Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.

Gen X Politics

Stephen Lazarus


September 27, 1999

Imagine you are an advisor to either the Bush or Gore campaign. Your task: design a strategy to win the votes of so-called "Gen Xers," those aged 21-35 years old. What does this generation, "Generation X," believe about politics? According to a recent Atlantic Monthly article, the answer may soon change the face of American society.

Many in this generation are apathetic and jaded concerning political and civic life, argues Ted Halstead, author of the article. Institutions, such as families, schools, and churches have failed them. They have little confidence in government and political parties. Only 32% of eligible Xers showed up at the polls for Dole vs. Clinton in 1996.

If they do dabble in politics, Xers are likely to reject the prevailing political options as too limiting or involve themselves in non-traditional ways. They are the group least likely to advocate maintaining the current two-party system. Gen Xers see more similarities than differences between Republicans and Democrats. They doubt seriously that their voice or that of others can be heard in our big-bucks, bi-polar campaigns. They helped elevate pro wrestler Jesse "the Body" Ventura to the governor's mansion in Minnesota.

Their political views are a peculiar mix. According to Halstead, Xers are seeking a new political consensus that transcends the "secular permissiveness" of the left and the "cultural intolerance" of the right. They seek a vision for the public square capable of renewing the ailing neighborhoods and tired institutions they have inherited. However, this new path for politics must be able to inspire and respond to the concerns of the most culturally and religiously diverse generation in American history.

At a minimum, we can now take three steps to mobilize the next generation and recharge the American experiment. First, we must recognize the increasing diversity among Americans and their ways of life. We do not all share the same vision of how society should be governed or what laws we need. Gen X politics has been shaped not foremost by the Cold War, but by the conflicts over the culture wars: abortion, gay rights, multiculturalism, to name a few. With justice for all as our standard, we must work together to develop policies that reconcile our significant political differences.

Second, this robust view of citizenship must be translated into a new, more democratic, electoral system. Xers want real choices among candidates. Let's create a level playing field for a wide array of political parties to compete to represent the true range of views held by the recent surge of independent voters, Reformers, Libertarians, and Green Party members.

Third, surveys suggest that Xers want more choice in education. Let's heed the mounting call for school choice and give parents the right to send their children to a wider variety of schools, including publicly funded religious ones. School choice addresses both the spiritual quest of Xers and their concern to narrow the inequality gap.

When Xers step forward in leadership on these issues, the Center will be there to help craft a new politics for the new millennium.

—Stephen Lazarus, Social Policy Research Associate
   Center for Public Justice

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Capital Commentary is a weekly current-affairs publication of the Center for Public Justice. Published since 1996, it is written to encourage the pursuit of justice. Commentaries do not necessarily represent an official position of the Center for Public Justice but are intended to help advance discussion. Articles, with attribution, may be republished according to our publishing guidelines.”