What Teenagers Have Learned From a Tumultuous Time in Politics

Apr 22, 2021 · 56 comments
"What Teenagers Have Learned From a Tumultuous Time in Politics" Teenagers learned?….. What about the adults of this country?……… Seems almost one-hall believe Donald Trump was a good, even patriotic president — Go figure………...
Alex9 (Los Angeles)
What will America's teenagers think as one of the two political parties is intent on cracking up--becoming radicalized into a force for harming the country and people? Will the kids think this is depressing politics as its always been? Will they not see the extremity of the GOP? Will they be as susceptible to right wing media disinformation as their parents and grandparents were? One big way to counter the cycle of ignorance and political tribalism that fuels it would be education in schools the kids are in. They have to be taught, with all the voluminous facts on display, that today's Republican Party is, like a natural disaster or pandemic, objectively bad for them and the country.
D. Smith (Cleveland, Ohio)
It is interesting, but not surprising, to note how the teens' rhetoric mirrors political talking points. It would have been much more gratifying to hear someone say that it is important to carefully look at the candidate as an individual, not a caricature of a political party. It would have been even more gratifying for one of the teenagers to state that regardless of party affiliation, he or she would make it a priority to understand the issues and, regardless of inconvenience, always vote. Apparently today's future voters are being weaned on the widespread propaganda disseminated to encourage cynicism, lack of civility and division. It is a shame we as a democracy do not do a better job of teaching critical thinking skills to our children. Losing our democracy is the price we will eventually pay for this lapse.
sg (nj)
I'm thankful every day of my life that my Republican parents sent me to college in Massachusetts in the late '70s, which made me realize how selfish and destructive the party of Nixon and Reagan was. Between the classes I took, the friends I made and the kinder liberal environment of New England, I got an education in values and achievement beyond measure.
Casual Observer (Los Angeles)
The kids who have grown up were mostly conditioned to prioritize consideration of the feelings of others and to value relationships over individual independence and control over their lives separately from others. It results in people who enjoy freedom until it results in somebody feeling left out or hurt, then they reject it, abruptly. The value of rational discourse to allow people to break free to think for themselves is not much. They will solve some problems that have existed for centuries like ending the separation by race, and acceptance of some non-conformity which has always persisted through human history, but only with respect to people who view life as do they. But for all those who do not share their priorities, they will never respect. So the divisions we see today, will frustrate for the rest of their lives.
Suzanne (California)
To all young Americans, most especially young women: NEVER let the dark side of American misogynistic gaslit culture take away your ambition, drive and dreams. No one sees the full arc of the long game, but even when the future is unclear, do not cheat yourself of worthy adventures ahead. Over the past 50-60 years, as a woman who’s followed her own path of work and travel, my ambition has come, gone, and come back - more than once. Only I could truly nurture it, and only I can turn my back on my own power and potential. I simply wish I’d believed even more in myself than I did. I cast my first vote for Shirley Chisholm in the 1972 North Carolina Democratic primary. Neither she nor Walter Mondale won but I never voted for destructive power brokers Nixon or Reagan, cynically leveraging white Supremacist and misogynistic fundamentalist voting blocs to keep power. Sometimes I am despondent too. Times change, though, and one day 50 years from now, you too can look back at a roller coaster of history and be proud of changes made now. BLM, defeating Trump, hopefully making lasting changes in justice for all and the environment, and more than we see today. Defeat the gas lighters. NEVER ever cheat yourself of a past worth remembering.
John (Orange County, CA)
“Ultimately, Democrats will bankrupt the United States,” that respondent said, completely unaware of GOP tax and spending policies of the past four years, apparently.
garsar (france)
Politics changes lives and it is very important to vote. Hopefully they will get that and get off their phones and get involved. Trump proved how dangerous a bad president can be. Those of color in particular should vote.
A (Richmond)
Young Americans better get involved in politics if they want a world to live in. If the GOP returns to power, kiss any kind of climate change effort good-by.
Susan (US)
This article talks about Trump-supporting teens, without telling us what percentage of the teens supported Trump. Was it 10%? 30%? 50%? What percentage supported Biden? Without that important information, it is very hard to analyze the bits and pieces of data in this article, like the fact that only 47% of teens who support Trump hope to see a woman elected. What percentage of teens does that 47% constitute? Please provide additional data so readers can properly evaluate this study and its implications.
dcl_ (Virginia USA)
I was very very very lucky to have been raised by politically aware Roosevelt Progressives in the '50s. If I were a youth today I would be forced to conclude that all that "maturity" adults keep talking about that I don't yet have is wasted on them.
Gen-Z Kid (Los Angeles)
Well, I have read the New York Times daily, And I most kids think I’m crazy in my views haha
Nonwhite GNC immigrant raising two preteen boys who're half-white, and I'd love to tell them that either party is viable. But that's a damned lie. One party activly villainaizes me, both my immigrant community and my chosen cultural community. I want a safety net. I want public health care for my kids. I want a government that invests in its citizens. I want rights and protections for all people. I think that's basic and fundamental to civilization. I'm not telling my kids to vote left or right, I'm telling them to vote for the party whose platform confirms humanism. I wish with all my heart that I did have a choice of party in America. I don't think I do.
In 1973, I was 13 yrs old and fortunate to get a scholarship to an elite boarding school and we were required to get a subscription to the NYT. I have continued to read the NYT almost daily since then and have read both sides positions on the issues My advice to young and future voters is to compare and contrast the policy positions of the 2 major parties and use that to guide your voting decisions--independent of your parent's or friends party affiliation may be. Sadly, what young and future voters will discover is that the republican party has devolved into a party without any real policy positions. Their policies seem to be to vote against anything the democrats propose and don't bother to come up with your counter proposal. You can not have bipartisanship if one side has no counter proposal. For example, describe the republican Health plan , describe their climate change proposal, define their immigration policy or their infrastructure plan etc. Outside of tax cuts for the rich and corporations they are totally bankrupt of ideas. I challenge anyone to name the republican positions on any of these issues. If young voters demand both sides offer them something concrete, maybe we can have bipartisan discussions again and make lasting changes to government policy that won't be overturned depending on who wins elections.
Lilly (Hudson Valley)
As someone born in 2002, this article feels more or less true to life. I cast my first ballot last year, and though it was for our 46th president, I can't say I was happy to do so. I'm one of the zoomers (I know for a fact there are at least several of us!) for whom the 2020 and 2016 primaries were real heartbreakers. I'm not here to contest the results of those elections--what's done is done--but they still stung. I was sorely disappointed to not even have any chance to finally vote last June, whether or not it would have mattered. I'd love to live in Europe and be able to vote without hesitation for a relevant social-democratic party that represents what I believe in. But the Democratic Party here does not, and I have strong doubts that it ever will. Most Democratic voters, including my parents (likely many readers and commenters here as well), don't see eye to eye with me, and the party is doing a good job representing them, after all. So yes, I'd say I'm disillusioned with politics; still, I'll probably keep voting, if only to try and keep things from getting worse. I have little faith that things will progress in the direction that I dearly hope for.
Alejandro Garcia (Atlanta)
@Lilly Don't count yourself out just yet. I was skeptical of Bernie back in 2016 (in fact, I had only just recently switched parties, from Republican to Democrat). But I voted for Sanders in the primaries because I felt he had the conviction and zeal to carry out the radical reforms needed to right this ship. He didn't win, so I voted for Biden instead. And even if Sanders didn't get in, a lot of his platform proposals did make their way into the main party platform and now drive many of this new administration's policies. So what you did was not fruitless. It bore fruit. It will just take longer to ripen than many of us would like.
EKR (Point Roberts, WA)
This generation of soon to be voters really excites me. They grew up when Barack Obama was President, ACA enacted, Gay Marriage ruled constitutional and BLM & METOO became mainstream. These events will influence decisions they make as adults, including how they vote and how inclusive they are.
sleepyhead (Detroit)
It's so sad and monotonous to hear young people parrot the obvious untruth that democratic principles will bankrupt the United States. The only thing that has burned through cash are typically conservative and short sighted directions like wars, starving infrastructure, education and so on. That's whats led to costly, fatal power outages, an explosion in expensive incarceration, and ..... well, you can't even name all the disasters penny wise and pound foolish has cost. I used to believe in conservatism until I started to see the cost. Militarizing our police forces has starved social services and drained city budgets with huge payouts for bad practices and protest "security". Unregulated funding of education has led to 2 generations of students with permanent student debt. The best thing the Democratic Party can do is to expose the real cost of these policies in dollars. It's clear that to the GOP, the costs in lives and our environment just don't matter.
Dogs are the best (Seattle, WA)
I do wonder how much critical thinking by these young people is being done, or does this survey just give us an idea of what they are hearing from their parents, friends and social media? I worry, in particular, that social media is encouraging silo thinking rather than critical thinking, as well as providing a very biased view of events. I can only hope that educators can look at these results and begin civics education classes as a forum for further discussion and debate.
Jeanine (Illinois)
@Dogs are the best To be honest, I would worry more about the boomers if you are talking about hearing misinformation from social media. And as a member of gen z, I am certainly not blindly mimicking my parents or friends in political views
PB (Northern Utah)
No doubt this generation of teenagers has gotten a raw deal, with all this hate-government, racist right-wing rhetoric and neoliberal-business dominated ideology, which saw government's job as enabling the rich and big business by reducing government support for people, society, and curbing financial and environmental regulations. My generation of Baby Boomers benefitted by government support for young people (GI Bill, college education), society (Eisenhower's infrastructure building), and the passage of Civil Rights, Medicare, gun safety laws, etc. Then along came Reaganism-Trumpism and right-wing ideology, where college education became more expensive than in other advanced nations (tuition cost per year in Germany $0, France $217, US $8,202), which leaves US students in higher average debt for student loans ($29,800 in 2018) compared to other advanced countries (France, UK, Germany, Australia, Canada). Yet it is my generation of right-wing old men leaders such as Reagan, Gingrich, Hatch, Trump, McConnell etc. who benefitted from government when they grew up but who have worked diligently to take away or greatly reduce government help and greater opportunities (including respect for people of color, immigrants, gays, women) for today's youth generation. For the first time in a long time, this generation of young people cannot not expect to live as well as their parent's generation, especially for those without a college degree. See 2019 Pew report.
I just wish you could convince the rest of the voters in your state to your way of thinking. Because you're spot on.
Urban.Warrior (Washington, D.C.)
My greatest hope is that these young people understand how crucial it is to get involved and stay involved. Be well informed. It's 2021. No time to read the news? "Snope" it. Be heroes. #BelikeStaceyAbrams. Voting is important but it's not enough.
ChristineMcM (Massachusetts)
"Yet despite being unconvinced that government was meeting their needs, the majority of the teenagers, and roughly equal shares of girls and boys, said they were interested in following and discussing what happens in politics and government." That would be huge, if it plays out. Apathy has been a hallmark of our citizenry at various periods of our history, allowing the most impassioned--and demagogic--to run for, and seek to keep office by any means necessary. I disagreed with the author on only one point, that political opinions formed in youth last for life. Due to my dad, I leaned Republican for most of my life, until 2008 when Republican intransigence and the Tea Party, turned me into a passionate Democrat. Democracy depends on an informed electorate. While I thought Donald Trumpwould have an outsized effect on youth, I hope their interest in politics continues--our survival depends on it.
That was a generalization. There will always be outliers.
Deirdre (New Jersey)
I have accepted that misogyny is real- even among women and no democratic woman can’t win the presidency. I don’t like it, I don’t support it but we must acknowledge it to win. I also blame the Fox News 24/7 team that identifies strong women like AOC and hillaries them as they hillaried her.
Deirdre (New Jersey)
No democratic woman can win the presidency is what I meant to say.
I love your use of "hilary" as a verb, to mean "unfairly vilify a woman."
PB (Northern Utah)
@Deirdre I liked it the double negative way you said it the first time--meaning: no, there is no democratic woman who can't win the presidency. The Democratic Party really does have some wonderful women: Harris, Warren, Kluobuchar, Abrams, Duckworth, Pelosi, AOC, and lots more...
I would like to have seen more analysis. For instance:”... three-quarters of Trump-supporting teenagers, more interested in running ...” Why? What did they see in that Presidency that could inspire them? Running is hopefully about public service, what model of public service did trump present to them? This is why surveys in and of themselves are almost meaningless. Especially if these same people aren’t resurveyed in four years when the very different model of governance that Biden is showing has some effects.
Erik (Utah)
@LETMYPEOPLEGONOW!🔴⚪️🔵 They're interested in running because they see now that they don't need any qualifications; to them it's just an opportunity to be a bad person on a larger scale.
Assuming the apocryphal Heaven exists, Republicans will have a lot of accounting to do to St. Peter for what they did to their fellow humans, to their country, to their world, to essential values such as truth and just behavior, and especially to kids, not just their own but everyone’s.
Diogenes (Naples Florida)
A vast, undiscovered volcano is about to erupt and devastate the world. At the same time, an asteroid will hit the Earth, aliens from outer space will invade us, and the Washington Nationals will win the World Series (Oh, wait about that last one). Every prediction ever made about the future has been wrong. Yours is not different.
Stacey CT (Connecticut)
@Diogenes Wait, every prediction ever made has been wrong? You sure about that?
SteveRR (CA)
@Diogenes You don't see the irony /syntactic fallacy in predicting that: "Every prediction ever made about the future has been wrong." The Pre-socratics would have loved you.
Dan Styer (Wakeman, OH)
@Diogenes must not have bothered reading CC Miller's essay, because in fact it makes no predictions about the future whatsoever. But @Diogenes is also wrong about prediction. For example: I predict that energy conservation will hold tomorrow. I hope I'm wrong and that someone, perhaps @Diogenes, discovers a cheap way to create energy out of nothing tomorrow, but that's my prediction.
Sarah (CT)
I find it fascinating that half those surveyed agreed that the government had their interests in mind. Had you asked that question of my cohort at that age (early 1990s), I can't imagine that you would have gotten even a 5% agree.
Linda C (Expat in Spain)
So it turns out this generation of soon-to-be voters is just as politically divided as previous generations. It is my sincere hope that surveys and research like this will help put to rest the foolish generational tropes/framing so many seem attracted to, i.e. "OK Boomer, "Gen X Slackers", "Reckless Millennials". How about like-minded people of all living generations working together to build a better world instead of lobbing cross-generational insults? Now wouldn't that be refreshing!!!!!
Tessa V (Long Island)
Was parental influence taken into consideration? Often, children learn what they live - and live what they learn.
Gussie Fink-Nottle (Tennessee)
This tracks with the anecdata I have gleaned from my kids and their peers. They aren't so much disillusioned with politics as with society. Even those of a conservative bent are disgusted by how we have spent a year not getting our act together. I guess spending a school year in masks, watching your teachers fumble with basic tech will do that to you. Quite a lot of them want to go into politics, and they are terrifyingly pragmatic: not impressed with the past and willing to abandon traditions and norms to engineer a better future. They are used to working together, so here's hoping they can bring us back to bipartisanship and creative problem solving. I'm getting kind of tired of the whining and gridlock.
Paul (Brooklyn)
You wrote what happens in our teen yrs. typically shapes us for life. It is not as simple as that. Although there is some truth in what you say, there are many other factors that come into play. We may remember our youth but we don't know how to solve the problems. I went from a conservative (mother was a right winger) to liberal (college yrs) to a moderate progress I am now as a senior (life experience).
Foreign Policy Nerd (Canada)
I was born in the US, and I am part of gen Z (2003). I become eligible to vote in July, and I am not impressed by any political party in the US right now. I find the Democrats to be too far to the left, and the GOP to be too far to the right. I don't want to waste my vote, but at the same time, no one represents my values. I am hawkish on foreign policy, hesitant with spending, but a big environmentalist. Most of my friends in NY don't like either party and just aren't going to vote in 2022. What advice do you have to encourage Gen Z to be active, when they don't particularly like either party? We are a bunch of nihilists.
ladybee (Spartanburg, SC)
@Foreign Policy Nerd I can't image NOT voting! Dems may be too far to the right in rhetoric but it will be toned down in reality. Voting is a right not to be taken lightly. Just remember that some states are actively trying to make it hard to vote!
Riley (USA)
@Foreign Policy Nerd Vote for the lesser of two evils. Unfortunate as it is, the US is currently a two-party system and neither party is particularly effective. It's possible that will change in the future, but for now it's what we have so we have to work with it. If you're a big environmentalist, you absolutely should go and vote even if you think it's pointless. Vote for people who represent changes you want to see on environmental policies, because people who want to roll back environmental protections? They vote consistently and in large numbers.
Foreign Policy Nerd (Canada)
@Frank the Tank that is reassuring. I will get an absentee ballot for 2022 in NY-17, so we will see :)
Emeritus (Maryland)
I'm an old white guy (70) I have voted in every single election since I became eligible. It is critical for young voters to fight voter suppression in every possible way. People who don't vote don't count and the people with money and power will try to have a few of these people vote as possible so they can ignore them. They want you to be disillusioned and suppress your own vote. But americans died so everyone could vote. Vote and make sure your vote is heard.
Brian (Los Angeles)
Seems Putin’s victory over American democracy runs deeper than I thought.
poslug (cambridge)
Have the young women realized their hard won assumed rights and medical access can be taken away? I see a "it can never happen" inner belief among many teenage girls. The young Evangelicals are unaware how self and other damaging their political support is.
Gussie Fink-Nottle (Tennessee)
@poslug From what I remember of my fundie upbringing, those girls don't know enough biology to realize what medical access they might need.
L’Americaine (Louisiana Transplant To Pacific NW)
They, girls, are taught nothing about their biological or financial futures.
No Name (USA)
I registered to vote when I turned 18, about 50 years ago. I voted for Nixon, Reagan and shamefully, against Jimmy Carter. I am not revealing my name because I now feel those choices were so wrong, and influenced by my Republican family. I changed my party affiliation so I could vote in a Democratic primary well into young adulthood. I say all this, because I clearly see some parental misguided influence in the comments some of the participants reported here. Many children do not fully think for themselves at the age cited in this story. I was one of them.
PB (Northern Utah)
@No Name Interesting, because the pattern is that offspring are likely to follow their parents' politics, unless there is some change in an offspring's life, such as friends, marriage, occupation, change in religion, region, etc. What led to your shift in politics?
Jacob (Michigan)
@No Name Completely agree. My answers to a survey like this when I was 20 or 21 would have been the complete opposite of my answers at 16. That's the difference between the beliefs of my family and the community I grew up in and moving across the country to college and beginning to think for myself.
Chuck (NYC)
@No Name absolutely correct. At this age, 13-17, kids are picking up virtually everything from parents and teachers. Almost senseless to question them without corroborating results with those of parents. They hopefully will start to think for themselves a bit during their college years. When I was working which included a lot of travel, raising a family, taking care of a house - how much time does one really have to focus on politics. Now that I’m retired, I realize what a cadre of selfish human beings exist in DC and there is no doubt the Republicans lead the charge in this arena.
MIMA (heartsny)
It would be interesting to know what factors led to the decisions of these teenagers. What influenced their opinions? Their geographics, their educational background, their family political ties, their religion, how did they come to base their likings?
Susan (CT)
@MIMA The most likely influence is their parents. They grew up listening to their parents’ view of the world. College will change or cement their current beliefs. I hope that they are most influenced by the possibility of kindness in politics. The hatred of the “other” has to stop.