New data released by Pew shows members of “Gen Next” (also known as “Gen Y”) becoming more liberal politically, more interested in the political process, and having more confidence in elected officials than in previous years. Using what Pew calls their “Social Conservatism Index”, the trended data shows Gen Next (those born since 1977) holding far more liberal views on social issues such as homosexuality, same sex marriage and civil liberties than older generations. Interestingly, despite younger people being less conservative overall, the trend this decade toward liberalism has actually been more dramatic among the older generations: The”Silent” generation (born 1928 -1945), Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964), and GenX (born 1965-1976).
The Pew “Political Engagement Index” uses a number of questions to measure interest in politics and attitudes about civic responsibility and pride. One question asks whther respondents agree with the statement: “Officials care about what people like me think.” While the 2007 Pew data showed very little difference between generations on this measure (with roughly one-third agreeing with the statement across all generations), the 2009 data shows 18 to 29 year olds standing out in becoming less cynical. Among GenNext respondents, 43% now agree that officials actually care about what they think. While there is still a lot of skepticism, there is clearly a trend in these findings.
The Gen Next trend toward liberalism and increased confidence in government has of course coincided with the 2008 election of Barack Obama. Edison’s 2008 exit polls showed Obama doing markedly better among Gen Next voters than older voters. Obama won two thirds of the 18-29 vote compared to 52% among Gen X, 49% among Boomers and 47% among the Silent Generation.