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For Millennials, Institutions Are Out, Selfies, Social Networks and Diversity Are In

BY Miranda Neubauer | Friday, March 7 2014

These politicians and Chicago students know what a selfie is. (Twitter/dailyedwardian)

A Pew survey released Friday highlights that young Americans are noticeably detached from traditional institutions such as political parties, organized religion and marriage even as they are increasingly connected with their peers through online social networks.

The study by the Pew Research Center found that half of so-called millennials aged 18 to 33 describe themselves as political independents and 29 percent are not affiliated with any religion. They are "at or near the highest levels of political and religious disaffiliation recorded for any generation in the quarter-century that the Pew Research Center has been polling on these topics." The study also found only 26 percent of the generation are currently married, a much lower rate than when older generations were the same age.

In contrast, the report notes that 81 percent of millennials are on Facebook, with a median friend count of 250, significantly higher than the median for older generations, such as 98 for younger boomers and 50 for older boomers and members of the silent generation.

To illustrate the social network and tech enthusiasm of millennials, the study points to a phenomenon that saw a renewed burst of attention this past week following the record-breaking Academy Awards selfie initiated by Ellen DeGeneres, which sparked several homage photos, including one on Thursday featuring New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod, among others.

Pew notes that 55 percent of millennials have taken a "selfie" photo. "Indeed, in the new Pew Research survey, only about six-in-ten Boomers and about a third of Silents say they know what a “selfie” (a photo taken of oneself) is," the report states. Nevertheless, nine in ten millennials are in agreement with their elders that people share too much information about themselves online.

But in spite of the sizable number of millennials identifying as independents, a closer look at the survey still seems to suggest more potential for Democrats than Republicans. "When the party leanings of independents are taken into account, the Democratic Party’s advantage among Millennials becomes more apparent," the report notes. "Half of Millennials (50%) identify as Democrats or say they lean toward the Democratic Party, 16 points greater than the percentage who identify or say they lean Republican." Even though their support for President Obama has dropped from 70 percent in early 2009, at 49 percent it is still the highest job rating of all the generations. The favorability of Congress among millennials has also dropped to 30 percent in 2014 from 68 percent in 2004, though it is also still the highest of all the generations.

A survey released in December by Harvard's Institute of Politics and conducted soon after the government shutdown found a majority of respondents age 18 to 29 disapproving of Obama, with an approval rate of only 41 percent. That survey also suggested that younger millennials were less likely to identify as Democrats. But the Pew report states that "an analysis of Pew Research surveys
conducted in 2014 shows that the shares of younger and older Millennials who identify with the Democratic Party are roughly comparable."

Pew suggests some differences among millennials, regarding their views of politics and Obama, have more to do with race and ethnicity than age. "White Millennials’ views of Obama are not substantially different from those of older whites. Some 34% of white Millennials approve of the job Obama is doing as president, compared with 33% of Gen Xers, 37% of Boomers and 28% of Silents," the report says. "By contrast 67% of non-white Millennials give Obama high marks for the job he’s doing as president." Among white millennials 51 percent identify as independents, 24 as Republicans and 19 percent as Democrats. "Among non-white Millennials, about as many (47%) say they are independent. But nearly twice as many (37%) identify as Democrats while just 9% identify as Republicans," the report notes.

Overall, a larger number of millennials support a larger government with more services, with support at 53 percent in September. But in that respect there also differences based on race. "On balance, white Millennials say they would prefer a smaller government that provides fewer services (52%), rather than a bigger government that provides more services (39%)," the report states. "Non-white Millennials lean heavily toward a bigger government: 71% say they would prefer a bigger government that provides more services, while only 21% say they would prefer a smaller government."

Views of the health care system are also mixed. The study found support for the Affordable Healthcare Act to be 42 percent among millennials, similar to older generations. However, 54 percent of all millennials responding to the survey suggested it was the federal government's responsibility to ensure that all Americans have health coverage, the highest of all generations. On that issue, racial differences are also evident, with more white millennials, at 54 percent, saying it is not the government's responsibility, while a majority of non-white millenials, at 68 percent, believe that it is.

"The racial makeup of today’s young adults is one of the key factors in explaining their political liberalism," the report states. "But it is not the only factor. Across a range of political and ideological measures, white Millennials, while less liberal than the non-whites of their generation, are more liberal than the whites in older generations."