There is much speculation but few hard facts when it comes to understanding how generational value differences drive political behaviour. These were evidenced in ComRes polling for UnHerd in August 2017 (here) which found twice as many Millennials think capitalists are “most dangerous in the world today” compared to communists. Equally significant is that four in ten Millennials believe equality is more important than freedom, compared to fewer than half that among Baby Boomers.
Three important questions are begged here which require much more detailed investigation given the long term impacts on political discourse.
- First, is this a cohort or age effect? The equality versus freedom numbers suggest the former: younger people since the War (at least) have placed huge value on freedom. How much has that changed and why?
- Second, what do different ages understand by ‘communism’ and ‘capitalism’? Communism seems to many Millennials a mere throwback to a former age while capitalists feature currently in discourse over how Western economies are run.
- Finally, and most intractable of all, to what extent is the political angst of younger age groups caused by frustration at government inability to tackle the consequences of social breakdown and a fragmented society? For example, Western governments ignore the avalanche of statistics showing the personal and societal costs of family breakdown, while legislating to make divorce easier and legalise civil partnerships for all. By failing to tackle the underlying causes of societal breakdown all governments can do is play political ‘splat the rat’ by trying to fix the consequences of failed social policies. Is Millennial flirting with far left policies a cry of ‘do something’ in the face of failing government interventions, despite ever more cash being thrown at the problems?
Without understanding fundamental drivers of generational behaviour, we fail to prepare for the political fallout from what currently looks to be the most significant shift in values in living memory.