While social conservatives gather in Washington DC for the Values Voters Summit, a new Gallup poll shows that they may be gaining traction among younger voters. Overall, voters are narrowly split on whether government should promote traditional values at 48/46, down from a high of 59/39 in 2002 in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. However, when it comes to voters between 18 and 34 years of age, the trend is dramatically different:
Americans’ once-prevailing view that government should do what it can to promote traditional values in society has weakened in the past decade. Today 48% hold that view, while nearly as many, 46%, say government should not favor any particular set of values. …
The recent decline in support for government advancement of traditional values in society comes primarily from Republicans. While Republicans remain more supportive of this policy position than are independents and Democrats, their support has dropped by more than 10 percentage points since 2008, from 71% to 59%. By contrast, Democrats’ support for it has held steady at about 40%, while independents’ has been more variable.
But look at this chart demonstrating trend lines by age:
Gallup can’t quite figure out how to explain this:
The reason for these shifts in views by age is unclear. They neither track with changes in respondents’ overall political ideology — the percentages of each group labeling themselves “conservative” have held fairly steady over the same period — nor do they parallel approval of the president. Presidential job approval rose sharply in 2009 among all groups when President Barack Obama replaced George W. Bush, and that might have been responsible for the increased support for government action with respect to traditional values the same year. However, approval of Obama has since declined among young adults as well as among older age groups, while young adults’ support for government’s promoting of traditional values has continued to rise.
CNS News wonders why no one seems to have picked up on this counterintuitive finding:
While a Lexis-Nexis search indicates that U.S. newspapers and wire services included in that database published 291 stories yesterday and today citing the vaguely defined, left-wing Occupy Wall Street movement, not one of them mentioned a Gallup poll quietly released yesterday that documented a trend Gallup itself cannot explain: a “recent surge” in the percentage of young adults who say government should “promote traditional values.”
Why “counterintuitive”? Young voters tend towards libertarianism or progressivism, or at least they have in the past. Both of those philosophies reject government sponsorship of social values, and the latter rejects many of those values entirely. These voters generally are enthusiastic Democratic Party voters, and Ron Paul’s brand of libertarianism is especially attractive to younger non-progressives.
So why the sudden dramatic change over the last three years? Perhaps the failure of Obama and the Democrats have younger voters — who face the most difficult job market in 30 years — questioning the entire progressive agenda and moving back towards traditional values as a result. We’ll see what this means in practical terms when it comes to elections in November 2012, certainly.