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The Coming Left-Wing Majority

More and more young people are rejecting the politics of fear and moving left.

So much of liberals’ orientation these past five decades has been shaped by the rise of the Right; by the sense that the United States is really, truly, in its heart of hearts, a center-right country; that the people who elected Nixon, Reagan, and Bush really are the permanent majority.

But a lot of demographic research is showing that this is radically changing among younger voters. Not just in the Democratic Party, where younger voters are moving, galloping, to the left, but also among younger Republican voters, who are far less conservative than their Republican elders. As this Vox piece reports:

Piles of research had already indicated that the youngest generation is much more liberal than its predecessors.

But it turns out it’s not just that young people are in general more likely to identify as liberal or that young liberals are to the left of older liberals — though both of these phenomena do appear to be true.

It turns out young Republicans are also likely to be to the left of older Republicans, according to a new study from Gary C. Jacobson, a political scientist at the University of California San Diego.

Going into the research, Jacobson said he more or less expected young conservatives to be to their parents’ left on issues like same-sex marriage and immigration.

But Jacobson said he found sharp splits by age among Republicans on almost every topic, from whether they believe President Barack Obama is a Muslim to whether they listen to conservative talk radio. (Jacobson used a new Gallup data set involving 400,000 responses that he said hadn’t been previously analyzed.)

Perhaps just as surprising: Fewer young Republicans are willing to identify themselves as conservative.

. . .

One big question is if these trends will hold up as these younger conservatives grow up, have children, and begin paying taxes.

There’s reason to believe they will. Jacobson’s research is built around a well-known phenomenon in political science known as “generational imprinting” that’s been documented since the 1950s.

It’s a simple idea: Essentially, young people decide their political identities when they’re “coming of political age” — or when they first really begin paying attention to what’s going on in politics.

These large-scale demographic shifts are going to pose a big challenge to liberals.

Neoliberals will increasingly lose the ability to discipline the Left by invoking the fear of the Right. More genuine liberals, whose sympathies lie with the Left but whose sensibility has been so disciplined by the Right that they’ve sincerely internalized these norms as the outermost edge of what is politically legitimate, will also have to rethink.

When your mental horizons are so constructed and constrained by something like Reaganism, you grow attached to them and find it hard to give them up, even when conditions change.

As Emily Dickinson wrote, “Because that fearing it so long/ Had almost made it dear.”