Over the course of the past few years, I have come to believe that today's young Americans are more conservative than their elders. I think this applies to younger people who don't even identify with conservatism, the Republican Party, or even politics in general.
Renowned pollster John Zogby has confirmed what I have long suspected. In an article in Forbes about what he calls First Globals (18-29 year olds), Zogby writes: "On some key issues, majorities of First Globals are not doctrinaire liberals. The poll found less than majorities agree with liberals on some of their most cherished beliefs. For example: 44 percent agree health insurance is a right government should provide for those who can't afford it, 43 percent agree with the same statement about food and shelter, 37 percent agree government should spend more to reduce poverty, 20 percent agree government spending is an effective way to economic growth."
It's no secret that many young voters who turned out for Obama in 2008 have since soured on his presidency. But these numbers show they might be souring on the overall big-government agenda that has long characterized the Democratic Party. Interestingly, young Americans also reject the big-government aspects of today's Republican Party. Zogby writes: "Lest Republicans get too giddy at those findings, they should also know less than majorities agree with these conservative and neo-con ideals: 22 percent agree it's sometimes necessary to attack potentially hostile countries rather than waiting until we are attacked, 23 percent are willing to give up some personal freedoms for the sake of national security, 39 percent agree cutting taxes is an effective route to economic growth." He adds, "21 percent agree religious values should play an important role in government, and 25 percent agree homosexuality is morally wrong."
Today, there are many factions and coalitions that make up the contemporary conservative movement. But few would disagree that the Barry Goldwater-Ronald Reagan notion of small government and constitutional fidelity has long been the primary core of American conservatism. Goldwater has always been a hero to libertarians, a figure that Fox News' Judge Andrew Napolitano even calls the father of the American libertarianism. Even the Gipper himself once famously proclaimed his devotion to the libertarian movement, saying, "If you analyze it, I believe the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism."
As you know, I'm a traditional conservative who often gets labeled a libertarian because I defend and promote libertarian heroes and ideals. This is in part because I agree with libertarians on most issues, but also because the conservative movement has been effectively neutered for decades because of the complete absence of a libertarian influence within the Republican Party.
Social conservatives and neoconservatives, the latter being primarily concerned with maintaining a hawkish foreign policy above all else, dominated the party during the George W. Bush years. Reagan believed conservatism was a three-legged stool consisting of religious, economic-libertarian, and national security factions. Under Bush, there was no economic-libertarian conservatism. It was non-existent. As long as Republicans were pro-life, anti-gay marriage, and enthusiastic about every war our government waged, this was enough to be a "conservative" for most of the last decade. Today's conservative youth are not conventional Republicans, but they are aligned with traditional conservatism.
Religious conservatives and neoconservatives have been important and influential factions on the American Right. The GOP is just as responsible for this nation's massive federal growth as the Democrats because of the Republican Party's lack of libertarian principles. In 2008, the youth turned out in record numbers for Obama because, in large part, they rejected Bush and contemporary conservatism. Today, many of them now reject Obama, as well as both political parties.
So where do they turn? There is no easy answer. Noting trends similar to those Zogby cites, CNN's Timothy Stanley writes: "The GOP can no longer ignore its libertarian 'fringe.' On the contrary, it will have to reach out to a new generation of activists who don't regard religious piety or continual warfare as sacred tenets of conservatism," Stanley adds. "Whatever happens in 2012, we are living through a significant moment in the history of conservatism."
We might also be living through conservatism's rebirth. It is a cliché to look at young people and say you fear for the future. I, on the other hand, can't wait for it.
Jack Hunter assisted Sen. Jim DeMint with his latest book, Now or Never: Saving America From Economic Collapse. He is also the official campaign blogger for GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul, and he co-wrote Rand Paul's The Tea Party Goes to Washington. You can hear Southern Avenger commentaries on The Morning Buzz on 1250 WTMA.