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Are Young Democrats Economically Libertarians? (No, they aren't.)

By Tyler Bauer

This past Friday, former Vermont Governor Howard Dean said that the young Democrats taking over the Democratic Party are “fiscally libertarian.” The mix of socially liberal and economically conservative views Dean believes he sees in young Democrats are is the mix of views he has long held. According to Dean, "These young kids are very liberal on social issues and inclusion and diversity and the environment. They are libertarians economically at heart."

I’m not sure which young Democrats Dean is talking about, but I know they aren’t the young Democrats I know. I haven’t conducted polls or anything like that, but my Democratic classmates were almost exclusively supported Bernie Sanders, who is an unabashed socialist. I don’t think these young Democrats were sacrificing their economic views to vote for Sanders. Instead, I think Sanders’ economic views were in line with those of young Democrats. If my personal anecdote isn’t enough to convince you, read the Washington Post’s analysis of Sanders’ domination among young voters.

For a more recent example, let’s look at Congressional hopeful Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. In order to win her primary election, Ocasio-Cortez – who is a young politician at 28 – targeted young voters by embracing social media and non-traditional media outlets. Were Ocasio-Cortez’s young supporters voting for her despite her economic views? Of course not! There was a Democratic candidate with more centrist economic views in the incumbent Congressman Joe Crowley. Furthermore, Ocasio-Cortez’s voters weren’t forced to vote for a Democrat. They could’ve voted for a socially-liberal Republican or a third party candidate.

Interestingly, Howard Dean ignored both of these examples, preferring to focus on Ralph Northam’s victory in last year’s Virginia gubernatorial race. Dean rightly points out that Northam is socially liberal and fiscally centrist, and claims that Northam’s landslide victory is because he is representative of Virginia’s young Democrats. This is just plain wrong.

While Dean is correct that Virginia’s young Democrats chose Northam over his competitor, Ed Gillespie, this does not mean young Democrats are socially liberal and fiscally libertarian. General elections are not accurate representations of voters’ preferences. In this general election, young Democrats chose a socially liberally, fiscally centrist Democrat over a socially conservative, fiscally conservative Republican. The candidates were more or less equal fiscally – they only differed on social issues. Therefore, it’s safe to say that social issues were likely the deciding factor in this election, not Northam’s fiscal conservatism, which was more or less equal to Gillespie’s fiscal conservatism.

Primary elections are far better indicators of voters’ preferences (they are imperfect indicators, though, so take their results with a grain of salt). Primary elections usually give voters a wide range of choices. For example, in 2016, Democrats could choose between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, each of whom held a distinct economic worldview. Similarly, Ocasio-Cortez and Crowley held distinct economic worldviews. In each of these cases, with all else being equal, young Democrats clearly favored the candidates who were socialists.

To be fair to Dean, there are a number of young people who are socially liberal and fiscally conservative. They just aren’t representative of the young voters taking over the Democratic Party.  

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