Pew Poll Finds Young Adults Are Liberals, NPR Anchor Asks: 'Who Raised These Terrific Kids?'

Robert Siegel, an anchor of NPR’s evening newscast All Things Considered, had an emotional response on Wednesday night as Pew pollster Andrew Kohut described how young adults voted heavily for Obama and call themselves liberals, are less "militaristic" and less religious: "Who raised these terrific kids, Andy?" The men laughed.

The Pew Research Center studied the "millennials," those aged 18 to 29 who did much growing up in the first decade of the new century. Here’s how the discussion unfolded:

SIEGEL: Give us a thumbnail sketch of the millennials.

KOHUT: They're Democratic. They voted very heavily for Barack Obama. They're a little less supportive of Obama today, but still - compared to other generations - they are more supportive of the Democratic Party. They're more supportive of Barack Obama.

They call themselves liberals. Yes, they use the L-word. Twenty-nine percent of them say they're liberals. Less than 20 percent of all of the other generations say that. They're very tolerant of gays and race...

SIEGEL: And a very diverse group.

KOHUT: And they're very diverse.

SIEGEL: Yeah.

KOHUT: Many people, not just whites, I think only 60 percent of this generation is white. They have a positive view of government - a more positive view of government, at least, than other generations. And they even supported higher rates, relatively higher rates, such things as affirmative action with preferential treatment for minorities.

SIEGEL: You said that millennials are big believers in values as well.

KOHUT: They are. They look at - to themselves and they say, our generation is quite different than our parents' generation. But they don't say it with any rancor. What they say is they're unlike baby boomers who had this great dispute with their parents about values. The millennial generation say older people have better moral values, have better work ethic. The only thing they criticize the older generation for is their lack of tolerance.

SIEGEL: Who raised these terrific kids, Andy?

(Soundbite of laughter)

KOHUT: People your age actually, Robert. Thank you for...

SIEGEL: Now, to be clear here, Pew is not just comparing the millennials to other age groups today, but you're looking with what they say compared to what boomers said in the late '70s or what Gen Xers said in the 1990s.

KOHUT: That's right. And they do express - hold these values to a greater extent than Gen Xers, for example, at a comparable point of time. They're also less religious. Not less believing. They tend to have high levels of belief, but they're not joiners.

They’re "less religious, not less believing"? What does that mean? "They’re not joiners"? In fact, the Pew report notes that many are not joiners, they’re quitters: "The large proportion of young adults who are unaffiliated with a religion is a result, in part, of the decision by many young people to leave the religion of their upbringing without becoming involved with a new faith."

Siegel was also encouraged they were not "terribly militaristic" as the War on Terror era fades:

SIEGEL: Their adult lives have witnessed two American wars in Afghanistan and in Iraq, and yet they don't seem terribly militaristic in their view of the world.

KOHUT: Well, maybe as a consequence. Fewer of them support an assertive military posture as a form of national security compared to other generations.

The war in Afghanistan and the call for more troops in Afghanistan was not popular, even though they're very relatively supportive of Barack Obama.

SIEGEL: Yes, you mentioned they're relatively supportive of Barack Obama, self-identify to a remarkable degree as liberals and also as Democrats. Are they among those who have also been drifting away from President Obama, the Democrats, as we've seen in so many polls?

Mr. KOHUT: In certainly one respect they have. His approval ratings fell from 73 percent among this generation to 57 percent currently. It's still relatively high to other groups. But underneath it, you see that this generation still has a lot of personal confidence in Obama. Seventy-five percent rate him favorably, just about as much as did after he took office.

Here’s what NPR didn’t ask Kohut about: how his survey found the gap between the Millennials saying they were Democrats or lean Democratic vs. those saying they were Republican or lean Republican has been cut by more than half. The chart says the 2008 gap was 32 points in favor of Democrats (62 to 30), but has currently shrunk to 14 (54 to 40).

Transcript and audio can be found at NPR.org.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis