X Close

Are young people really drifting Right?

Ultimately, the younger generation leans progressive. Credit: Getty

July 4, 2024 - 1:00pm

Results of the French legislative elections show something surprising: nearly a third of voters under 25 back Marine Le Pen’s national populist Rassemblement National (RN), led by the youthful Jordan Bardella.

Meanwhile, closer to home, a new JL Partners poll of British 16- and 17-year-olds shows that fully 23% of this school-age group would vote, if given the opportunity, for Nigel Farage’s immigration-restrictionist Reform UK. Labour’s manifesto commitment to lower the voting age to 16 could therefore prove a boon to the Right-wing party.

Given that British young people have also moved over 20 points in favour of single-sex toilets over unisex ones since August 2022 and by a similar amount on the issue of immigration being too high, the conservative drift is becoming increasingly visible.

Similarly, in Norway, where 70% of schools across the country hold mock elections, voting for the populist Right (+12) and centre-right (+9) is up a whopping 21 points, reaching 54%. Meanwhile, support for the Left and Greens is down to the point that the centre-right leader Ola Svenneby announced:“I think we can declare the Greta Thunberg generation dead.”

In the recent European elections, the green parties and Left suffered while the populists and centre-right gained. What’s more, support for the populist Right among young adults was up 10 points or more in France, Germany and elsewhere. Alarmed, many in the progressive and mainstream commentariat have moved to ad hoc explanations around the cost of housing, the pandemic or lower levels of happiness.

These results dovetail with findings from the United States, where a recent New York Times-Siena poll shows Donald Trump on 40% among the under-30s, closing in on the 46% supporting Joe Biden. This represents a dramatic narrowing of the 24-point gap that Biden enjoyed among this age group in 2020.

But we should not get carried away. After all, this is the generation which insists that not only is Israel primarily to blame for the Gaza crisis, but that it should not exist at all — even as the public thinks the opposite. In Britain, Zoomers are split evenly between those who believe J.K. Rowling’s publisher should drop her and those who say it shouldn’t, while only a small minority of those aged over 45 wants her cancelled. As I show in my new book Taboo, Zoomers are far more woke than their elders.

In addition, glance a bit harder at those New York Times numbers and you will find that the under-25s lean 38-17 liberal-to-conservative compared to 19-38 among the over-65s. Trump’s support stems mainly from those with weak or moderate ideological commitments reacting to an aged Biden.

More detailed analysis of results from across a majority of countries voting in the European elections reveals that the under-25s were the least likely to vote for the populist Right and most likely to support the greens and centre-left.

It may be that young people in parts of Western Europe are shifting Right while those in the continent’s East and South move Left. Yet even in countries such as France, the bigger picture among youth is polarisation rather than a shift to the Right. As John Burn-Murdoch of the Financial Times demonstrates, 33% of those under 25 voted for RN whereas nearly half (48%) opted for the far-Left Nouveau Front Populaire. In fact, adding together extremes and the moderates, young people lean further Left than any other age group and are twice as Left-wing as the elderly. So the story appears to be one of young people polarising within a Left-leaning youth political culture.

It is well-known in political science that new generations have shallower political allegiances. In Europe, as in Britain, members of Generation Z are also coming of age in a more fluid and fragmented party system, rather than one based on established class- and faith-based party loyalties to social democracy, Christian democracy, Conservative or Labour. Even in the hyper-partisan United States, the class basis of the main parties has eroded in recent decades while the link between race and partisanship is loosening. In this environment, we should expect young people to flee established parties more than older people. Despite its polarisation, Gen Z still leans towards progressivism.


Eric Kaufmann is Professor of Politics at the University of Buckingham and author of Taboo: How Making Race Sacred Led to a Cultural Revolution (Forum Press, 4 July).

epkaufm

Join the discussion


Join like minded readers that support our journalism by becoming a paid subscriber


To join the discussion in the comments, become a paid subscriber.

Join like minded readers that support our journalism, read unlimited articles and enjoy other subscriber-only benefits.

Subscribe
Subscribe
Notify of
guest

24 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
David McKee
David McKee
8 days ago

Message received, Prof. Kaufman. Gen Z is not sitting in Labour’s back pocket. It’s in play, if other parties have the nous to do something about it.

Amelia Melkinthorpe
Amelia Melkinthorpe
8 days ago

Yes, thank God. Next question?

Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
8 days ago

Basically, everyone is turning against the incumbents.

RA Znayder
RA Znayder
8 days ago

It remains hard for analysts to understand that left, right, conservative and progressive are meaningless terms without defining them carefully these days.
The young simply sense that the status quo – the centre broadly speaking – does not represent their interests. And they are probably right. Centre- left or right, it doesn’t matter, it means crony neoliberal economics in the financial realm. In the cultural realm the centre may represent corporate wokeism, conservatism, green politics, pro-migration, anti-migration. But none of it seems to matter. It appears to be mostly disingenuous PR. In every case the government seems to do whatever big capital wants. They want cheap labor? They got it. They want brutal austerity? They got it. The game is utterly rigged and people do no longer trust the ‘specialists’ of the clergy defending the status quo anymore. Politics is unpopular because mainstream parties have consistently and increasingly not implemented policies the voter actually wanted. And sure, ‘populists’ may use online media such as TikTok effectively. But without any genuine grievances it would not be so effective.
What each new generation is then, is just a little bit more radical, a little bit more anti-status quo. And really, as the horseshoe theory suggests, the difference between the radical left en right may not always be so big. Broadly speaking I do not think many “far right” voters – many of whom are working class – want right wing economic policies if they really think about it. Similarly, I suspect many on the “far left” do not necessarily want a lot of migration.

Josh Woods
Josh Woods
7 days ago
Reply to  RA Znayder

Frankly the definition of “Right vs Left” or “conservative/reactionary vs liberal/progressive” has become so arbitrary these days that they are no longer really anchored in the principals they’re supposed to embody, but rather whatever these respective crowds deem as “left” or “right” at the given moment. It’s mostly bandwagons & Overton Windows. The “Libertarian vs Authoritarian” dichotomy, however, is still much more principle-based IMO. Speaking as a relatively “young” late millennial who is firmly non-partisan i.e. eschews party politics in general.

jane baker
jane baker
6 days ago
Reply to  RA Znayder

It certainly is rigged. And now most people ignore BBC we dont get erroneous ideas subtly inculcated into our minds. The young ones who have not grown up with BBC influence at home certainly don’t.

Josh Allan
Josh Allan
8 days ago

As a Gen-Zer, I’m struggling to think of anyone else my age who isn’t at least solidly left-wing (most are far left). I know that’s anecdotal, but it seems to borne out by the opinion polls too (excluding the few that have been cherry-picked by Reform advocates over the past few weeks).

Liam F
Liam F
8 days ago
Reply to  Josh Allan

interesting comment -I would be interested in hearing more about your views. And what you think could be done to improve things from your point of view. The more potential solutions that are discussed the better i think. Fresh eyes are always good.

Josh Allan
Josh Allan
6 days ago
Reply to  Liam F

To be clear, I’m not left-wing. I’m just saying that all – and I really mean all – my coevals are. Gen-Z are belligerently woke, so discussions about mass immigration are impossible, meaning that any attempts to address their other concerns – housing, crime, social atomisation generally – will fall on deaf ears. The only solution is a culture shift, but I don’t see any signs of it happening.

Arthur King
Arthur King
8 days ago
Reply to  Josh Allan

Most of my casual friends think I’m center left even though privately I am far right.

jane baker
jane baker
6 days ago
Reply to  Josh Allan

So you live in leafy rural,no public transport access Dorset then and your Mummy or your Daddy works for the BBC.

jane baker
jane baker
6 days ago
Reply to  Josh Allan

And you want to Just Stop Oil.
Granny drives you up to the Big City to do protests in her Bentley.

Dr E C
Dr E C
6 days ago
Reply to  jane baker

Is the presumptuous ad hominem necessary? Josh has said nothing about his own views & has shared important information with us. I too know only Labour & Green supporting Gen Zs. We need to change the education system root & branch, not shoot the messenger.

Josh Allan
Josh Allan
6 days ago
Reply to  Dr E C

Thank you.

Josh Allan
Josh Allan
6 days ago
Reply to  jane baker

I’m a conservative who’s lived in the rural north and the urban south so you’re pretty far off the mark.

Luke Lea
Luke Lea
8 days ago

But we should not get carried away. After all, this is the generation which insists that not only is Israel primarily to blame for the Gaza crisis, but that it should not exist at all — even as the public thinks the opposite.
No doubt because they have a much better sense of their own interests than of the Jewish people’s, about which they know nothing.

jane baker
jane baker
6 days ago
Reply to  Luke Lea

But they can see a GENOCIDE when it’s being shoved in our faces so we are all complicit. At least the Nazis in WW2 had the decency to give the population the chance to lie and say they had no idea what was going on. We can’t say that.

Dave Canuck
Dave Canuck
8 days ago

There is no permanent shift, they will be shifting left and right in frustration, against the governing party in power at the time, because whoever is running things seem unable to solve any problems, the system is adrift and elites (both government and corporate) are milking the system dry. So there is justifiable anger. That’s why the left is winning the UK election and the right may win in France. That’s also why Trudeau in Canada is in trouble and Biden should be very worried . Not that their replacements will do any better, they may actually be worse.

Matt M
Matt M
7 days ago

A friend of mine who lives in Hertfordshire, just outside London, told me his two kids – 21 and 24 – surprised him by voting for Reform yesterday. So maybe there is something in it.

jane baker
jane baker
6 days ago
Reply to  Matt M

Well,as I put in my own post,from my occasional totally unscientific observation of the school pupils streaming in a Genghis Khan horde past the bus stop at home time if I happen to be there,well,if this isn’t the way out Right Wing future I’m seeing I’ll be surprised. But not right wing as in Flag Waving Nazi mode as our media always means,as the white,black + Asian kids all display the same impressive feel of self-reliance and devil take the hindmost. Or as Freddie Mercury sang in the line that NEVER gets quoted “no time for losers”.

M L Hamilton Anderson
M L Hamilton Anderson
7 days ago

I teach teenagers. I can confirm they are drifting towards people who talk common-sense with no-nonsense, freedom of opportunity, jobs, taking personal responsibility (because it is cool), nuclear energy (because it is cool), jobs in AI and engineering, having a side hustle, anything anti-woke, people with moral courage (few these days) and they are eeked out by girls who use too much Botox, too much filler and seem like they are going to be “spending a lot of time on themselves”. Teenagers are moving right because that is where the common-sense seems to be these days. Personally, I grew up on the socialist left with three generations of socialist left in our house, but today, the left have lost the plot and continue to put ideology over good policy that is best for the people. I wish politicians would remember they are there to serve the people, not themselves, not an ideology, not their donors – THE PEOPLE.

jane baker
jane baker
6 days ago

Well said,and true.

jane baker
jane baker
6 days ago

The Greta Thunberg generation reached school leaving age and then got jobs or went to university and found out that even a low paid crappy job these days requires you to be able to drive,either to get there or to DO the job. Try being a carer with up to 20 old folks to get round to every day. And a mobile phone,a smartphone is not an optional extra either. You use your phone IN YOUR WORK at the VERY LEAST you need it to “clock in and out” as that is now done on an app
No smartphone,no car,no job. No money. No money – no life. Even the ones who thought she had the right idea and was wonderful,it didn’t stop them buying a car etc like people who devoutly love God but still have affairs,drink etc. Ideals are one thing,real life is another. I live close by a big comprehensive school. It’s an Academy and its actually excellent and no problem.
If I happen to be at the bus stop at “chucking out time”ha ha,I mean going home time,the hordes of pre-teens and teenage boys and girls who go past,from their general conversation and demeanour and way about them,these are not Social Justice Warriors. These are potential and future Right Wing voters so if Labour do extend the vote to these iron teethed ones they will regret it. It’s not the flower power 1960s any more.

John Taylor
John Taylor
6 days ago

I’ve always, perhaps wrongly, been suspicious of general comments about generations. I suspect if you divide the generational results by class, you would find a sharp turn toward the right among the non-college educated. A former miner’s son in a declining community doesn’t care about Hamas or transgender toilets.