Most of today's teenagers can't vote. Some can't drive yet (and some don't even want to). But with the back edge of the Millennial generation finally coming of age, it is today's teenagers, the kids who come after Millennials, who are now in the spotlight. (MTV is trying to call them "The Founders," but I'd venture there's still time to come up with something better.)
And a new study out this week of American teenagers has some fascinating insights about where the next generation might be taking us.
As a member of the oldest slice of the Millennial generation, my teenage years spanned the late 1990s through the start of the new millennium. I spent that time watching a lot of MTV's "Total Request Live", "Dawson's Creek", and wearing out a dual VHS tape of "Titanic" (still hanging on to that dual record of most nominations and most Oscar wins – sorry, "La La Land"!). And it was during those teenage years that I cared about my very first presidential election: the infamous Bush vs. Gore showdown that turned the spotlight onto my home state of Florida.
Not all teenagers care about politics, and our views at that time are often shaped by our parents in some way. I remember fancying myself a junior "McCainiac" in 2000, though politics were rarely discussed in our household. For some in my generation, Sept. 11th was a moment of political awakening. For others, the Iraq War or the financial crisis or the rise of Obama were the major events of their teenage years that began to lay the foundation for their views.
My slice of the millennial generation, as we grew up, became — to the dismay of the GOP — a bloc of fairly consistently Democratic voters. In 2004, Gallup asked American teenagers about their political views, Kerry held a wide margin over Bush with teenagers, and only 30 percent said that they expected they'd become Republicans when they grew up, with more saying they expected to become Democrats. And it turns out that prediction wasn't half bad; in 2014, Gallup found that you get about a third of late twenty-somethings — the teenagers of 2004 — calling themselves at least a little bit Republican, with a big party identification advantage for the Democrats.
So what's next? How might the Trump election be reshaping the next generation?
The bad news is that a majority of today's teenagers think the nation is on the wrong track, and are pessimistic about the way our leaders are chosen and our system of government. They're also no fans of either of the people who ran for president last year, with a majority holding a negative view of Hillary Clinton and six out of ten holding a negative view of Donald Trump. (Notably, 44 percent of teens are very unfavorable toward President Trump, while only one in ten is very positive toward him.)
But there is some optimism. A plurality thinks that things will get better over the next forty years, and are generally optimistic about American leadership in the world and expanding the opportunity to achieve the American dream. Some 56 percent say America's best days ahead of it. (Though, a glass-half-empty reading of this poll would also note that 41 percent of teenagers think America's best days are behind her.)
For Republicans, most of the news isn't great, though a plurality of teenagers today say they favor repealing the Affordable Care Act. Most are unenthused about a host of ideas that are often included in the president's policy proposals, and only 23 percent say they expect they'll join the GOP one day. (For the moment, Republicans may be getting a boost from the fact that teenagers are living at home with their parents, and only 3 percent say they "mostly disagree" with their parents.)
We're a long ways away from the mid-2000s, when two-thirds of teenagers said they had a favorable view of George W. Bush. That positive image of Bush eventually soured and sent the first wave of millennials into the arms of Barack Obama, so events can always intervene and change minds. But Republicans should hope that happens before 2020, when today's teenagers are tomorrow's registered voters. With Trump holding poor approval ratings among teenagers right from the get-go, the scene could be being set for yet another generation to break away from the GOP.
Kristen Soltis Anderson is a columnist for The Washington Examiner and author of "The Selfie Vote."