In recent years, a clear age gap has developed in politics between our generation and older voters. Younger voters are now significantly more likely to be liberal than older voters. If this trend continues, there will be deep, long running and significant changes in American politics. Changes that I, for one, welcome.
As electoral statistician Nate Silver of The New York Times has shown, data predicts that much change will come in the next decade as the result of our generation. His model shows gay marriage has consistently been gaining support, and very soon, if the trend continues, the vast majority of Americans will be in support of equal marriage rights. This is in part because younger voters are far more likely to support marriage rights.
Our generation rightfully sees the lack of gay marriage as an infringement on rights, and does not see the legalization as a challenge to the sanctity of marriage. We realize the government should have no hand in determining what homosexuals can and cannot do.
Silver’s data also shows another major change on the horizon, the legalization of cannabis. Like gay marriage, the legalization of weed has been steadily gaining support for a generation and has now either plurality support or close to it. Data from the National Survey On Drug Use also shows there is a major age gap in usage of the drug. The vast majority of people over 50 have never used marijuana, while people under 50 are more likely to have used. As our electorate ages, it is highly likely marijuana will be legalized.
Our generation correctly, in my opinion, does not view marijuana users as hardened criminals. The U.S. throws away a lot of money incarcerating and prosecuting marijuana users, but if the drug were legalized and taxed, it could actually be an asset for our national budget. Legalization would not legitimate harder, more harmful drugs, such as cocaine and heroin. I believe our generation understands this, and when the time comes will very likely change it.
Race is another issue with a strong generational gap. As reported by the Pew Research Center, the current generation is far more racially diverse than others, and as a result is far less likely to face issues of racial tension.
Our generation views race differently than generations past. We, after all, are the generation responsible for putting the first African American president in the White House. President Barack Obama was not elected because of his race; he was elected because he was the better candidate. I hope that within the next couple decades, in the words of Martin Luther King Jr., people will “be judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character,” and we are certainly moving in that direction.
What does this mean for partisan politics? Although it is my wish that we as a generation will move past partisan labels and think about politics in broader terms, unfortunately I do not think this is likely.
Too often I hear people talking about politics in terms of Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives. As someone who has followed American politics for as long as I can remember, this irritates me. American foreign policy is unbelievably complex. There are countless ideas floating around about countries like Pakistan, Israel and Iran. To simplify approaches to “the liberal approach” and “the conservative approach” greatly simplifies issues that are much more complicated than that.
Unfortunately, many students, even at this university, are apathetic about politics. Frankly, I wish the general public took the time to become more informed. The more one knows, the better decisions one will make.
Aside from the fact that the youth tends to be apathetic and simplify politics more than it should be simplified, I feel this generation is moving in the right direction, particularly on domestic social issues. When it comes to politics, at least on social issues, we are doing it right.
Spencer Lindsay ([email protected]) is a freshman majoring in political science.