Those Young Voters….

Anyone who has ever taught has recognized that the students who pay attention in class perform better than those who didn’t. (Those of you who just read that sentence can now say “duh”…)

As obvious as that point may be–i.e., people who pay attention know more– a lot of people fail to apply it in other contexts. A reader of this blog recently sent me a letter or column (I’m not sure which)  that had appeared in a Boston newspaper, decrying the fact that a recent poll had found roughly half of American respondents under 30 less sympathetic to  Ukraine than older Americans. The author linked that result to distrust of media, which has led to distrust of other social institutions.

The polling in question was fielded by the Economist and YouGov, both highly reputable pollsters. According to the report on its findings published by the Economist,

Ninety-two per cent of American respondents over the age of 64 said they sympathised more with Ukraine than with Russia. Yet just 56% of those aged 18-29 answered the same—a difference of 36 percentage points. In Europe the pattern looks similar. There was a 17-point difference between the shares of older and younger people in Britain who said they sympathise more with Ukraine, and a gap of 14 points in France. Young Americans were the most likely to say they sympathised more with Russia (10%), compared with 6% in France and just 1% in Britain.

One explanation for the difference was the fact that younger people tend to be less engaged in and knowledgable about politics.

Across all three countries, younger people who said that they were interested in politics were more sympathetic to Ukraine than their less-engaged peers. In Britain the gap between those aged under 30 and over 64 narrowed when factoring in that difference: from 17 points to 12.

In other words, those who were paying attention were more likely to sympathize with Ukraine.

Another likely reason for the difference between age cohorts, according to the Economist, was life experience.

 The gap between well-informed older Americans and well-informed younger Americans is still wide, at 28 percentage points. Russophobic sentiment among older adults may be more important. Those aged 65 and older came of age in the midst of the cold war. By comparison, those aged under 30 were born after 1992, a year after the fall of the Soviet Union. As Russia returns to battle, echoes of the cold war might ring louder for older generations. 

Although the Economist didn’t cite it (the letter to the newspaper did), I would attribute much of the gap to America’s very diminished levels of social trust overall. Skepticism of media and political and governmental institutions is a prominent feature of today’s America, and is understandably more prevalent among young people than among those who grew up in times when that trust–and arguably, official trustworthiness– was far greater.

A study by Pippa Norris, a noted scholar, suggests another difference between young and old: contrary to the thesis of youth apathy, Norris finds that young people are much more likely than their parents and grandparents to engage in cause-oriented political action, including humanitarian and environmental activism, rather than more traditional political activities.  I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest that young activists who care about the environment, for example, have encountered ample reasons to distrust both business and government.

We are clearly in a time of major social change and upheaval, and how all this will shake out is anyone’s guess, but before we old folks engage in the time-honored  “dissing” of young people, I suggest we look at the numbers. Fifty-six percent of the youngest cohort sympathized with Ukraine, another 24% responded that they were “unsure.” Only ten percent sympathized with Russia. That is certainly a troubling number, but it’s fewer than the twenty-two percent of Americans (including 79% of Republicans) who have embraced “the Big Lie.”

Survey researchers will confirm that people who respond to polls will often say they are “unsure” when they really don’t have sufficient knowledge to form an opinion.(Admitting ignorance is embarrassing; suggesting uncertainty is less so.) When we look at the possible reasons for the age gap on sympathy for Ukraine, I’d be willing to wager that lack of engagement–leading to lack of knowledge–is by far the largest factor.

And when you think about it, it is also the most troubling. Not paying attention–in class or in life–is never a good sign.


  1. While I have not checked the facts recently to quote more exacting numbers, the current elders were influenced more by peers facing the national draft, enlisted voluntarily for military service and/or considered VISTA or Peace Corps as well as other alternate voluntary service after high school or college. These experiences, as they did for me and my close friends and colleagues, developed an awareness as to the horrors of war and poverty from afar. It would be difficult to imagine the travesty of war if you have not even held a military issued AR-16 in your hands.

  2. Well, I had an enlightening conversation with a college student last week and he was extremely impressive and willing to share his knowledge with his cohorts. Being an online influencer is the rage these days, and students want to know what they are paying for when attending school.

    And yes, they have the world at their fingertips. Fact-checkers and knowledge all with the swipe of the thumb, or command.

    There is literally no excuse for not being a critical thinker today. Laziness is ignorance.

    However, don’t expect them to trust the same media outlets their grandparents watch or read. The college student I spoke with was reading the fine print in the Legacy Fund at Ball State. He knew what he was reading was bullshit composed by PR agents employed by the school.

    I guarantee the questions he asked the administration get answered by lawyers. I would not underestimate the kids growing up today.

  3. They are also not aware of the challenges fast moves into socialism. Economically it slows growth and hinders the advancement of innovation. A Swiss friend of mine told me in the last decade thei government hot rid of all nuclear power plants and installed cosl plants. Five years later they now are going green and are removing these plants to reinstall some nuclear power plants. He is an engineer that owns a company that installs electrical stations.
    Weischeimer of the University of Chicago places the blame for this conflict on the expansion of NATO. There was a medium ground we could rely on, the problem with the Old Soviet Guard is they believe Russia could be attacked again someday. The corruption and influence of the west hasn’t helped matters in Ukraine This causes confusion in many peoples minds. They don’t see that Ukraine is a sovereign nation and Russia agreed not to attack them when they gave up their nukes. Other histories Involving the iron curtain after WwIi and the influence of Marxism on the USSR isn’t being taught. The importance of not trusting those in power makes the value of independent nations and in the US independent thinking states in a federally joined US stops corruption.
    Older more mature people sometimes make better decisions as they have more to pull from to guide their decisions and understanding.
    They are more likely to make connections to how others are struggling.

  4. One understanding of existentialism is “paying attention” to the world around us.

  5. “Skepticism of media and political and governmental institutions is a prominent feature of today’s America, and is understandably more prevalent among young people than among those who grew up in times when that trust–and arguably, official trustworthiness– was far greater.”

    My generation grew up during WWII; we relied on news reports which usually came days after the fact on radio or in our local newspapers. We lived with rationing on everything due to shortages of everything; but we grew up with a loyalty to this country and we could rely on those reporting the news as being facts even when we disagreed with the facts. Younger generations today are of the “me” mind set; watching as Ukraine is left to fight alone, even with the massive amounts of weaponry provided by this nation and our allies, they have no worries about being drafted into the military and sent there to fight our know enemy, Russia. Whatever media site they rely on; it doesn’t relate to them personally because they don’t appear to look ahead to what their future holds for them. Watching Russia’s genocidal attack on Ukraine has drawn the Ukrainians together to fight for the salvation of their nation and for democracy for all. I see loyalty from their President to the Ballet Company to husbands, mothers, daughters, sons, fathers, brothers and sisters of all ages joined in a loyalty we cannot find in America today. The leaders within our government and political parties are all divisive within their parties with no firm foundation to salvage what remains of our democracy, civil and human rights. Will the younger voters understand enough about the importance of these 2022 mid-term elections to vote? Do they understand their future is in their hands? It wasn’t the youth of this country I watched attacking and crawling up the walls of our capital building like animals on January 6, 2021. Nor do I see them speaking out against the insurrection; do they even understand the meaning of what happened on that day.

    “And when you think about it, it is also the most troubling. Not paying attention–in class or in life–is never a good sign.” What do they believe in?

    I am among those of the older generation who have stated we are glad we are old and won’t be here to see the results of conditions in this country today.

  6. Who are the mainstream media? Does anyone watch the Sunday shows? Anyone under 60? Does anyone watch the 6:00 news, national or local? Do the cable channels count? The FOXGOP channel or the MSNBCD channel? Or the ultra-whackjob channels, or the hapless CNN? Does anyone take a local paper?

    I am under 60, and I rely on none of those sources. They are almost entirely self-interested corporate spins and pathetic exercises in targeted marketing. Trust the young ones. We will always have legions of idiots, but those who are intelligent and engaged are wiser and better educated than ever.

  7. I’m 67 and I am much more optimistic in handing the reigns to the next generation. I haven’t been at all impressed with my own generation’s stewardship of our democracy and our environment.

  8. Eh,maybe the younger generation wasn’t conditioned to hate Russians as previous generations? Perhaps they didn’t watch Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons casting Boris and Natasha as antagonists? Who woulda thought the US would demonize its ally in destroying nazis 70 years ago–only to today support a right wing regime in Ukraine consisting of nazis and Banderites.

    To support the right wing regime of Zelenskyy is to willfully ignore history.

    I have faith in the youngin’s. It seems to be the oldsters willing to forget about Stepan Bandera in their embrace of Zelenskyy’s style of fascism.

  9. So much in this…our pathetic education system not teaching critical thinking and with a hard focus on STEM and test scores…the abject failure of government at all levels to deal with issues the young are passionate about (inequality of opportunity, climate, rampant corruption)…the intense cultural growth of “meism” v/s “usism”.

  10. Reading the posts that are responding to the responses of young people of today… I take note of the comment made by Joann Green, ” The leaders within our government and political parties are all divisive within their parties with no firm foundation to salvage what remains of our democracy, civil and human rights.”, and to her point, I strongly concur and would add that the corporate media also contributes to the divisive melee that keeps the young and those not so young completely confused.

    America is not a democracy. It is a nation built on unbridled capitalism that has, from our inception encroached on others’ lands while either by force or by glad-handing the leaders of other nations gained access to the resources that should belong to the citizens of those nations. A case in point , the understanding of the simple term, ‘banana republic’…

    Historically, the philosophy that has driven this nation is in conflict with its practice. In other words, the preamble to our Constitution begins with the clear and unambiguous pronoun, ‘WE’. However, the pronoun, ‘ME’ seems to be the operative understanding of many. The hedonistic nature of a great number of Americans is seen by both youth and some not so young as the conundrum with which we find ourselves constantly being at odds.

    I have five grandchildren who are all between twenty and thirty-eight years old. They listen, watch and learn and seem much more aware of the nuanced hypocrisy with which our leaders continue to steer our nation.
    With modern communication at the fingertips, it is difficult to not be bombarded with a diversity of opinions and deftly chosen ‘facts’ which are then used to compose a biased narrative.
    I take seriously, the words chosen in the preamble, “…to form a more perfect union”. In other words, rather than looking backwards to find our moral compass, we need to look forward. We are not yet a perfect union, nor have we been in the past.
    I watch a MSNBC program, Rachael Maddow who I very much admire. Yet, last night, her program spoke of how Russia and the Republicans use smear tactics to reduce the reputations of potential democrat candidates. She cited the recent accusations hurled towards our new SCOTUS Justice, Katanji Brown Jackson. Rachael was quick to condemn the tactics that tried to imply that Justice Jackson was a pedophile supporter. While listening, to Maddow’s comments, I immediately was reminded of our democrat representatives who used accusations of Kavanaugh’s teenage years to try and paint him as a rapist in order to keep him from being confirmed. Whether or not his actions were supported by facts or accusations alone are not for me to judge. His actions while serving over the years, just as are Justice Jackson’s should at least be equally scrutinized. Log in eyes seems to be a human trait when assessing the foibles and failures of others. Youth are watching…youth are leaning and are struggling with the inconsistencies that they see much more clearly than the past generations ever have…in my opinion.
    Being able to judge our actions while pointing out those of others, is, in my opinion essential to be credible and taken seriously by those who we wish to influence and guide.

  11. I wonder if the younger voters have taken notice how indifferent the PMC has shown themselves toward the precariat with respect to the lockdowns?

    The youngin’s should look at both political organizations as Churches of Neoliberalism. Both tribes fighting over the right to create and grant new property to glorify their lord, and, perhaps even more importantly, holding sacred all that which they have accumulated previously.

    Maybe? Then again, Americans do tend to have short attention spans.

  12. Colossians 3:14 reads; “but, besides all these things, clothe yourself with love, for it is a perfect Bond of union.”

    This is difficult to accept for almost everybody for some reason. Religious leaders Don’t preach it, their flock does not practice it, and politics definitely doesn’t exude it, even when iota!

    Even those of the Sanhedrin that supposedly enforced the Mosaic Law, tried to distance themselves from what Christ called “your neighbor!”

    Your neighbor is actually all of humanity!

    “Let your Love be without hypocrisy….. in brotherly Love have tender affection for one another.”

    That is not only evident, hypocrisy that is, in every generation, it is also readily noticeable in the younger generations.

    Almost all Christians are antithetical to their god, Muslims are antithetical to their God by the teachings of their holy books including the Quran. It’s no different for the Jews, they totally disregard Toratic teachings, just as the others, the Pentateuch, the Torah, and the Tevrat, are all the first five books of the Bible and all considered holy by the Christians the Jews and the Muslims.

    You can, or could, view this as ties that bind? But, the lust for hypocrisy or killing or hatred, seems to provide more emotional comfort than embracing your neighbor/fellow Man…..

    The Young and the wealthy have found gods that they seem to embrace, money, self worship, self-grandizement, the god of ME and the religion of Me’ism!

    The houses of Greek philosophy,
    The Epicureans
    The Stoics

    These provide the dogma that’s acceptable to the younger generation.

    Read about the Greek houses of philosophy and you will see much of the dogma being practiced today either in religion or politics.

  13. Those young folks who are not paying attention to the Ukraine situation are, apparently, then, paying attention to the massive, if I may, environmental crisis. If that is true, they may see that as more important, a more important focus, than on the war, about which they can do little.
    I’m not suggesting that they do not care about the devastation, and lives lost in this abomination, but that they may see the environmental situation as overarching, but still amenable to some level of solution, thus in need of both their attention, and action.

  14. The reason that the Democrats have a culture war problem is the same reason that Republicans invest heavily in culture war issues. For both parties, policies that provide material benefits to voters are off the table because the donor class will not allow it. The only thing left is culture war issues. Regarding the Democratic Party in particular, the fact that even with control of the government, congressional Democrats refuse to raise the minimum wage and give Medicare the authority to negotiate drug prices – two wildly popular policies that they have been campaigning on for many years – reflects the deep corruption of the party of the people. This, rather than woke-ism and elitist snobbery is the essential problem in my view. It is not that Democrats’ core economic message disappears when cultural issues dominate but rather that Democrats’ core economic message has proved to be complete b.s.

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