Posted by: Amelia | June 27, 2007

Youthful Idealism: What Sticks?

It seems generally accepted that people become more conservative as they get older (or, at the very least, they look conservative in comparison with the younger generations that replace them). A New York Times/CBS News/MTV poll has found, unsurprisingly, that Americans between the ages of 17 and 29 are more liberal than the population at large.

More than half of Americans ages 17 to 29 — 54 percent — say they intend to vote for a Democrat for president in 2008. […]

At a time when Democrats have made gains after years in which Republicans have dominated Washington, young Americans appear to lean slightly more to the left than the general population: 28 percent described themselves as liberal, compared with 20 percent of the nation at large. And 27 percent called themselves conservative, compared with 32 percent of the general public.

It’s not a huge difference, but it’s outside the margin of error. Still, it would not surprise me if we, like generations before us, become more conservative as we get money in our bank accounts and kids in our minivans. I would also be surprised, however, if the slow march away from youthful liberalism applied to all issues equally. The poll found that young people are strikingly more supportive of gay marriage than the general population:

gay marriage graphic

Though adding in those who would allow civil unions makes the difference somewhat less stark, it is still extremely heartening that 44% of young people favor full marriage rights for all citizens.

Will we become less tolerant as we age? I somehow doubt it. Social issues, I think, do not operate on the aging political psyche in the same way as fiscal policy or national security. I can understand becoming more protective of our money as we get older and actually have some. It seems less likely that the 44% who support equal marriage will suddenly decide that gays are undeserving.

Sure, a few might peel off and become born-again fundamentalists, but just as many (if not far more) will join the pro-equality ranks as cultural acceptance of homosexuality increases. Even those 30% who do not support legal recognition might change their minds as they grow up and encounter more gays and lesbians in their work and social lives. Call me a cockeyed optimist, but I can’t see things moving in any other way but toward more equality. The anti-gay marriage amendments passed in various states are short- or medium-term steps backward in what I am confident will be a story of long-term progress.

After the jump, the latest episode of The Toast on this very subject, courtesy of Miss Cailin:

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