One of the more confounding things I have seen over the last few years is CATO’s (the libertarian think-tank) and other conservatives’ obsessions with ascribing libertarianism to Millennials. It’s not confusing merely based on my personal disbelief; rather, it is illogical given study after study that shows the Millennial generation adopting populism, the opposite philosophy.

The most recent study, conducted by Pew Research and titled, “A Pro-Government and Socially Liberal Generation,” shows just how pro-government Millennials are:

Many will chalk this up to Millennials being naive, too young to feel the ramifications of a regulatory economic system. Most of these critics, though, completely miss the generational cycle operating underneath our day-to-day and year-to-year political events. The nation is due for a generation like the Millennials who build institutions and society by nature, believing in the common good. The right’s expectation is that Millennials will drift rightward following their coming of age and the onset of their “adult” responsibilities. Yet, research proves this notion to be a myth – ideologies generally tend to stay locked as one continues living life. It’s clear why libertarians and conservatives would want to see some form of libertarianism in the Millennial generation, but there’s little libertarianism to behold.

Jonathan Chait posits a reason for why commentators and think tanks continue to see libertarianism that’s simply not there.

…To be sure, most Americans will express opposition to government in the abstract, and don’t want to pay higher taxes. They can be skeptical of government programs that they think will benefit other people at their own expense. But these sentiments shouldn’t be confused with any principled opposition to government, at least not a principle that can survive contact with real-world questions. Raising taxes on the rich is overwhelmingly popular. In 2000, about 90% of the public favored adding a prescription drug benefit to Medicare. The remaining 10% corresponds to what Pew calls “Enterprisers,” which is the hard-core group of Republican partisans who are anti-government on economics, very hawkish and socially conservative. Which is to say, people with principled opposition to economic activism and left-of-center social views or dovish foreign policy views aren’t numerous enough to register.

Practically speaking, the libertarian vote is non-existent, while the opposite viewpoint — economically liberal and socially conservative, which some call populist — is quite large. This fact tends to get lost in the political discussion because the political discussion is run by elites who are far closer to libertarianism than the public as a whole. (Case in point: Press critic Jay Rosen recently suggested CNN divvy its evening lineup into left/right/libertarian blocs, ignoring the vastly larger populist segment of the electorate.) Populist voters simple lack any intellectual infrastructure whatsoever.

So, in essence, that the media and elite policy wonks and commentators cannot accurately portray the attitudes and dispositions of Millennials and other groups is not surprising. Their own lenses get in the way of accurately assessing the political climate. Furthermore, and what Chait fails to point out, we would benefit from consultants and media personalities who choose to foster a better understanding of political events as opposed to explaining them. Aiming toward creating a better understanding, while admittedly not providing the yellow journalism today’s media thinks they need to survive, would allow for more reflexivity among individual journalists and consultants. If we really want citizens and young people to think for themselves, we should stop spoonfeeding them the information we think they need to know and present information that forces them to make their own decisions. (See Jon Stewart’s devastating performance on Crossfire a few years ago.)

Should we get our media back on track (a large mission which other, whole blogs have dedicated themselves to achieving), perhaps, among other things, we can better understand the electoral coalitions of our time — including Millennials — and how that might actually affect policy output in America.

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