The Tea Party Teens

Here is my response to the article The Tea Party Teens by David Brooks:

There presently is not coherent and respectable tea party that could actually win a presidential election. The tea party is more held together by what its members are against rather than for. There are some strong divisions (such as b/t the social libertarians and rightwing fundamentalists) within the tea party that will split it apart once the economic situation stabilizes.

The article points out that the issues of intellectuals are becoming less popular, but history shows that anti-intellectualism always flares up temporarily during politically stressful times. It is a bit disturbing on a personal level because I value intellectuality and intelligence in general.  It makes sense though.  When people feel afraid and uncertain, they look to group norms and shared opinions.  Intellectuality, on the other hand, is about thinking for yourself.  People are more likely to think for themselves when they’re not worried about everyday issues such as unemployment, unpaid bills, and home foreclosures.

So where are political trends leading.  It would help to look at it in terms of generations.

Let me start with views of the youngest generation on social issues.  Specifically I’ll focus on the most divisive of issues: abortion.  In general, 18-29 yr olds of any generation tend to be less supportive of abortion rights than the general adult population. There is no reason to assume this won’t be equally as true for GenY as it was for past generations.  However, there are some differences between older and younger GenY.  Older GenYs are extremely liberal and progressive on all issues and younger GenYs are a bit more conservative on social issues, but overall GenY is the most liberal of any generation.

GenY is the largest generation and so they sway public opinion polls, but it’s difficult to infer what this means for future politics.   Polls in the past have shown that a majority of GenY are pro-choice, but this generation is still forming their opinions and so this could change.

Another thing to keep in mind is that GenY is strongly averse to politically divisive issues. Even if younger GenY teens are more socially conservative, it doesn’t mean they’ll be supportive of government enforcing bans on abortions. Younger GenY may be more pro-life, but they’re less pro-life than the 65+ demographic which would seem to imply a general shift of increasing liberalism on the issue.  I definitely wouldn’t look to GenY to carry on the combative style of the Boomers in the political arena.  Strauss and Howe theorize that we’re coming into a period of cooperation and so the prediction is that issues such as abortion will lose their power as wedge issues.

Plus, polls have consistently shown that Americans in general are against total abortion bans and think abortion should be allowed in some situations.  Being pro-life as a personal belief is way different than being anti-abortion as a complete ban enforced by the federal government.

There has been only one recent poll that has shown an increase in those who identify as pro-life. But a single poll, just like a single set of research data, doesn’t prove anything.  Such a poll, for the time being, can only be seen as a fluke, but possibly it is evidence of something.  Only further polls over the next several years can demonstrate if there is a trend.

As for the Tea Party in general, I’ve seen data that shows the Bush administration has caused independents to increasingly lean towards the liberal. Another thing that is interesting is that GenX is the most Republican of any generation right now and yet GenX is very socially liberal. The political map of the next few decades is going to be very different. 

One further point is that younger generations are less open to mixing religion and politics.  I think that is extremely important for the Tea Party movement.  The personas who have dominated the Tea Party are the religious right figures such as Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin, but many people in the Tea Party aren’t followers of the religious right.  If the Tea Party is to survive as a longterm movement it will have to become less stridently focused on religious values.  Instead, the Tea Party should align itself fully with the Libertarian movement including the liberal Libertarians.  Then maybe it could be a force to be reckoned with.

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