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Capitol Comment

    Those Darn Kids Are Starting To Understand Government

    05/03/2013

    Who says the message of freedom doesn't resonate with the young'uns? Well, most people who study market dynamics and poll kids for a living.

    But it seems that when we talk about targeting the "message of freedom" to people aged 18-35, the marketing world's hotspot of consumerism and cultural knowledge, it's less that they're simply not interested in hearing about the shortfalls of an oppressive, large-government system and more that they're just not hearing the message phrased correctly for their tender MTV-honed sensibilities. Because, at least according to a recent Harvard study of young adults, they seem to be at least getting part of the message right.

    Young adults aged 18 to 29, also known as the millennial generation, have an increased distrust in every political institution except the military, according to a biannual Institute of Politics report released Tuesday. Written and analyzed by students, the report also showed an increased polarization among party lines since the election and split opinions about gun regulation.

    C. M. Trey Grayson ’94, director of the Institute of Politics, said he was particularly alarmed by the long-term implications of the poll’s results, explaining that the support of the millennials is key to the future stability of modern American institutions like the media, local and federal governments, and Wall Street.

    “You hope the process can work, the system can work, politics can work,” Grayson said. “We’ve got to give millennials a reason to trust these institutions.”

    The cynicism and distrust of large institutions is across the board, from the President to Congress to the Supreme Court. Overall, the Federal government has the backing of only 22% of respondents in the target category. 

    The rest of the study is interesting, too. As it turns out, young adults seem to date within and socialize within heavily polarized circles ("all my friends are Democrats") and stake out what Harvard considers to be "extreme" positions on most issues, like gun control, abortion, gay marriage and federal spending. When asked to self-identify, however, an almost even number of students (approximately a third of those polled overall) identified as Democrats as they did Republicans, showing that party affiliation is more pronounced in the general population than it is among people at the beginning of their careers as voters. More people self-identify as "independents" than anything, which probably means they have similar attitudes to most Millennials - social liberalism paired with fiscal restraint - that doens't quite put them squarely in either party.

    What unites them all?  Distrust of the state. It's a simple fact that Reason notes is distressing to the head of Harvard's Institute for Politics, who seems preoccupied with the idea that the distrust needs to be remedied or changed. If it's a massive concern of people who see government as the answer to all of our prayers, of course, perhaps it should be a massive opportunity for people who understand government isn't. If freedom-minded individuals were ever looking for a wedge, this just might be it.

    Attitudes about voting are shaped early. Some even say that the first vote you cast determines your default political position for the rest of your life. As Harvard's director of politics notes, the respondents' are at a critical point in their ideological formation. Messaging and material that drives home the point that governmental institutions are corrupt, overbearing, full of red tape and, most of all, ineffective at things like serving the poor and downtrodden (which many Millennials noted was among their primary concern), could further solidify their libertarian leanings. 

    It's no surprise. My generation was raised on things like the Daily Show, which despite being constantly maligned by conservatives, presents a cynical if openly hostile view towards elected officials and their work. Regardless of who is in Jon Stewart's crosshairs, they're being attacked for incompetence, hypocrisy and disappointing behavior; a thread which runs across party lines and through both media and culture. The distrust of all major institutions - including, not surprisingly, the media, which is another of Stewart's favorite targets - is imprinted in the Millennial mind. In fact, it's what the Obama campaign played off of in their 2008 campaign; even though Obama, in reality, promised no change from the day-to-day business of a corrupt DC establishment, his fresh approach, youth-oriented marketing materials and message of a world devoid of dishonesty and entanglement, was singularly appealing. By presenting the message of freedom with an eye to the vision of this target consumer, message progression seems possible, especially considering two Obama terms has done little to alter the perception that dishonesty and entanglement reign supreme.

    Of course, the messengers of freedom will need to be creative, funny and willing to see humor in themselves as well as in others, and that may be the tougher task. But maybe - just maybe - a little self-examination and change is worth it in pursuit of a country where freedom is viewed as paramount at every age.

    5 comments
    Monk Mann
    05/11/2013

    Actually, Big Business relies heavily on the state, including the military.

    stonestone's picture
    stone stone
    05/03/2013

    Don't fool yourself. Most people age 18-35 want absolutely nothing to do with the GOP. I say GOP since the Tea Party so-called "movement" is essentially another mouthpiece of the GOP and what it stands for. This last election proved it. The fact that the various leaders of the GOP are out at this very minute doing "damage control" in the form of trying to reach out to the demographics they previously totally ignored is further proof of the severity of their situation. Yet all I've seen so far is more of the same: Putting on a big blame game and calling anything that totally doesn't mesh with strict conservative ideals as "Socialist, Communist" or whatnot. Let's face it. The GOP hasn't had new course of action since the 1950's with their clever use of McCarthy style scare tactics. I can also tell you that we- as those who fit within this age group most definitely adhere to and understand the meaning of the word "Freedom" and to us, it doesn't mean regressing backwards. if the GOP cares to win any of our votes then there is one word I have for them: CHANGE.

    T.R. Potter
    05/29/2013

    Actually, about 40% of the Tea Party are Democrats and Independents. The Tea Party is NOT a mouthpiece of the GOP. The established elitist Republicans do not like the Tea Party. The Tea Party movement was LIbertarian/fiscal conservative driven. I love the youth liberty movement going on across the country today. I watch the millenial generation with a lot of interest. I think they will be a big part of correcting the course America is on by rejecting both crony capitalism and our corrupted big government. Time will tell.

    stonestone's picture
    stone stone
    05/07/2013

    Sorry, but the Tea Party is nothing more than another mouthpiece for the GOP. And as far as the media, I assume you mean the "liberal media", right? Sorry, but I make my own decisions and I don't need the media to more or less show me the way to think. Lastly, don't give me that baloney that conservatives are all about freedom and whatnot. The very word "Conservative" means to not change and to retain the status-quo. You don't get freedom by sitting around and refusing the change.

    Janet Schmitt
    05/05/2013

    If you are following only the news from most TV stations, you are only getting one side. The media should present both sides, and give the facts - not their opinions. If you can make up your own mind, given the facts, you should see what conservatives are all about - more freedom, less government. The government will not care for you as family members, neighbors, or persons who think and act for the good of everyone. I am an independent voter, and those whom I vote for are no longer the ones who have held their office for more than two terms, and that goes for all parties. I have seen myself leaning more towards Libertarians these days. So don't think you are so righteous re. angst toward Republican Party. Get the facts, and remember to vote.

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