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Not that liberal: 5 surprising facts about Millennials and politics

Young people are often characterized as supporters of all things left, but an exclusive new Esquire-NBC News survey defies that conventional wisdom.

After asking 2,410 people more than 100 questions each about their beliefs, Robert Blizzard, a Republican pollster, and Daniel Franklin, a Democratic pollster, found that a majority of people in America are less divided than the partisan Congress and feuding pundits might lead the public to believe.

And survey results for the 434 people within the age group of 18 to 29 who participated reveal a slew of surprising facts specifically about Millennials’ political leanings.

Millennials are not all lefties

“You assume that they’re liberal because they vote so democratic,” Blizzard said. However, “there are as many young Millennials on the secular left as are on the religious right,” Franklin noted. 

Fifty-nine percent of people between the ages of 18 to 29 landed in the center, more than any other age group in the survey. Comparatively, 51 percent of the entire survey population was characterized as the center. 

Of the 41 percent of 18 to 29-year-olds polled who weren’t in the center, 21 percent landed on the right and 20 percent landed on the left.

Millennials support gay marriage—but are conservative on other issues

Young people are more comfortable stepping over political lines and adopting beliefs that might not line up with the party they identify with. “They’re not brand shoppers, they’re mixing and matching,” Franklin said.

For instance, while 67 percent of Millennials support gay marriage, only 42 percent believe that the government should allow illegal immigrants a path to citizenship, something supported by 57 percent of the left. “It’s not that [young people] are anti-diverse … the real issue is equality and fairness," Blizzard said. "They’re concerned … when they see people getting breaks that they aren’t getting in this economy.” (According to the survey, young people are also largely opposed to millionaires getting tax breaks.) 

The disparities between opinions of the left and the young don’t stop there.

While 94 percent of the left supported continuing affirmative action, only 58 percent of people 18-29 thought affirmative action should persist in college admissions and hiring decisions. Similarly, while only 46 percent of the left support a voter ID requirement, 71 percent of Millennials think people should have to pull out their IDs at the polls.

Millennials are not idealists ...

Franklin pointed out that those between the ages of 18 and 29 are “portrayed as pie in the sky idealists,” but said they actually have a strong sense of reality. After all, for a majority of their politically-aware years, they have experienced the “promise of a president who it seemed could bring a real transformation stymied by a political system no one seems to be in control of or responsible for,” he said.

Fifty-nine percent of 18 to 29-year-olds think their lives are going to be harder than their parents’ lives have been. Only 19 percent believe they might be better off than mom and dad. The survey showed that a meager 31 percent were optimistic about the American economy, and only 19 percent were optimistic about goings on in Washington.

But most Millennials have not given up on government

While 21 percent of young people were labeled “#WhateverMan,” the least politically engaged category in the survey, Franklin said he was surprised that the number of “disaffected” young people wasn’t higher. “What reason would they have to believe strongly in one political institution or party?” he asked.     

“There was definitely mistrust, but it was sort of in line with everybody else, and it made me think that it was possible that there isn’t a whole generation that has just given up on politics,” Franklin said. He added that he knows “people are disappointed in the Obama presidency,” but if he had been a 22-year-old voting in the 2012 election, he wouldn’t have viewed the GOP as the party that supported the fairness that Millennials are searching for.

And Millennials are up-for-grabs in 2016

Although a majority of white 18 to 29-year-olds voted for Romney in 2012, Obama swept the age group as a whole with 60 percent to Romney’s 37 percent.

But Blizzard said that Republicans might attract a wider range of young people in the future if the party seeks out more diverse candidates and demonstrates that it is inclusive.

Young people are more diverse as a demographic than other age groups, Blizzard said, leading him to believe that “our problem is more of an ethnicity problem than an age problem.” As a result, Blizzard thinks the GOP needs to “change our tactic … we have to reach out.”

“Every party is constantly changing and needs to,” echoed Franklin. He said the survey revealed that “whatever party is able to disentangle themselves from the past is going to have an advantage with young people as a whole.”

Methodology:  The survey of 2,410 registered voters was conducted from August 5-11, 2013. The Benenson Strategy Group (headed by Joel Benenson, lead pollster for Obama in ‘08 and '12) and Neil Newhouse of Public Opinion Strategies (the lead pollster for Romney '12) used cutting-edge polling and analytical techniques to group respondents into eight "segments" based on attitudinal and demographic commonalities and like-mindedness.