America's Young People
Turn Against 'Patriotic Bravado'
people, who are now entering active public life and building careers, are
distinguished by a greater openness, tolerance and a positive outlook. But at
the same time, they have a declining tendency toward patriotic bravado and
perceive the theme of American greatness more calmly and with far less
In the United States, a fully-fledged
campaign for the presidency, which will end in November, has begun. Republican candidates
are clashing in the primaries, and unexpectedly, intrigue has suddenly reared its head. Former Massachusetts
Governor Mitt Romney was about to celebrate his triumph when former House
Speaker Newt Gingrich nearly caught up to him.
Barack Obama delivered the
annual [State of the Union] address to the nation, which was regarded as a
campaign speech. The head of state challenged his Republican congressional opponents,
making it clear to them that he intends to return to his once staunch views (by
American standards, substantially liberal), and not seek support in the center.
This is a bid to win back the votes of those who voted for him in 2008, but
have since been disappointed.
No one can predict the results
of the November election. In terms of rivals, Obama may have had some luck.
Romney is no shining star and no great orator. And his business background,
which some call vulture-like, renders the candidate vulnerable to attack.
Gingrich, on the other hand, is extremely colorful and eloquent, even
excessively so, but might frighten away the moderates.
Besides, Gingrich's tumultuous
personal life, now in his third marriage, very much perturbs the staunch
conservatives he considers his people. According to the latest polls, Obama
beats any of the Republican candidates, although the gap between him and Mitt
Romney is minimal. However, all forecasts are extremely tentative. Obama’s main
opponent will be the economy, especially the unemployment rate. If in the coming
months it doesn’t drop significantly, Republican chances will improve.
Regardless of who wins, there
are objective conditions that will determine the future policies of the U.S. administration,
including in the international arena, first of all the economic situation.
Even if neoconservatives make a return to the White House (and in foreign policy
terms, both Romney and Gingrich have inclinations in this direction), the need
to cut expenditures will dictate a more restrained course.
Today, Republicans criticize
Obama for seeking to limit America’s global ambitions and concentrate on priorities
(which is the essence of the doctrine formulated during his presidency). But in
light of economic conditions, Republicans are unlikely to change anything if
they come to power.
And there is another factor -
public opinion. At the end of last year coinciding with the launch of the
election campaign, the Pew Research Center, a sociological think tank, conducted
a massive public opinion poll. Respondents
were divided into four age groups - the "Silent Generation"
(66-83), the "Baby-Boomers" (47-65), "Generation X"
(31-46), and the "Millennial Children" (18-30). The results of the poll forecast
the dynamics of public sentiment.
Thus, the age breakdown of
answers to the question of American exceptionalism - measuring the assertion
that the United States is the greatest country in the world - is interesting.
The largest number of those who share this belief (64 percent) is among the
oldest, the "Silent Generation," (which reaches a height of 72
percent in the 76-83 age range). Baby-Boomers are split precisely in half, and among
Generation X, only 48 percent are proponents of American exceptionalism,
with the youngest being the most skeptical - 32 percent. A similar pattern can
be seen when it comes to the question of patriotism: Seventy percent of Millennium
Children answer positively to the question of whether they consider
themselves "very patriotic." The remaining numbers range from 86
percent to 91 percent. Seventy percent is without a doubt high, but that level
has fallen consistently since 2003, when 80 percent of young people felt the most
In assessing the source of national
success, the nation is united. The vast majority of Americans of all ages consider
freedom to be the central source of this success, followed by hard work,
natural resources, military strength, democratic governance, free markets, and religious
and racial/ethnic diversity.
What is telling is the fact
that the older groups tend to place more significance on military power than
the younger, and the younger groups believe democracy and religion to be
relatively less important. Another category is notable - that of declining
morals. Although the older groups are much harsher, among the very youngest,
more than half note a record expansion of immorality over the last 50 years.
At the same time, more young
Americans tend toward historical optimism which is distinguished by faith in the
future. In the two youngest categories, an almost equal number of respondents
(46 percent and 45 percent) believe that over the past 40 years, life in
America has changed for the better. Indicators for the two oldest categories of
respondents are significantly lower in this regard - 29 percent and 31 percent.
Fifty five percent of Millennial Children and Generation
X are convinced that tomorrow will be better than yesterday, while among
the "Boomers" and "Silents," the numbers are lower: 48
percent and 47 percent, respectively. Attitudes toward the changing ethnic
composition of America logically follow this trend. For instance, 60 percent of Millennial Children welcome the increased number of mixed
marriages, but the numbers plummet among older age groups: among the Silent
Generation, only 29 percent feel that way. Forty three percent of Millennial
Children welcome the influx of Asians. But curiously, the rise in the
Hispanic population cheers much smaller numbers of young people (33 percent - which
is even less than among Generation X). Among older respondents, the
numbers are significantly lower, but they, too, prefer Asians over Mexicans and
other arrivals of Latin American origin.
In regard to the wars in Iraq
and Afghanistan, the pattern is a monotonous one: support at the beginning and a
practically uniform decline in support later - although younger respondents are
much more optimistic about eventual success in Afghanistan. Answers to the question
about the benefit of having close economic ties to China and free trade are
telling. Here we find the greatest age gap: 69 percent of Millennials
favor developing relations with North Korea, whereas only 42 percent of the Silent
Generation does. Sixty three percent of Millennial Children
and only 41 percent of older respondents said they generally favor free trade.
Of course, these statistics
don't allow us to predict U.S. foreign policy for the next ten to twenty years.
Especially since foreign policy is formulated by the ruling class, which even
in a democracy isn't guided by the will of the people. And yet, a trend is
Young people, who are now
entering active public life and building careers, are distinguished by a greater
openness, tolerance and a positive outlook. But at the same time, they have a
declining tendency toward patriotic bravado and perceive the theme of American
greatness more calmly and with far less pathos. Furthermore, a more
positive attitude toward immigration is evidence of a sober evaluation of
A readiness to accept more
Asians rather than their culturally closer Mexican neighbors points to a likely
source of tension and indirectly suggests that future U.S. leaders will have to
pay more attention to the "near abroad," most likely by reducing longer-range
foreign policy ambitions. In the same category is the assessment of free trade:
the goals of younger respondents are less protectionist than those of older ones;
they prefer trade over confrontation with China. But this is a double-edged
sword: history knows examples of violent conflict in the name of free trade.
On the whole, the forecast for
the dynamics of public sentiment correspond to the need to economize and
conduct a more restrained foreign policy. Today's Republican primaries are
characterized by the relative success of Libertarian Ron Paul, who is a worthy
opponent to the heavyweights. As a representative of a marginal group (the
foreign policy ideal of which is isolationism), he is unelectable. But the
number of people who support him prove that a significant segment of American
society is tired of its global burden and agrees with the notion of turning inward.
In a globally-interconnected world, that's impossible, but failing to account
for the mood of the people won't do, either.
*Fyodor Lukyanov is Chief
Editor for Russian in Global Affairs
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