Are young men conservative now?
This week we’re joined by our new Slow Boring intern, Maya. A little about her:
Hi everyone! I’m Maya Bodnick (@mayabodnick on Twitter). This summer, I’m interning for Slow Boring in D.C. I grew up in Atherton, California and am a rising sophomore at Harvard College studying Government. Outside of class, I call basketball games for the student radio station and debate with the Harvard Political Union. I’m a total politics and economics junkie, and I also love rap music, HBO dramas, and modern literature and art. I’m really excited to contribute to Slow Boring this summer and join the community!
Feel free to say hi in the comments! On to today’s post…
Last week, Richard Reeves noted polling data that shows “fewer than half of Gen Z men think that ‘feminism has made the world a better place,’” a finding that he says “we should all take pretty seriously.” Brad Wilcox of the Institute for Family Studies called it “striking new evidence young men in America are moving Right.”
It’s certainly an interesting finding. At the same time, one difficulty with polling interesting or novel questions is that it can be difficult to contextualize the results. Here, it’s not really clear what people mean by “feminism” or to what extent different people mean different things. I doubt someone like Nikki Haley would describe herself as a feminist. But from the vantage point of the “Mad Men” era, I think the idea of a married mother running for state legislature, winning, becoming governor, becoming UN Ambassador, and then running for president would very much seem like a feminist success story. A 25-year-old and a 75-year-old are likely to have very different perspectives, not so much on whether women should be able to have successful careers in politics as on whether this is what “feminism” means.
Drilling down into more specific questions about attitudes toward gender roles, the youngest cohort of men actually looks like it’s the most egalitarian.
And if you look at broader measures of partisanship and ideology, I think the youngest cohort of men is also the most left-wing. The whole Bernie Bro Discourse feels like it happened in the Stone Age at this point, but the perception that Sanders’ supporters were very young on average was correct. Many of those supporters, as it happens, were women, and the idea that it was all “bros” was nonsense. But it’s also not true that left-wing politics is all young women — we weren’t hallucinating the young male leftists. In the contemporary United States, women are (on average) to the left of men, and younger people are (on average) to the left of older people. This is all pretty clear in the data and pretty unsurprising.
What I am surprised by is the prevalence of the misperception that there’s some bloc of young male rightists red-pilled by social media. One reason for that is that it does look like the gender gap may be largest in the youth cohort. In other words, it’s not that young men are more conservative than older men, but that they are further right relative to young women than older men are relative to their peers. But another is the fascination with a newish cohort of male influencers and digital media personalities that I think tends to lack relevant context in terms of overall social trends.
Young men are pretty liberal
As I’ve said before, the best source of information on how demographic groups actually vote is Catalist’s “What Happened” series that comes out months after Election Day. From a pure discourse standpoint, this is much worse than an insta-analysis based on exit polls. But from an accuracy standpoint, taking the time to match results with voter file information gets much closer to the truth. Their “What Happened in 2022?” article doesn’t offer age-by-gender splits, but they were kind enough to share that information with Slow Boring.