Why are younger people more likely to be left wing?

Written by Ben Dodd



Usually, younger people are more likely to hold more liberal values than older people. This is a generalisation; people of all ages hold beliefs all over the political spectrum; yet I still think it’s an interesting trend to note, especially given that many older people who hold conservative values now were far more left wing in their younger days.

In all honesty, I think that boiling down the political debate into ‘left-wingers’ and ‘right-wingers’ is intrinsically damaging to both sides; it allows each side to think of those who hold different beliefs to their own as ‘the other’, making it far easier to vilify them and dismiss their perspective as that of ‘a racist from the far-right’ or a ‘naïve left winger’. However, I still want to take a look at the trend and try to examine why it happens, given that it has happened throughout society for generations, at least in Britain.

Psychology Today notes that what it calls ‘openness’ (essentially, intellectual curiosity and willingness to try out new experiences) decreases with age. It associates openness with, among other things, creativity, an interest in trying potentially dangerous things such as recreational drugs and skydiving, and challenging the establishment. These things are in turn associated with holding more liberal views, and therefore this is presented as one argument as for why many people start out more left wing and become more conservative as they get older. I’m not sure how much I agree with it, and they don’t present any data to back it up, but it’s certainly a theory.

I also think it’s important to consider the social and economic aspects of the situation: younger people are usually financially worse off than middle-aged people (again, a massive generalisation), so they are more in favour of government help funded by the tax payer; a left-wing staple. Then, as they get older and more better off, they become more reluctant to part with their hard-earned money through new or raised taxes in order to help those less well off. This is obviously an over simplification, but you get the general idea.

A 2015 article on the Guardian’s website argues that as people get older, their priorities regarding political and social issues change, and that this correlates with a shift to a more conservative outlook. That certainly makes sense, and I think this coupled with the economic factors I previously touched on, is the best explanation for this phenomenon. The article also mentions that more younger people than ever are going to university, and that higher education generally leads to more liberal views ‘on issues such as crime and immigration’.

So, overall, it’s likely a blend of social, economic and educational factors along with a changing set of political priorities and values which can best explain why many young people are liberal now, but will become more conservative as they age. What’s important is to look past the echo chamber that many news outlets and social media platforms have become and actually speak to those on the other side of the political spectrum to yourself, without pre-judging their beliefs, in order to have a broad range and understanding of the issues. Everyone is a person first, and liberal or conservative second.

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