The future looks bright. Culture wars will come to an end. Partisan rancor will dissipate. And hold-the-government-hostage efforts by the tea party will disappear.
Why this optimism? It isn’t derived from our beautiful spring, with new life bursting into bloom all around us, nor from the season of Passover and Easter, with their respective promises of liberation and resurrection.
Instead, we have reason to hope because of data: Demographic data. Specifically, the coming dominance of the millennial generation – now aged 11 to 32, with its adults aged 18 to 32 – and the dying out of older generations may well solve many of our partisan battles. Researchers, including Pew Research Center and the duo Morley Winograd and Michael Hais, have been tracking the beliefs of millennials for some time now. The bottom line: milliennials see the world differently than previous generations.
“Millennials’ parents sat their toddlers down in front of the TV to watch ‘Barney,’ which taught the generation to look for consensus solutions that worked for everyone in the group, regardless of their surface differences,” Winograd explains. With “their best TV playmate a purple dinosaur – as different on the outside as he could be – but, on the inside, just like you and me,” millennials embrace “tolerance and a consensus orientation,” he said
The culture wars? They’ll slip away because the social differences that plague millennials’ parents and grandparents hold little meaning to millennials themselves. To millennials, sexual and racial differences don’t matter. Just like Barney, millennials take for granted that we’re all the same on the inside. They don’t bat an eye at interracial dating and gay marriage, and they’re decidedly pro-immigration. (This may be partly due to the racial diversification of America, as 43 percent of millennials are not white, the highest share ever.) And while they’re more pro-life personally than the generations immediately older, millennials don’t vote on abortion and it doesn’t rile them up like it does their parents and grandparents.
Partisan fighting isn’t Barney’s style, and it also isn’t the millennial style. This bodes well for a more cooperative American political climate. Only a third of millennials see a major difference between Democrats and Republicans and, overall, they’re less likely to identify with one of the two parties. Indeed, half of millennials identify as political independents. But they aren’t like current independents who fall somewhere between Democrats and Republicans on ideology; instead, millennials are politically liberal and believe in an activist government to solve social ills. Therefore, the independents who capture their vote are more likely to be millennially-minded than middle-of the-road. Democrats maintain a good shot at the millennial vote if they offer a platform that speaks to millennials. (Recall Barack Obama’s success in capturing millennial support in 2008 and 2012). While millennials are not particularly partisan, it’s largely because they’re just not the joining type.
Actually, they’re not the joining type in any facet of life. Almost one-third of millennials are unaffiliated with any religion, and smaller numbers in organized religion may also lead to less robust culture wars. Similarly, millennials don’t join social organizations, since their connections come primarily from social media. (This is the first generation raised on social media, the “native” networkers.) At work, they’re decidedly not your grandfather’s workers. They don’t pick a company and feel loyalty to it. Instead, this is the generation that believes you make your own job – in your garage with your friends, creating a new entrepreneurial or non-profit effort. And, although they’ve been hit hardest of any generation with the timing of the recession, and suffer lost job years that will impact the broader economy, they remain optimistic.
That Barney-loving community spirit also leads millennials to be very civic-minded, eager to improve the world and contribute to their communities. A full 22 percent aim for a job that will benefit society. This spirit bodes well for an increase in community spirit and less hostility among citizens. Today is Earth Day, and, although the international Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns we’re getting close to the point of no return on global warming, when the millennials start dominating decision-making they’re likely to make a significant difference in protecting the environment because they care more about it than older generations.
What of the tea party, with its willingness to shut down Washington to get its way? It will, simply put, age out. Demographically, the tea party is a movement of older white men, and they will get older and be replaced by the more community-minded, liberal millennials. While this may not be good news for the tiny but vocal tea party, it is very good news for Americans tired of a politics dominated by warring parties and cultural pitbulls.
The future looks bright. Just hang on a decade or two.