When I get together with friends, the conversation often turns to their children’s political views, which are almost always significantly more liberal than theirs. Sometimes, their children’s stances are so far to the left as to baffle them. The daughter of one friend supported prison abolition, but she could not explain to her father how this policy could possibly work in practice. But everyone over 18 has a right to vote, regardless of their ability to explain their political program.

The outcome of most enduring concern in Tuesday’s election was the Left’s total victory among the young. About 60 percent of those 18- to 29-years old voted Democratic. The young are generally less likely to vote than other age groups, doubtless in part because they have more interesting uses of their time than the old. But about 30 percent of that demographic showed up, easily enough to be decisive in the close races for the House and Senate, the latter determined by a razor-thin majority in Nevada.

It is true that minority youth voted for Democrats in larger proportions than non-minority youth, but Republicans still did less well among younger white voters than older white voters. The profile of the Republican party is aging. As a result, the real “great replacement” Republicans should worry about comes from the grim reaper. If everyone alive in 2024 votes exactly as he did in 2022, it’s very possible that the Republicans will lose the House because of the voters who died in the interim. Add in the younger voters who will have turned 18 by that year, and that loss is even more likely.

Worse still for Republicans, evidence suggests that people tend to stick with the political paradigm with which they understood the world as they came of age. Yes, some of the young may be mugged by reality and change their views later in their lives, but much voting is naturally impervious to subsequent social reality. Given that the chances are vanishingly small that an individual’s vote will change the result of an election, citizens often vote in ways that make them feel good about themselves, rather than carefully calculating the policy effects of their votes. A person’s self-image is set early on, and much of the rest of his or her life is devoted to defending that image, even at the expense of self-scrutiny.

The reasons that the young lean left are complex, as with any social phenomena. But one cause is the economic collapse of 2008–2010, which many see as a failure of capitalism. To be sure, one can argue that governmental errors really caused the economic downturn. The Fed’s too-loose monetary policy inflated an asset bubble, particularly in housing. The government’s backing of housing loans through Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae generated moral hazard and unsound lending. But these explanations are hard to follow for non-economists. What appeared on the surface were failures of private institutions, often abetted by the reckless behavior of corporate officers out to make a buck. It is thus not surprising that socialism has made a comeback among those not old enough to remember its many failures.

Second, during the lifetime of these young people, educational institutions have shifted even further left in every respect. At the college level, the ratios of liberals to conservatives are even more dramatically skewed than in the past. Perhaps even more important, leftists who see the world through identity politics have replaced older traditional liberals. In typical elite history departments, for instance, the new hires mostly view the past through the prisms of race, gender, and colonialism.

The oppositional view to the United States and market capitalism is also more prevalent in K–12 education. The push to adopt The 1619 Project as part of the curriculum is just a formalization of the kind of lessons one already finds in some schools. The progressive tilt of the young is thus also in part a result of the long march through the educational institutions that the Left began in the 1960s.

Finally, the Biden administration carefully timed its decision to forgive student loans to energize the youth vote in this election. In truth, the policy is not progressive but regressive, because the lifetime earnings of those whose loans would be forgiven are greater than those of the average taxpayers who would foot the bill. But that gross policy defect has far less immediate electoral effect than the gratitude of those who anticipate an immediate financial windfall.

The steps Republicans can take to prevent future losses among the young are relatively clear. Deliver pro-growth policies that create broad prosperity (and make the case for capitalism). End indoctrination in K–12 education by forcing a more balanced curriculum that tells the truth about America and by promoting school choice, which will allow parents to vote with their feet. Pass legislation that ends student-loan forgiveness and makes regulatory changes to reduce the cost of college.

Of course, such conservative policies can only be attempted if Republicans attain substantial majorities in Congress or at least in key states. Youth’s present lurch to the left creates a political equilibrium that makes it more difficult to bring future generations back to the Right.

Photo by JEFF KOWALSKY/AFP via Getty Images


City Journal is a publication of the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research (MI), a leading free-market think tank. Are you interested in supporting the magazine? As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, donations in support of MI and City Journal are fully tax-deductible as provided by law (EIN #13-2912529).

Further Reading

Up Next