Resolute Square

Headlines Vs. Heartlines: Peeling Back Polling Narratives And Discovering A Unified Democratic Party

What if there isn't the generational divide that we're all led to believe exists - at least within the Democratic Party? Now the Republicans...
Published:September 11, 2023

This piece is published with the generous permission of John Della Volpe. To read more of his outstanding writing and analysis, visit JDVonGenZ+.

By John Della-Volpe

The Backdrop

Before the first Republican debate, I wrote this piece about the staggering generational divides that could destabilize the MAGA Republican party in the near future. In it, I highlighted that younger Republicans exhibit lesser party allegiance, more moderate views, and divergent policy concerns. When I shared the article on social media, I paired it with polar bear imagery, an animal who resorts to eating their young under extreme conditions.

As I outline below, younger and older Democrats show more vital unity in their beliefs and commitment to their cause than their GOP counterparts.

Therefore, this week’s image is a pair of orca whales— creatures known for their cohesive, intergenerational groups that collaboratively safeguard their most vulnerable.

My Big Three Takeaways

#1: Younger Democrats embrace progressive identity while maintaining strong party ties; older Dems lean moderate

While younger Republicans were more likely than their elders to cast themselves as moderates and not conservatives — the opposite is true for Democrats. Younger Gen Z and millennial Democrats are about twice as likely as older ones to call themselves progressive. 

  • 41% of Gen Z and millennial Democrats identify as progressive; only 17% of Gen X and boomers say the same.
  • 21% of Gen Z and millennial Democrats identify as moderate, a significantly less popular handle than the 35% plurality of older Democrats who say the same.
  • Only 5% of younger Democrats identify as either “conservative” or “moderate, leaning conservative;” a slightly higher proportion (14%) of Gen X, boomer, and Silent gen identify with one of these two groups.

However, these perceived ideological differences do not translate to (dis)association with the party. Unlike the GOP (see second chart below), most younger and older Democrats identify as “strong” party members; the remaining ones are “not (a) very strong.”

#2: Reducing gun violence and mass shootings unites Democrats across generations; the party is more in sync on issue priorities than Republicans

When we asked Democrats to indicate their views on the importance of two dozen policy priorities, we found alignment* between younger and older Democrats 58% of the time (14 of 24 issues). This finding starkly contrasts our Republican sample, which only finds alignment 21% of the time (5 of 24 issues).

Reducing gun violence and mass shootings proved to be the most critical issue for both younger and older Democratic voters: 83% of Gen Z and millennials and 91% of Gen X, boomer, and Silent gen Democrats report that this is a “very important” issue when thinking about the kind of America in which they want to live.

Across the 24-question battery, the average distance between what younger and older Democrats believe was a “very important” issue was less than ten percentage points. Among the Republican sample, the average difference was 15 percentage points.
Gen Z and millennials were much more likely than their older counterparts to prioritize:

  • Addressing systemic racism (+15 compared to Gen X, boomer, and Silent gen)
  • Dealing with the mental health crisis (+15)
  • Accessing affordable housing (+14)
  • Addressing student loan debt (+32)

On the other hand, older Democrats were more likely than Zoomers and millennials to prioritize:

  • Ensuring elections are free and fair (+12 compared to Gen Z and millennials)
  • Curbing inflation and the cost of living (+14)
  • Fighting crime (+16)
  • Making America more energy independent (+22)
  • Promoting civility in politics (+16)
  • Securing our borders (+10)

The chart below ranks each issue, highlighting points of agreement and disparity between generations (younger and older than 41).

There are six issues Gen Z and millennial Republicans have more in common with their younger Democratic counterparts than they do with the generations of their parents and grandparents.

  • Ensuring elections are free and fair is “very important” to 65% of younger Democrats and 64% of younger Republicans.
  • Curbing inflation and the cost of living is also significant and an area of alignment for younger generations, regardless of political party.

And while less critical overall, there’s more generational than political party alignment on:

  • Making America more energy independent (Democrats: 44% very important, Republicans: 39% very important)
  • Promoting civility in politics (Democrats: 36%, Republicans: 33%)
  • Legalizing marijuana (Democrats: 28%, Republicans: 20%)
  • Limiting the size and scope of government (Democrats: 19%, Republicans: 30%)

* The percentage of Gen Z and millennial voters believing something is very important is within ten points of Gen X and Boomers+ saying the same
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#3: On media preferences, Democrats split by age; TikTok unites all

As expected, younger and older Democrats turn to vastly different media platforms for their news. Younger Democrats gravitate towards YouTube, Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok, with a preference margin of over 30 points. Conversely, older Democrats lean more towards local news, network news, and MSNBC, with a preference margin of at least 25 points.

Mostly, the variations in where Gen Z and millennial Democrats and Republicans source their news are relatively slight. For better or worse, TikTok is the most common source regardless of political affiliation.

As illustrated in the chart below, younger-gen Democrats are more likely than their conservative young counterparts to regularly visit YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, CNN, and NPR. At the same time, younger Republicans outpace Democrats in their preference for Facebook, Fox News, Barstool, and the Daily Wire.

The Bottom Line

For my taste, much of today’s public polling is overly focused on immediate, narrative-supporting statistics that often miss the deeper values influencing public opinion and electoral outcomes. This approach diminishes the value of survey research and significantly contributes to the declining trust in polling and the media.

I have found that identifying the issues that voters are passionate about — and watching the campaign through this lens — is a more constructive method for understanding political campaigns today and where we are heading as a country.

I believe the Republican party faces impending generational turbulence, with younger members distancing themselves from the more extreme MAGA party stances. In contrast, Democrats, spanning various age groups, present a unified front on most major policy issues, exemplifying strength in their collective vision.

The key to the 2024 election may well come down to whether:

  1. Republicans can bridge their divides and motivate younger party members to support a nominee whose values on critical issues do not align with the MAGA world 
  2. - or -
  3. Older Democrats can persuade their children and grandchildren (who’s vision and values align) to remain in the big tent, and not be wooed outside by the quadrennial spectacle of unelectable third party candidates. This is an ongoing concern which I summarized here and here.