The good folks at Reason did their best to frame the data here as proof that young adults are skeptics of government at heart, but skim through the major findings and decide for yourself. Millennials do have some right-wing leanings, of course — they’re open in principle to cutting taxes and spending, prefer to see wealth distributed according to achievement, and, most importantly, heavily favor privatized Social Security accounts. (They’re also basically libertarian on issues like gay marriage, marijuana, and banning Big Gulps.) That’s a sign of growing awareness of the entitlement crisis among the generation that’s going to suffer the most from it. Dare we hope that they might be serious about balancing America’s books?
Actually, no. We daren’t.
74 percent of millennials say government has a responsibility to guarantee every citizen has a place to sleep and enough to eat..
69 percent say it is government’s responsibility to guarantee everyone access to health care and 51 percent have a favorable view of the Affordable Care Act
68 percent say government should ensure everyone makes a living wage
66 percent say raising taxes on the wealthy would help the economy…
58 percent say the government should spend more on assistance to the poor even it means higher taxes
Not so libertarianish. One interesting question, which cuts both ways, was whether they favor a larger government that provides more services or a smaller government that provides fewer services. When you ask the question that way, they prefer larger government; Millennials like the idea of Uncle Sam lending a helping hand. When, however, you tweak the question to emphasize that larger government also means higher taxes, the results flip. Suddenly, a majority prefers smaller government to a large one. The good news there, of course, is that the more young adults come to grips with the cost of Great Society II, the less eager they are for it. The bad news is that they’re starting from a preference for bigger government, and even when you mention higher taxes, there’s still a sizable 41 percent in favor. If all of this seems hopelessly muddled to you — they prefer smaller government if it means higher taxes, but they support raising taxes to spend more on the poor? — that’s okay. It’s classically American to be small-government in principle and big-government in practice, a point Kevin Williamson emphasized a few months ago in arguing that Rand Paul’s 2016 candidacy is doomed:
When it comes to balancing the budget, Paul is more likely to cut off aid to your mom. That’s where the money is. We spend almost all of the federal budget on a handful of programs: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and defense. So any plausible, politically sustainable campaign to impose some sanity on America’s national finances is going to mean reforming—i.e., cutting—all of those. How unpopular is that? Solid majorities of Americans oppose cutting Social Security and Medicare benefits and raising taxes to pay for them, even though a larger majority also believes that the cost of those programs will create economic problems. The number of people who think we spend too much on the military hasn’t topped the 50-percent mark since the Vietnam War. Think about George W. Bush’s attempt at Social Security reform, which left him the loneliest man in Washington. Or consider that in 2012, fiscal conservative wonk-emperor Paul Ryan ran for the vice presidency on a campaign that blasted the Obama administration for making Medicare cuts. Which is to say, even the man in Washington most associated with the words “fiscal conservative” knows better than to run as one. Fiscal conservatives might applaud Rand Paul when he talks about getting Afghan President Hamid Karzai off of welfare, but they’ll scream if he comes within five miles of their Social Security checks. Any candidate who’s serious about fiscal reform is going to be a hard sell in 2016—or any other year.
Like I say, the most hopeful spin you can put on the Reason poll is that Millennials might be more receptive to entitlement reform than the average voter, if only because they’re less convinced that entitlements will be there for them than other generations are. To get them to play ball, though, you need to overcome their big-government sympathies, all of which will be stoked endlessly by lefties bleating about the “social safety net” if/when reform gathers any momentum. How lucky do you feel?
Speaking of Paul, one more interesting finding from the Reason poll via Andrew Kirell. Apparently, at least among Millennials, the great conservative/libertarian alliance ain’t so great:
Millennials who think of themselves as “liberals” are far more open to voting for a libertarian-ish candidate like Paul than self-identified “conservatives” from the same age group is. But that makes sense, right? On college campuses, it’s rarely fiscal issues that animate the most passionate activism. It’s social and cultural issues, probably because they’re usually more accessible and because many (most?) young adults are focused more on building their identities than on pocketbook matters. (Although, post-recession, that might be changing.) Fiscal concerns are something you tend to pick up as you age and start paying attention to your paycheck. Go figure that the age demographic that’s closest to its college years might still be more interested in a candidate’s social agenda than his fiscal one, which explains why young liberals might take a hard look at someone who’s socially liberal and fiscally conservative whereas young conservatives are less inclined. Is that good news or bad news for Rand, who’s eager to reach out to Democratic Millennials but has to survive a primary with Republican Millennials first?