in honest, fulfilling work. Millennials are looking at their Grandparents’ generation, asking how they had good-paying, secure, union jobs, while they don’t. They’re wondering why their parents went to university for £3,000 a year, while they’re paying £9,000 a year for tuition alone. They think, “Hang on, my Grandparents and Parents had a better NHS, cheaper holidays, cheaper cars and cheaper living costs than me, all with more money (adjusted for inflation)”. What’s more, they wonder why that is.
You don’t have to think long and hard about where the social gravy train ran off the tracks; the Reagan-Thatcher era. The ushering in of Neoliberal, supply-side economics, which has brought about the very situation Millennials find themselves in today. They are the first generation to have not had the time to accrue capital (be it money, houses, cars etc.) before this sea-change in economic dogma. Furthermore, a key tenet of supply-side economics is deregulation – which, if any of you know anything about the crucial faults at the heart of the 2008 Financial Crash, was the key (See: The Big Short  for a dramatized but fundamentally faithful depiction of events).
On the day of writing this, the 12th of August 2020, news broke that the U.K. had fallen into its deepest recession on record. There is little doubt in my mind, that despite all of the pomposity and posturing from the current Tory Government (including Boris Johnson anointing himself the new Franklin Delano Roosevelt) that they will indeed revert to type.
I expect to see, in the coming years, a colossal reduction in state-spending, gigantic cuts to the budget which will inevitably impact the poorest – because that was the way it went last time – and ultimately, more diversion onto comparatively trivial matters. We have already witnessed this playing out in a microcosm over the last week, with Tory mouthpieces in the press drawing attention to the relatively small number of migrants illegally crossing the English Channel.
What gives me enormous hope is that, with a progressive generation already bitterly angry and discontented at their prospects – angry enough, jaded enough and plenty sceptical enough to see the media diversion for what it was; a sham. Many took to online platforms to denounce the diversions, with many reminding people that the U.K.’s case numbers are steadily rising again, with the government now unwilling to enact any mitigating measures. This generation has been through the wringer once. Now it is our time to go through it again.
Many right-wing pundits have wishfully claimed that Generation Z (1997-2012) kids are overwhelmingly conservative and that in the years to come, they will balance out the radically left Millennials. Despite there being next to no evidence of this claim being true, a new youth facing a decade (or more) of austerity, of coming of age in a society of jaded and disaffected dreamers, of seeing their older siblings scraping by without better prospects; well, maybe that’ll sort them – it certainly did for Millennials.
As I mentioned at the beginning, this is by no means a scientific analysis of intergenerational political leaning. This is largely speculative. However, being 14 when the First Great Recession hit, and now being 23, about to graduate from university, as the Second Great Recession hits, I’m not entirely loving the economic doctrine the West has allied itself with for the past 40 years.
I don’t believe in abolishing capitalism. However, there can be little argument for keeping it as it is, given the fact that it has been shown to be incapable of bettering the lives of an entire generation. I’m optimistic for the future though. As more progressive, politically aware Millennials reach the voting age, and as the more conservative Baby Boomers’ vote decreases, the chance of a broken, backwards and failing economic order being reformed grows ever more likely.