A new Pew Research Center report on millennials has been receiving well-deserved attention. For politics, the prevailing interpretation of the report seems to be: Republicans are screwed. Millennials are more liberal and Democratic-leaning than older generations, and because most millennials will outlive those older generations, the country’s future is largely defined by the politics of millennials. And that future, the argument goes, is bad for Republicans.
In fact, the story is much more equivocal. Lurking within this broad category of millennials is a group that isn’t quite as keen on liberalism, Democrats, or President Obama: Millennials who actually entered the electorate during the Obama presidency. These youngest millennials may yet demonstrate why it is dangerous to assume that subsequent generations will be loyal Democrats.
The reason is this: The dominant party identification of any new generation depends on the political and economic fundamentals in the country when that generation enters young adulthood. A booming economy and a popular president will push young people toward the president’s party. A recession and an unpopular president will push young people toward the opposite party.