Will Gen Z Make America Socialist?

Last week, I wrote about a proposition on the California ballot that would give 17-year-olds the right to vote in some California elections. California’s push for the youth vote got me thinking about how recent college graduates and others entering the workforce are dealing with the economic and career implications of 2020.

On a recent episode of the financial podcast Business Casual, New York Times economics reporter Eduardo Porter shared his thoughts on the market, the economy, and what lies ahead. He thinks a financial recession could push younger Americans to the political left.

Porter cited research about how generations that come of age during a recession have moved to the left.

A 2009 working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research, “Growing up in a Recession: Beliefs and the Macroeconomy”,  gives us additional clues on how recessions could change generational perceptions on hard work versus luck.

It argues, “that large macroeconomic shocks experienced during the critical years of early adulthood shape preferences for redistribution. Individuals who grew up during a recession tend to support more government redistribution and believe that luck is more relevant than effort in determining economic success in life.”

The paper estimates that voter opinion swings could be as high as 15 percent due to impact of economic shocks on younger voters.

Looking to history, the findings are not far-fetched. Many notable economic downturns have related to political shifts to the left – the Great Recession and President Obama and the Great Depression and FDR to name two.

I also looked for any studies on the impact of smaller recessions on American voting preferences. “Economic Conditions and Electoral Outcomes: Class Differences in the Political Response to Recession,” was a 1978 study on voting during the 1958 and 1960 congressional and presidential elections in the American Journal of Political Science.

The study found that voters tended to blame incumbents for bad economic policies, regardless of party affiliation, and vote them out accordingly, “One basic finding to emerge from this study is that voting behavior is responsive to economic conditions, as these are reflected in the financial situations of families and individuals.” Interestingly, a 1975 study found similar conclusions, but noted “economic upturns have no corresponding effect.”

If the eyes are the window to the soul, as Cicero, Shakespeare, or the Bible claims, then polls are the window to political leanings.

A May 2019 Morning Consult poll found that Gen Z, the youngest generation entering the current job market, and Millennials, my generation, were more likely to feel positively toward socialism. Another footnote in the survey; Gen Z said that the 2008 financial crisis was the least likely to impact their worldview.

Those findings were further solidified in a follow-up poll in the spring of 2020 by Morning Consult. The “Gen Z Worldview Tracker” talked to 1,000 Americans aged 13 to 23-years-old about social justice issues like Black Lives Matter, their support for President Donald Trump, and the impact of the coronavirus.

Respondents viewed capitalism as the least favorable compared to socialism, social justice, and more. Thankfully, democracy had the highest score on this question – so that’s something to cheer.

In an Axios poll from October 2019 of 2,100 American respondents, 70 percent of millennials surveyed and 64 percent of Gen Z said they would vote for a socialist candidate. A May 2020 Vice article on Gen Z political leanings headlines the quote of a college student who said, “It’s much more stigmatized to say you’re a capitalist, in my experience.”

The push back against capitalism is not limited to younger generations. On The Roth Effect, Pacific Research Institute economist Wayne Winegarden and host Carol Roth had an enlightening conversation about the growing resentment of anything considered “capitalist.” Roth even pointed out that capitalism is a dirty word these days and she uses “free market” instead.

Due to COVID-19, the coronavirus shutdowns, and a decent look at the coming generation of youth voters, America could be at the start of a shift in public policy. It looks like younger generations could favor policies more common in socialist countries, setting the stage for the start of the new decade.

The impacts of the lockdown, arguably one the most severe economic shocks in modern history, will also impact the decision made this November and may be the driving force between younger Americans and adherence to our classic economic and political theories.

Evan Harris is a media relations and outreach manager at PRI.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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