This post was originally published by Campus Progress.
This isn’t the first time she’s protested the way Tea Partiers treat young people. In a February appearance on The View, she called out former Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.) for making racist comments about immigrants and about Obama.
“I think it’s why young people are turned off by this movement. And I’m sorry [but] revolutions start with young people. Not with 65-year-old people talking about literacy tests and people who can’t say the word ‘vote’ in English," McCain said on the show. "It’s ridiculous….This rhetoric will continue to turn off young voters and anybody that says different is smoking something. Period."
But were young people ever turned on by the Tea Party to begin with? The Tea Party might be challenging the political establishment, but they’re not doing it with the interests of the majority of young people at heart. An Economist/YouGov poll released in September showed youth voters are least likely voter group to identify with the Tea party [PDF]. Twenty-seven percent of people age 18-29 strongly oppose the Tea Party, while 16.5 percent strongly support it.
A more comprehensive report on the Millennial generation prepared by the Pew Research Center earlier this year [PDF] showed that they “remain significantly more liberal than members of older generations” and feel more positive about the idea of government intervention in general.
Young people did once play a role in the creation of the Tea Party—a student-run organization of Ron Paul supporters called Young Americans for Liberty organized one of the first “tea parties” in January of 2009, before the movement really kicked off in the months following.
But today, the movement is largely a “white, middle-class, mostly over the age of 50 movement,” according to Will Bunch, author of The Backlash: Right-Wing Radicals, High-Def Hucksters, and Paranoid Politics in the Age of Obama.
In an interview with RH Reality Check, he said that in the course of interviewing Tea Partiers for his book, he learned that people who identify with the movement are driven by a lot of anxiety, primarily of two kinds—economic and cultural.
You’d expect that young people entering the job market in one of the worst economies sincethe Great Depression wouldidentify with feeling betrayed by the government. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, this summer was the first time since 1948 that more than half of America’s youth population was unemployed (51.1 percent).
But even with its populist messages, that’s not really what the Tea Party is about. "I think the economic anxiety is a contributing factor, but it’s not the main factor,” Bunch said. "I think their economic problems are causing them to have more time to listen to these fearful messages and to become more anxious."
Bunch told RH Reality Check he believes that very real economic pain is being used as fuel for concerns ultimately unrelated to the economy that are being pushed within the “24/7 conservative media bubble,” ones more on the cultural side of things—anxiety about America becoming more diverse and more secular, something that’s become more obvious with all the wildly anti-gay, anti-woman, anti-immigrant messages that have been coming from Tea Party candidates during the midterm elections.
And the majority of young people don’t have the same sensibilities about a plural society as Boomers do. According to the Pew report on Millennials: “The distinctiveness of members of the Millennial generation is particularly evident in their social values, where they stand out for their acceptance of homosexuality, interracial dating, expanded roles for women and immigrants.” Furthermore, some issues will just have more of a lasting impact on Millenials. Climate change denial, for instance, is the kind of thing that will have more of an adverse effect on our generation and future generations than it will on the Boomers.
Not to mention that the Tea Party doesn’t represent a lot of young people who are feeling seriously dispossessed in America. The Washington Post reported last week that “only 42 percent of black youth 18-25 felt like ‘a full and equal citizen in this country with all the rights and protections that other people have,’ compared to a majority (66 percent) of young whites.” The same was true of 43 percent of Latinos in the same age bracket .
And as America becomes more diverse—the Millennial generation is the most racially and ethnically diverse of any generation—the Tea Party falls further behind. The same Economist/YouGov poll showed that 3.2 percent of black survey participants from all age groups strongly supported the Tea Party, while 33.8 percent were strongly opposed. Good luck with that Millennial messaging, Tea Party.