The Kids Are All Right: College-Age Voters Lean Conservative

Younger voters were most supportive of GOP’s health care plan

Young people trend more conservative on policy issues. Scott Olson/Getty Images

There’s been a lot of hand-wringing about college students and a lot of assumptions about their political leanings. But a recent poll on the health care debate punctures the myth that college kids and recent grads are liberal. When it comes to policy issues, they may even lean conservative.

College-Age Americans: More Market-Oriented on Health Care Than Older Voters

As the health care debate raged, Jon Schneider of Long Island University released the results of the Hornstein Center poll, which showed that a clear majority of Americans support the national government playing a role in health care and oppose Republican legislation. This probably explains why a lot of support for “repeal and replace” and “skinny repeal” evaporated quickly.

Pundits often look at the headlines and ignore the rest. Critics of such polls dismiss any findings that don’t support their beliefs. Both groups have ignored the rest of the findings, which compare the results by age group. Shockingly, the youngest voters are more supportive of the Republican position on health care.

A majority (56 percent) of Americans believe it is the federal government’s responsibility to make sure all Americans have health care coverage. The lowest age group to agree is the 18-29 year old category; only 50 percent concur with this statement.

The Hornstein Center also asked which factor was the most important to the survey respondents: reducing the number of uninsured, reducing the cost of health care, reducing the insurance premiums, or improving the quality of care regardless of cost. The top two values for the 18-29 year-old crowd were reducing health care costs and lowering insurance premiums, the two values most compatible with Republican views.

The survey also found that those who are 18-29 are the least likely among all four age groups to support having “a single national health insurance run by the government.” They were the most likely age group to back a system run only by private insurance companies.

The poll revealed that eight percent slightly disapproved of the GOP’s plan to repeal and replace Obamacare and 53 percent strongly disapproved. But for the youngest age bracket, it was a different story. Only 40 percent of 18-29 year-olds strongly disapproved, and eight percent slightly disapproved. The youngest voters also give the greatest levels of support to the Republican plans on health care.

Why Might College Students Trend More Conservative Than Older Voters These Days?

So why are younger voters trending more conservative on policy issues? Many college students think they’ll be in a higher income bracket as a result of their education, so they feel the need to oppose higher taxes and back the free market. Some have that entrepreneurial spirit, even if they aren’t a business major.

But they aren’t monolithically GOP supporters. Many see themselves as economically conservative and socially liberal. Moreover, as recent evidence showed Republicans dissing colleges, support among conservatives for attacking colleges drops if you have a degree and if you’re a young person. These younger voters recognize the importance of higher education.

In 2018 and 2020, young people will be the swing voters. This group will not be won by politicians who talk down to them or believe unscientific analyses or anecdotes about them. Whoever discovers what young people truly want and finds the best arguments to appeal to them will win this key demographic—and perhaps a generation of powerful political support.

John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Ga. He can be reached at jtures@lagrange.edu. His Twitter account is JohnTures2.

The Kids Are All Right: College-Age Voters Lean Conservative