As a journalist, isn’t one supposed to report the facts, not what they think the facts mean?

The other day in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Salena Zito penned a piece headlined “Young Voters Increasingly Identify with Conservative Politics.” Not surprisingly (especially considering the paper’s conservative editorial page), that conclusion is flawed.

The headline writer seems to base his or her conclusion on this:

Civic involvement among politically aware young people is growing, based on attendance at the Feb. 18-20 Conservative Political Action Conference in the nation’s capital.

Elementary, high school and college students who pre-registered for the conference accounted for 60 percent of the crowd, up 10 percent from 2009, said the event’s director, Lisa De Pasquale. They wore business attire, but many could be seen connecting to social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook while mingling.

Yes, young people are engaged in politics at a higher rate — even at conservative political conferences.  But I am still waiting for something to prove the headline hypothesis.

Zito next moves to the recent Pew Research Center study on the Millennial generation.  The report found that youth job approval of President Barack Obama is decreasing.

In Pew Research’s February 2010 survey, 57% of Millennials approved of the way Obama was handling his job as president, down from 73% in February 2009. Moreover, Millennials have become much more critical of Obama’s handling of several major issues, especially the war in Afghanistan. In January, Millennials were the only age group in which more disapproved than approved of Obama’s handling of the situation in Afghanistan.

Also, the Democratic Party’s appeal among Millennials has taken a hit as well. This has resulted in an increase in the number of Millennials identifying with the Republican Party.

Between the 2004 and 2008 presidential election years, the Democratic Party opened a substantial advantage nationwide in party identification. In 2004, Democrats held a slim 47% to 44% advantage in leaned party identification among registered voters. By 2008, this lead had expanded to 51% to 39%.

But the Democrats’ advantage peaked in 2008 and early 2009, and it has decreased over the past year. In the first quarter of 2009, 53% of registered voters identified with or leaned to the Democratic Party, compared with 38% who identified with or leaned to the Republican Party. But in the final quarter, Democrats had only a 49% to 42% advantage over Republicans among
voters.

This overall shift has taken place within most age groups. The share of Millennial voters who identified or leaned Democratic fell from 60% at the beginning of 2009 to 54% at the end of the year, while the share who identified or leaned Republican rose from 31% to 40%. While the Democratic Party still maintained an advantage among Millennials at the end of 2009, the margin had shrunk substantially.

So, yes, the Republican Party has attracted Millennials over the past year. And while one could fairly question whether or not young people are becoming more conservative, one cannot credibly conflate the phenomenon of more young people attending CPAC and the report that Millennials are becoming disenchanted with Democrats and gradually identifying with the Republican Party to make that case. Both are faulty generalizations. The first one doesn’t allow for better recruitment efforts, better weather, or better economics that also could have enabled more young people to attend CPAC. The second seems to equate the Republican Party with “conservative.” Ask some Texas Republicans about Kay Bailey Hutchison and they’ll let you know that the two terms are mutually exclusive.

Indeed, the subtitle of the very same Pew Research report Zito cites labels Millennials “a pro-government, socially liberal generation.” The data reveal that Millennials still hold on to pro-government values. More than half (the only generation that can claim this) of youth favor government intervention and an activist government.

Millennials are significantly less critical of government on a number of dimensions than are other age cohorts. This tendency has been seen on a variety of individual survey questions as well as on a three-question index of items from the political values survey; this index covers opinions about government’s effectiveness, government regulation of business and whether the government has too much control over people’s lives.

What does it take for us to get better journalism in this country? I would assume a headline writer or editor constructed the headline in this case, but Zito still was trying to conflate the two examples above to seemingly make some kind of faulty conclusion that youth are more conservative. As long as our citizens continue to read misinformation, our democracy and trust in institutions like the press suffers.

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