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July 16, 2014 4:34 PM Careful With the Generational Stereotypes!

By Ed Kilgore

I’m probably going to be staring at Tom Edsall’s “Coming Democratic Schism” piece for a while, based at it is on complex data collected from several difference sources. He basically argues that the Democratic coalition is threatened by a gap on role-of-government and economic issues generally between traditional liberals and younger folk, and more subtly, that the non-cultural policy priorities of traditional liberals may not survive generational change.

I would observe that some of the questions (some from the Pew “typology” report in June, some from a study commissioned by the libertarians at Reason, some from a couple of academic papers) about the economy and the role of government have the familiar problem of offering false choices between private sector and government “solutions” to economic and social challenges, as though one excludes the other.

But on a more basic level of how Edsall’s piece will be perceived by the chattering classes, I would warn that his adoption of the Pew typology categories of “Solid Liberals” and “Next Generation Left” as the two pro-Democratic groups most at odds with each other gives the dubious impression one is passing from the scene while the other represents the future of liberal politics.

I couldn’t quite find this number in the Pew report, but I’ll take Edsall’s words for it that the median age of “Solid Liberals” is 46, and of the “Next Generation Left” is 38. That’s significant, but it’s not the difference between “old” and “young,” or “current” and “next.” Turns out according to Pew’s charts that a quarter of “Solid Liberals” are under 30, and nearly a third of the “Next Generation Left” is over 50 (11% are over 65, which gives the impression that “next” means pretty damn soon). To look at the two groups another way, 59% of “Solid Liberals” and 55% of the “Next Generation Left” are between the ages of 30-65. Use of the word “generation” in this respect is misleading; both groups include multiple generations.

Truth is Pew constructed these typological groups based on ideological and voting-behavior coherence and then slapped on the labels. Perhaps there’s a true trend line here, but the impression a lot of people may get that “Next Generation Left” means millennials is entirely unfounded. It’s really not that simple.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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