Are Millennials Independent Republicans or Democrats?

Why America is moving to the left

In the past 18 months, the following events have rocked the United States: In July 2014, Eric Garner, an African American alleged to have illegally sold cigarettes, was strangled to death by a New York police officer. In August, white police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed an African American teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Over the next two weeks, protesters fought violent street battles with the police. After that, according to Missouri's Governor Jay Nixon, the city resembled a war zone. In December 2014, a convicted African American shot dead two New York police officers to avenge the deaths of Garner and the Browns. At their funeral, hundreds of police officers demonstratively turned their backs on New York's liberal Mayor Bill de Blasio.

In April 2015, another young African American, Freddie Gray, died under unexplained circumstances in police custody in Baltimore. Riots followed, in which 200 shops were destroyed, 113 police officers were injured and 486 people were arrested. Last July, activists for the Black Lives Matter movement, which had attracted national attention since Brown's death, disrupted speeches by two Democratic presidential candidates in Phoenix, Arizona. They chanted, “If I die in police custody, avenge my death! With all necessary means! "And:" If I die in police custody, everything will burn down! "

Anyone familiar with American history knows these slogans. Malcolm X popularized the phrase "by any means necessary" in a June 1964 speech. After the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in April 1969, Baltimore burned, as did many other cities during the race riots that broke out every spring and summer between 1964 and 1969. In November 1969, in a speech broadcast from the Oval Office, President Richard Nixon used the term “silent majority,” which quickly became shorthand for white Americans who turned away from the Democratic Party in horror over crime and racism in the 1960s and 1970s . For Americans with a sense of historical analogy, the return of slogans from that era may herald another strong, conservative countermovement.

Reversed reflection of the sixties

At least that's what I assumed when I began researching this essay. But I was wrong. The current situation is more of a mirror image of the sixties. There is a protest movement against the liberalism of the Obama era. But it is more loud than strong. In reality, the country is not moving to the right, but to the left.

That does not mean that Republicans will lose strength in Congress and in the state parliaments. Nor does it mean that the Grand Old Party can't put a president again. But it does mean that the center of gravity of domestic political debates in the US will continue to shift to the left. In the late 1960s and 1970s, a liberal era ended in the vortex of left militancy and racial conflict. In the midst of left militancy and racial conflict, a new liberal era has only just begun.

To understand why, one must first explain why the Democratic Party - and more importantly, the whole country - is becoming more liberal. The history of the leftist movement in the Democratic Party has two chapters. The first is about George W. Bush's presidency. Before Bush, uncompromising liberalism was not part of the basic structure of the Democrats. The party had a strong moderate center, anchored in Congress by white southerners like Tennessee's Senator Al Gore, who largely supported Reagan's security policy, or Georgia's Senator Sam Nunn, who, unlike Bill Clinton, wanted to exclude homosexuals from serving in the military . The moderate Democrats used the Democratic Leadership Council, which opposed an increase in the minimum wage, as a compass; the magazine The New Republic, which is against the so-called “positive discrimination” and against the fundamental decision of the Supreme Court on abortion in the case “Roe v. Wade ”turned; and Washington Monthlywho wanted to introduce means testing for social benefits.

The Middle Democrats believed Reagan made some mistakes, but also got a lot of things right: the Soviet Union was evil, taxes too high, the courts too lenient with criminals, and excessive government regulation had stifled economic growth. Many Middle Democrats were convinced that unless their party came to terms with these basic assumptions, it would not be able to win a presidential election. In the 1980s and 1990s, many influential Democratic Party politicians, strategists, and journalists believed that right-wing criticism of liberalism was morally and politically necessary.

It was above all the policies of George W. Bush that caused this network to disintegrate. He anchored the Republicans more firmly in the south (Reagan's political base was in the west) and thereby contributed to the fact that there were fewer and fewer white southerners who saw the Democrats as their political home - a trend that began with the opening of the party to them Concerns of civil rights activists had started. Bush also destroyed the center of the Democratic Party intellectually. With his presidency, a credible criticism of liberalism from the right had become impossible.

The Iraq war and its consequences

In the 1980s and 1990s, Middle Democrats had argued that Reagan's cut in the top tax rate from 70 percent to 50 percent and loosening of government regulation had spurred economic growth. However, when Bush lowered the top tax rate to 35 percent in 2001 and further restricted government regulation, inequality and mountain of debt grew, but not the economy. And then the financial crisis followed. In the 1980s and 1990s, the Middle Democrats believed that Reagan's surge in defense spending and his aid to the Afghan mujahideen had been instrumental in overthrowing the Soviet empire. When Bush intervened in Iraq in 2003, it triggered the largest foreign policy disaster in the United States since Vietnam.

The lesson from the Reagan era was that Democrats should let a Republican president do the same. The lesson of the Bush years was that that was exactly what led to disaster. Bush's tax cut had passed the Senate with twelve Democratic votes; 29 Democratic MPs supported the Iraq war. When the dire consequences of these approvals became clear, the ensuing revolt destroyed the centrist wing of the Democrats.

In February 2003, Howard Dean, the former governor of Vermont, said, “I want to know why on earth the Democratic Party leadership supports the president's unilateral attack on Iraq. I want to know why the Democratic leadership supports tax cuts. ”At the end of the year, Dean, who ran for the Democratic presidential nomination alongside a crowd of Iraq war supporters, was the clear favorite for his party's nomination.

With Dean's campaign, an intellectual revolution began in the Democratic Party, in the course of which Jon Stewart became one of the most influential television personalities Huffington Post was born as the left counterpart to the Drudge Report, Joe Lieberman lost the primaries for the nomination for the presidential candidate of the Democrats in 2006 as one of the most vehement supporters of the Iraq war, Barack Obama won the primaries of the Democrats for the 2008 presidential election against Hillary Clinton - among other things because of their support for the Iraq war.

The Democratic Leadership Council, which had already lost its political significance, also disbanded in 2011. The mood in the party had completely changed. While the thought leaders of the Democrats had once urged their party to question liberal axioms, they now criticized the fact that basic liberal ideas were not advocated with sufficient force. Bush's presidency had turned the Democrats into determined liberals - and Obama's presidency was its corollary.

Occupy Wall Street!

But that's only half the story. Because after George W. Bush's failures drove the Democrats to the left, Barack Obama drove them even further to the left. George W. Bush is responsible for the liberal structures that brought Obama into office. And Obama inadvertently contributed to the emergence of two movements for which even the liberalism embodied by Obama is not left enough today: Occupy and Black Lives Matter.

In view of the dogged blockade of Congress by the Republicans, it is unclear whether Obama could have used the financial crisis to decisively limit the power of Wall Street. The fact is: he didn't. It was a shock for young activists. Just three years after electing a president who had inspired them like no other, they saw a country where the poor suffered and financial sharks still set the tone. The activists' response was Occupy Wall Street.

According to a study by the City University of New York, 40 percent of Occupy activists had worked in an election campaign in 2008, most for Obama. Many of them had hoped that Obama's presidency would bring about fundamental change. Those hopes had been dashed and now the left was challenging Wall Street directly. For a short while, Occupy received a lot of attention, but then the movement fizzled out. But she had brought the issue of social inequality into the American political debate.

The anger of the Occupy movement, directed not only against Wall Street but also against the pampered democratic elites, paved the way for Democratic politicians Bill de Blasio and Elizabeth Warren to national prominence. Without Occupy, it is impossible to understand why a grouchy “democratic socialist” from Vermont Hillary Clinton is seriously contesting the first pre-election states. And Occupy activists are also among the major supporters of the Sanders campaign.

But more important for the success of the campaign team is the reaction of top democratic politicians to Sanders. In the eighties and nineties, a declared socialist would have been a hit for a party that wanted to position itself in a more business-friendly manner. In today's Democratic Party, however, Sanders hardly meets any ideological resistance, neither from intellectuals and activists, nor from donors. The Democracy Alliance - the party's most influential fundraising club, which includes major investors like George Soros and Tom Steyer - has shifted to the left in the Obama years, like John Judis in National Journal Has been established. When Elizabeth Warren spoke at the group's annual winter get-together in 2014, she was greeted with enthusiasm. Last spring, Allianz announced that it would make economic inequality its main theme.

All of this influenced the Clinton campaign's response to Sanders. In the Democrats' first televised debate, Clinton said she would “rather cut the excesses of capitalism” than give up the economic system entirely. As a concrete political difference to Sanders, however, she emphasized her desire for stricter gun laws - with which she attacked him from the left.

The Occupy-Warren-Sanders axis also influenced Hillary Clinton's economic program, which is much more left-wing today than it was in 2008. It has called for stricter regulation of the financial markets, thought about higher social security contributions for the rich and criticized the transatlantic free trade agreement TTIP, which it once vehemently criticized had advocated.

Black Lives Matter

If Occupy is one unplanned legacy of the Obama era, Black Lives Matter is another. This movement began in 2013 after a jury acquitted white police officer George Zimmerman in 2013 on charges of murdering African American youth Trayvon Martin. It is a response to decades of detentions and the skyrocketing number of police killings, some of which have been videotaped. But it is also an expression of disappointment with Obama. State violence against African Americans is not a new phenomenon. That nothing changed when a black president ruled the White House convinced many young African Americans of the establishment's inability to bring about structural change. Only pressure from the street could bring this about.

If Black Lives Matter had existed at the time of Bill Clinton's campaign, he would have turned against them. After all, Clinton oversaw the execution of Ricky Ray Rector in Arkansas in 1992, just three weeks before the first primary. Rector was a mentally retarded African American who, at the time of his execution, no longer even knew that he had shot people. And in June 1992, after the riots in Los Angeles, Clinton sharply criticized the rapper Sister Souljah for saying about African-American demonstrators that it was okay for blacks to kill whites for a week when white people were black people every day would kill. By positioning himself against the protests of so many African Americans, Clinton seized the opportunity to anchor himself even more firmly in the political center.

Today, on the other hand, the democratic party establishment reacts to Black Lives Matter as it had already reacted to Occupy: with applause. At the Netroots Nation conference in Phoenix in July, Black Lives Matter activists repeatedly interrupted speeches by Bernie Sanders and his competitor Martin O’Malley. Once the activists came on stage and said the conference was taking place “on indigenous land”, the borders of which had been drawn under white rule. The activists made their speeches for 15 minutes while O’Malley made nothing. Not only that: O’Malley took criticism for not having shown himself more open to the activists - and joined this criticism. A little later he presented an ambitious plan with which he wanted to reduce police violence and imprisonment rates and to protect the right to vote through constitutional amendments. Sanders also apologized. He hired a press officer close to Black Lives Matter, added a "Racial Justice" section to his website, and began publicly reciting the names of African Americans killed by police officers. Hillary Clinton, who vowed to end the "era of mass incarceration" initiated by her husband and fellow Democrats in the 1990s, has met twice with Black Live Matter activists.

The base moves to the left

It is anything but unusual in election campaigns for presidential candidates to try to get closer to their voters at the grassroots level. It is not the shift to the left of Hillary Clinton or the Democratic Party that is unusual, but rather the willingness of the American public to follow them. In the 1960s, African American riots sparked a determined and growing backlash among whites as the riots progressed. Today the opposite is happening. In July 2014, according to the Pew Research Center, 46 percent of Americans agreed that the country must "keep changing to give blacks the same rights as whites." A year later, after the riots in Ferguson and Baltimore and the rise of Black Lives Matter, 59 percent were of that opinion. Between summer 2013 and summer 2015, according to Gallup, the proportion of Americans who said they were "satisfied with the way blacks are treated in US society" fell from 62 percent to 49 percent. In 2015, public trust in the police dropped to its lowest level in 22 years.

Something has even happened in the Republican Party. The number of Republicans who felt a need to change to promote black equality rose 15 percent between January and April 2015, according to a YouGov poll. That's a bigger increase than that of Democrats and independent voters over the same period. Last year, then House Speaker John Boehner stated, “We have a lot of people in the prisons who I really don't think should be there.” In October, a group of Conservative Republican senators supported a Democratic bill that included the mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug crime should be reduced.

Even more interesting is the approach taken by Senator Marco Rubio, the Republican candidate with the finest instinct for the general electorate. In August, a Fox News host asked him about Black Lives Matter.Rather than criticizing the movement, Rubio told the story of an African American friend who had been stopped several times over the past 18 months by police despite never having committed a crime, and of young African Americans arrested for nonviolent offenses and then by Overworked public defenders would be driven into a deal on sentence. It is the government's duty to prevent young people from entering prison so early in their life and being stigmatized as a result. Such tones would not have been heard from conservative politicians in the 1990s. This is another indication that the country is not moving to the right, but to the left.

The same also applies to other areas. Ten years ago, open support for gay marriage was considered political suicide. Today this debate is long over. Liberals are now pushing for broader anti-discrimination laws to include transgender people - a group many Americans were not even aware of before Caitlyn Jenner hit the headlines. At first glance, this seems to be too many changes that are too rapid for a society: The opening of marriage gives gays and lesbians access to a fundamentally conservative institution. And the transgender movement poses an even more radical question: Should people be able to determine their gender independently, regardless of biological definitions?

The nation's answer, broadly, is yes. In a study of various polls, the UCLA School of Law's Williams Institute found that between two-thirds and three-quarters of Americans oppose discrimination against transgender people. There has also been an exponential increase in the number of US citizens who view transgender discrimination as a "serious problem". Andrew Flores, who conducted the research, said that a person's attitudes towards transgender rights can be predicted based on their opinions about gays and lesbians. In other words, most Americans have concluded that discrimination against homosexuals was wrong - and have now applied that view to transgender people. Flores speaks of a “generalization mechanism”.

Successes that the left has long dreamed of

There was little headwind in economic policy either. And this despite the fact that Barack Obama has intervened in regulating the economy more than any other president in the past half century. In his first year in office, he put together the largest stimulus package in American history - adjusted for inflation, he spent more money than Franklin D. Roosevelt on his celebrated “Works Progress Administration”.

In his sophomore year, Obama boxed universal access to health care through Congress - a success leftists had long dreamed of. In the same year, Obama signed a law regulating Wall Street. He also spent around $ 20 billion to save the US auto industry; he prescribed improved fuel efficiency of vehicles; tightened emission limits for coal-fired power plants; Authorized the Environment Agency to regulate CO2 emissions and the Food and Drug Administration to stricter regulation of tobacco sales; doubled the required amount of fruits and vegetables in school lunches; declared huge areas of land to be wildlife sanctuaries and protected river sections over a length of more than 1000 miles.

While these interferences sparked anger among the republican right, they did not spark anger among the general public. In polls, Americans often speak out in favor of a weak state, but at the same time support many concrete government measures. When Bill Clinton became president in 1993, the proportion of citizens who preferred a "stripped-down government with fewer services" to a "larger government with more services" exceeded the proportion in favor of the opposite position by 37 percentage points. When Obama came into office in 2009, the difference was reduced to eight points. And despite its many interventions in the economy, the most recent survey in September 2014 showed exactly the same picture.

Another generation

So although apparently familiar things are being thrown overboard, most Americans don't scream like they did in the 1960s. And the most important reason for this is that we are dealing with a different generation of Americans today.

In all policy areas, it is the young who are most satisfied with the liberal reorientation under Obama - and they want even more. In 2014, the Pew Research Center found that under-30s found twice as often as over-65s that the police were doing a “bad job” in treating different ethnic groups equally. In addition, nearly twice as many young people agree that the grand jury was wrong in failing to convict Darren Wilson in the Michael Brown case. According to YouGov, more than one in three Americans over 65 consider a transgender life "morally wrong"; less than a fifth of the under-30s think that way.

The so-called “millennials” - Americans between 18 and 35 years of age who grew up around the turn of the millennium - also see immigration as a “burden on the state” (minus 21 percentage points) much less than the over-65s, but see it rather as an “opportunity” (plus 25 percentage points). Millennials also tend to have benevolent attitudes towards Muslims. The percentage of Americans who “want to defend traditional values” is now at its lowest level since the polling institute Gallup first asked the question in 1993. At the same time, the percentage of those who describe themselves as “social liberal” is as high today as the number of self-proclaimed “social conservatives” was in 1999.

Thanks to millennials, there is growing support for a strong state among the population. According to a 2011 Pew study, most older Americans wanted to reverse Obama's health care reform, while a majority of millennials could even imagine an extension. The young people were also 25 percentage points more inclined to Occupy Wall Street than the older generations and had a 36 point more positive attitude towards socialism - which millennials preferred to capitalism at 49 to 46 percent.

Secular, ethnically diverse, polyglot

In the media, American politics is often portrayed as a struggle between increasingly liberal Democrats on the one hand and increasingly conservative Republicans on the other. This does not apply to the boys. Young Democrats may be more liberal than older ones, but so are young Republicans. According to Pew, a clear majority of the Republican youth think that immigrants made America stronger. One in two companies is too profitable, and just under half of young Republicans think that stricter environmental laws are worth the price.

With these answers, the younger ones clearly distance themselves from the older ones in the Grand Old Party. Young Republicans are even more willing than the oldest Democrats to legalize marijuana - and are almost as likely to be supporters of gay marriage. If you ask Republican millennials about their ideological attitudes, more than two-thirds of them describe themselves as either “liberal” or “mixed”, while less than a third describe themselves as “conservative”. Among the oldest Republicans, the distribution is almost exactly the opposite.

Now, according to a study, it is the American Sociological Revue in no way so that Americans also become more conservative with age. And millennials are left mainly not because they are young, but because they were shaped by the Iraq war and the financial crisis, and because they are the most secular, ethnically diverse, and least nationalist generation in American history.

Now one can confidently ask oneself what role that plays. After all, the US is not governed by polls. Restructuring of constituencies, the withdrawal of the right to vote for citizens who have committed criminal offenses and the softening of the laws on campaign financing all contribute to the enormous distance between politicians and the world around them and the views of average Americans. This is of particular benefit to the right. Despite these structural problems, Obama managed to push through a more consistent and progressive agenda than his two democratic predecessors. There is reason to believe that regardless of who wins the November election, the next president will also be more progressive than the predecessor of the party concerned.

Millennials and minorities

According to Microsoft's prediction platform Predictwise, the chances of the Democrats moving into the White House are over 60 percent. That's not because Hillary Clinton, who (still) has the best chance of being nominated, would be an exceptionally strong candidate. Rather, there is a chance the Republicans could send an exceptionally weak candidate into the race. Predictwise puts the chance that the Republicans will nominate their strongest overall candidate, Marco Rubio, at 57 percent (before the first primaries it was only 45 percent). But according to the portal, there is at least a 37 percent chance that Donald Trump or Ted Cruz will be chosen. In that case, Hillary Clinton's election victory would be almost certain.

If Clinton wins, she will likely act on Obama's left in domestic affairs. In foreign policy, where there is no strong left movement like Occupy and Black Lives Matter, the political dynamic is different. Clinton's previous election campaign ideas already point to a course shift to the left. Campaign observers believe that paid parenting, lower tuition and debt risk, and universal access to preschool will be on Clinton's agenda.

Just as Clinton would rule to Obama’s left, a possible Republican election winner will likely rule to George W. Bush’s left. First of all, however, a special alliance would be required for victory. When Bush won the 2000 election, very few millennials were allowed to vote. This year, however, they will provide around a quarter of the voters.

While in 2000 only 20 percent of voters were African American, Hispanic and Asians, this time it will be over 30 percent. Whit Ayres, an advisor to Marco Rubio's campaign team, calculates the following: Even if the Republican candidate wins 60 percent of the vote (which only Ronald Reagan did in 1984 in the past 40 years), he will be nearly 30 percent below that minorities must achieve in order to move into the White House. Mitt Romney got just 17 percent in the last election.

So every candidate for the Republican presidency is forced to win the votes of the millennials and minorities, even though they tend to the left on both cultural and economic issues. A President Rubio could therefore strive for immigration reform that is based on strict enforcement mechanisms, but also shows a path towards legality and perhaps even citizenship. In fact, Rubio supports such a model - much to the annoyance of his party. Would a President Rubio be more conservative than Obama? No doubt. An era of liberal dominance does not mean that the ideological differences between Democrats and Republicans will disappear. But it means that the ideological playing field and, to a certain extent, its center line are shifting to the left. The next Republican president will therefore not be able to bring the country back to the pre-Obama era.

Reagan the Democrats

Barack Obama aspired to the presidency with the aim of becoming the Reagan of the Democrats: a president who would have a lasting impact on America's ideological course. He succeeded. Obama shifted the political agenda as radically to the left as Reagan shifted it to the right. Just like under Reagan, this change was condoned by the public rather than made the subject of rebellion. Reagan's crowning achievement was getting the Democrats to adapt to the political world he created. There is now reason to believe that the next Republican president will also be forced to make concessions to the post-Obama political reality.

But this political cycle will also come to an end at some point. A permanent rise in crime, for example, could create tension between African American activists and young whites or Latinos. Slow economic growth and rising national debt could turn the public against the government's interventionist economic policies - and force the Democrats to put wealth creation above distribution issues again.

When the liberal era will end is in the stars. But it's not unlikely that it could last quite a while.

Peter Beinart is Associate Professor of Journalism and Political Science at the City University of New York and Senior Fellow of the New America Foundation.