Young people have helped push the gay marriage issue to the forefront, with so many voters 30 and under supporting marriage equality that Republicans have been forced to accept – or at least re-examine – the matter. Sticking to an anti-gay rights agenda could cost the GOP votes down the road, and many Republicans are wisely seeing that on a purely political basis, things need to change.
The same trend, however, is not mirrored on the matter of gun control. According to a recent study by Harvard University's Institute of Politics, voters aged 18-29 are not clamoring for more gun control, even after the tragedies in Colorado and at Sandy Hook elementary school.
Nearly a majority of that group – 49 percent – support making gun laws more strict, according to the poll, which is part of an ongoing, comprehensive look at the millennial population. That's lower than the percentage of the adult population at large that wants tighter controls; according to a CBS/New York Times poll in January, 54 percent of voters overall want stricter laws on guns. Further, the Institute of Politics found that 35 percent of millennials believe that gun laws should be kept as they are, while 15 percent want the laws to be looser for gun owners.
Nor do recent gun tragedies appear to have moved the needle very much. Support for stricter gun laws rose by just three percentage points in Institute polling from two years ago, while the CBS/Times poll found that over the same period, backing for stricter gun laws by the adult population at large increased by eight percentage points.
Young people, it seems, have the same cultural divides as the rest of the population when it comes to guns, though not along the north-south regional lines one might expect. "The survey found, on a regional basis that the West, by five-10 percentage points, preferred stronger gun laws, compared to other regions. That was a little surprising to me," says Forrest Brown, a Harvard student who worked on the study with the poll's director, John Della Volpe.
The numbers are not helpful to President Obama, whose first presidential campaign was catapulted by young voters and who is trying to convince a reluctant Congress to pass uniform background checks and other gun safety measures. In fact, the study found that just 42 percent of millennials approve of the way Obama is handling "gun violence," with 56 percent disapproving. Those who disapprove overwhelmingly fall in the categories of those who want looser gun laws, or who want to keep them as is.
Obama has kept up the pressure on Congress to do something about gun safety, pointing to polls showing 90 percent of Americans want to close the gun show and Internet loopholes for avoiding gun-purchase background checks. But it appears he won't have America's youth leading the way.