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Blog Post · April 24, 2024

Video: The Political Views of Young Californians

photo - Young People Wearing I Voted Stickers

Younger Californians (18–34 year olds) view policy and politics differently from older Californians, which may signal political changes for the state. Last Tuesday, PPIC policy director and senior fellow Eric McGhee discussed a study that seeks to understand the gaps between age groups on issues, ideology, and partisanship to consider how quickly political change may arrive.

California today is a very Democratic state, with a liberal reputation. But McGhee offered a reminder that about 50 years ago, California was very competitive, “if anything, leaning a bit toward Republicans, especially for president.… That change over time has been an interesting trajectory for the state that means we can’t expect the current status quo to stay the same either.”

The demographics of younger Californians differ from those of older residents, with younger adults less likely to have children or to be homeowners, and more likely to have lower incomes— differences that may change over time. Young Californians are also more likely to be people of color.

Around a variety of policy issues, younger people tend to be more traditionally liberal, especially on matters of racial justice and immigration. Younger Californians “seem more amenable to government intervention,” McGhee said. “They tend to support the state getting involved in housing policy, and support more environmental regulation.”  The racial and ethnic differences between age groups do not explain these differences in views.

“We certainly see party polarization among both young people and older people in California, but the differences are generally smaller for young people,” McGhee said, citing as examples views on immigration, the size of government, and environmental regulations. “The biggest difference is generally that young Republicans take more liberal positions than older Republicans do.”

These age differences are not unique to California: young Americans are more liberal than older Americans outside of California as well. If anything, McGhee said, the gaps on policy issues are even larger elsewhere in the country.

McGhee noted that Californians over 54 are not really more conservative than those between 35 and 54 years old—except on matters of race and immigration; therefore, the pace of change is probably well reflected by a cutoff at age 35. McGhee also noted that it’s reasonable to wonder if young people might “age into a more conservative position,” which would turn them into copies of today’s older Californians and suggest little change to the status quo in the future. But in the PPIC Statewide Survey the views of Californians within each generation have not really changed over time, suggesting some degree of change is coming with the younger generation.

McGhee indicated that political parties will need to adapt to younger Californians who are more liberal and less polarized. Such adaptation may mean taking new positions on issues or communicating current issues more effectively—and it should involve an effort to better understand how younger Californians define political labels. Furthermore, in the interest of government representing as many views as possible, McGhee urged more effort and creative approaches to promoting voter registration and greater outreach to new voters.


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