February 24, 2010

A new Pew poll on millennials details the political leanings and values of this generation. Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center, discusses the results of the poll.


As Mara said, the president has a chance to show that he's trying to build consensus and do it with transparency. And doing that would certainly appeal to one group, at least, of Americans: the millennials.

Today, the Pew Research Center released a comprehensive study of the millennial generation, the youngest American adults, ages 18 to 29. They have come of age in this millennium and there are about 50 million of them in the U.S. They are more educated than their elders, also more likely to be unemployed or underemployed, and they believe in government, we learned.

Andrew Kohut is the president of the Pew Research Center, and a frequent guest here, joins us once again. Hi.

Mr. ANDREW KOHUT (President, Pew Research Center): Happy to be here, Robert.

SIEGEL: Give us a thumbnail sketch of the millennials.

Mr. KOHUT: They're Democratic. They voted very heavily for Barack Obama. They're a little less supportive of Obama today, but still - compared to other generations - they are more supportive of the Democratic Party. They're more supportive of Barack Obama.

They call themselves liberals. Yes, they use the L-word. Twenty-nine percent of them say they're liberals. Less than 20 percent of all of the other generations say that.

They're very tolerant of gays and race...

SIEGEL: And a very diverse group.

Mr. KOHUT: And they're very diverse.


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.

SIEGEL: You said that millennials are big believers in values as well.

Mr. KOHUT: They are. They look at - to themselves and they say, our generation is quite different than our parents' generation. But they don't say it with any rancor. What they say is they're unlike baby boomers who had this great dispute with their parents about values. The millennial generation say older people have better moral values, have better work ethic. The only thing they criticize the older generation for is their lack of tolerance.

SIEGEL: Who raised these terrific kids, Andy?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. KOHUT: People your age actually, Robert. Thank you for...

SIEGEL: Now, to be clear here, Pew is not just comparing the millennials to other age groups today, but you're looking with what they say compared to what boomers said in the late '70s or what Gen Xers said in the 1990s.

Mr. KOHUT: That's right. And they do express - hold these values to a greater extent than Gen Xers, for example, at a comparable point of time.

They're also less religious. Not less believing. They tend to have high levels of belief, but they're not joiners.

SIEGEL: Their adult lives have witnessed two American wars in Afghanistan and in Iraq, and yet they don't seem terribly militaristic in their view of the world.

Mr. KOHUT: Well, maybe as a consequence. Fewer of them support an assertive military posture as a form of national security compared to other generations.

The war in Afghanistan and the call for more troops in Afghanistan was not popular, even though they're very relatively supportive of Barack Obama.

SIEGEL: Yes, you mentioned they're relatively supportive of Barack Obama, self-identify to a remarkable degree as liberals and also as Democrats. Are they among those who have also been drifting away from President Obama, the Democrats, as we've seen in so many polls?

Mr. KOHUT: In certainly one respect they have. His approval ratings fell from 73 percent among this generation to 57 percent currently. It's still relatively high to other groups. But underneath it, you see that this generation still has a lot of personal confidence in Obama. Seventy-five percent rate him favorably, just about as much as did - after he took office.

You know, this is a generation that's been hard-hit by unemployment, as you mentioned. And the rate - the relationship between rising unemployment and Obama's approval ratings going down is very clear. And it's clear for this generation too.

SIEGEL: Now, there are some apparent contradictions in what the millennials told your poll. They say they want to get married, they generally approve of marriage. On the other hand, more single women are having children in this group than ever before. More children are being born to single women, that is.

They're satisfied with the money they make, but they're also out of work.

Mr. KOHUT: Yeah, they're very confident that it's all going to work out in the end. Sixty-eight percent of them say either now or at some time in the future -mostly some time in the future - they will earn enough money to lead the kind of life they want, higher than previous generations even though they have this high level of unemployment.

SIEGEL: An optimistic group, you're saying.

Mr. KOHUT: An optimistic group.

SIEGEL: Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center, thanks.

Mr. KOHUT: You're welcome.

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