December 13 2011

Young Adults Are Coming Around on Big Government

Kristen Soltis

A decade ago, young adults didn't think the government was so big and bad after all. But now a days, they're changing their tune.

IWF's Charlotte Hays posted today on encouraging Gallup data showing Americans' growing belief that big government is a big threat. But what of young people? After all, as young people become a larger and more vocal component of the public engaged on these issues, their views will become more and more critical to understand.

In 2009, I did research on the opinions of young voters and why they had moved so dramatically away from conservatism in recent years. I came away from that research seriously concerned about the future of the small-government movement. The conventional wisdom was that the basket of "social issues"  formed the primary roadblock to winning these young people over to the right side of the aisle. But the data gave a more thorough explanation for why young people were leaning left.

Perhaps most troubling for those favoring limited government, Pew found fewer than one in three Americans aged 18-25 ("millenials") agreed in 2002/2003 with the statement "when something is run by the government it tends to be inefficient and wasteful," a number both lower than the overall population and lower than fifteen years earlier. Even among the public as a whole, as recently as 2009, belief that government was inefficient and wasteful was down slightly since the late '80s and early '90s. The trend didn't look good.

Fast forward to today, with the national debt passing through the $15 trillion level late this year and the economy remaining stagnant. The public is clearly grasping the threat posed by big government, and young people are seeing it as well.

In November, Pew released data showing that for "Millennials" there has been a 20-point increase in the number agreeing that government is inefficient and wasteful, narrowing the gap between this generation and older Americans. Between April 2009 and today, there has been at 17-point drop in the number of Millennials saying the think government "is really run for the benefit of all people," and over half think the government has too much control over their daily lives.

There's still work to be done spreading the message of the importance of limited government. Only a third of Millennials say they support smaller government that offers fewer services, the smallest proportion of any other age group.  They are the group most likely to support stimulus over deficit reduction. But compared to where things were in 2009, there has been a very positive trend in the thinking of most young adults around issues of size and scope of government. 



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