Nick Gillespie explains:
A new national poll of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 — the Millennial Generation — provides strong evidence of a new generation gap, this time with the Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) playing the role of uncomprehending parents. When Millennials say they are liberal, it means something very different than it did when Barack Obama was coming of age. When Millennials say they are socialists, they’re not participating in ostalgie for the old German Democratic Republic. And their strong belief in economic fairness shouldn’t be confused with the attitudes of the Occupy movement.
[. . .]
Millennials use language differently than Boomers and Gen Xers (born between 1965 and 1980). In the Reason-Rupe poll, about 62% of Millennials call themselves liberal. By that, they mean the favor gay marriage and pot legalization, but those views hold little or no implication for their views on government spending. To Millennials, being socially liberal is being liberal, period. For most older Americans, calling yourself a liberal means you want to increase the size, scope, and spending of the government (it may not even mean you support legal pot and marriage equality). Despite the strong liberal tilt among Millennials, 53% say they would support a candidate who was socially liberal and fiscally conservative (are you listening, major parties?).
There are other areas where language doesn’t track neatly with Boomer and Gen X definitions. Millennials have no first-hand memories of the Soviet Union or the Cold War. Forty-two percent say they prefer socialism as a means of organizing society but only 16% can define the term properly as government ownership of the means of production. In fact, when asked whether they want an economy managed by the free market or by the government, 64% want the former and just 32% want the latter. Scratch a Millennial “socialist” and you are likely to find a budding entrepreneur (55% saying they want to start their own business someday). Although they support a government-provided social safety net, two-thirds of Millennials agree that “government is usually inefficient and wasteful” and they are highly skeptical toward government with regards to privacy and nanny-state regulations about e-cigarettes, soda sizes, and the like.
For all the attention lavished on the youthful, anti-capitalist Occupy movement a few years ago, it turns out that Millennials have strongly positive attitudes toward free markets (just don’t call it capitalism). Not surprisingly, they define fairness in a way that is less about income disparity and more about getting your due. Almost six in 10 believe you can get ahead with hard work and a similar number wants a society in which wealth is parceled out according to your achievement, not via the tax code or government redistribution of income. Even though 70% favor guaranteed health care, housing, and income, Millennials have no problem with unequal outcomes.
Like most older Americans, too, Millennials are deeply worried about massive and growing federal budgets and debt, with 78% calling such things a major problem.
On the one hand, as Gillespie indicates, the conflicting opinions amongst millennials means that they are not lost to the Republican party, or to the libertarian/conservative movement. On the other hand, millennials don’t seem to know what they want politically. Their lips say “socialist,” but their eyes say “capitalist, free marketeer, and rather conservative in many ways, socially and politically.” This bunch needs to work out its opinions, and Inigo Montoya would very likely have something to say about the millennials’ use of the word “socialist.”