How Race and Generation Shape Racial and Political Attitudes in a Changing America

October 30, 2018

Earlier this year, the Pew Research Center concretely defined the much-discussed “millennial” generation as the cohort born between 1981 and 1996. “Turning 37 this year, the oldest Millennials are well into adulthood, and they first entered adulthood before today’s youngest adults were born,” the Center wrote in a report. Pew also noted that millennials are, to date, the most racially and ethnically diverse adult generation in the nation’s history. “On many issues,” the report stated, “Millennials continue to have a distinct—and increasingly liberal—outlook” compared to earlier generations.

However, do these liberal political attitudes apply equally to millennials of all races? In a paper for a recent issue of RSF on immigration and immigrant integration, titled “Assessing the Political Distinctiveness of White Millennials: How Race and Generation Shape Racial and Political Attitudes in a Changing America,” authors Deborah Schildkraut and Satia Marotta (Tufts University) examine differences in the political attitudes held by white millennials and those held by non-white millennials, particularly at a time of increased demographic change in the U.S.

In order to compare the views of white millennials not only with the views of non-white millennials, but also with the views of older whites, the authors ran three statistical models using data from the 2012 and 2016 Cooperative Congressional Election Studies (CCES), a nationally representative survey of over 54,000 respondents, of which 16.5 percent were millennials. The first model examined whether millennial respondents held more liberal preferences than older respondents. The authors then controlled for race to determine whether being in the millennial generation still affects attitudes. Finally, the last model examined how being white and a millennial interacted to shape respondents’ attitudes. “We find that white millennials are slightly more liberal than older whites, but that their views are closer to the views of older whites than they are to those of nonwhite millennials,” Schildkraut and Marotta write. 

In one example, the authors studied whether millennial respondents agreed or disagreed with the survey prompt “White people in the U.S. have certain advantages because of the color of their skin.” The figure below illustrates how white millennials’ responses diverged significantly from nonwhites’ and instead mapped more closely to older whites’:

The authors found similar patterns when looking at white millennials’ attitudes toward affirmative action and immigration policy. “It is true that white millennials were somewhat more ideologically and racially liberal than older whites on some measures studied here,” the authors write, “but far more often race was a stronger factor shaping their outlook.”

Read the full open-access paper from RSF.

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