People Cheering - CWG Speakers

The Kids are All Right

Javier Milei dramatically signalled his intent to shrink the Argentine state in a viral social media video. The country’s incoming president theatrically rips off stickers representing government offices, shouting “Out!”. Milei’s views are far removed from Argentina’s statist Peronist political tradition. He is a self-described anarcho-capitalist advocating drastic tax and spending cuts, as well as the dollarization of the economy. The electorate turned to Milei in response to a desperate economic backdrop. Inflation is running at 138%, FX reserves are crippled and a recession looms. 

MILEI’S “YOUTHQUAKE”

His victory jarred with received political wisdom that right-wing parties win despite younger voters. El Pais claims 70% of under 24s supported him. Former President Mauricio Macri, a figure of the traditional centre-right, called on parliament to accept the result and “have the humility to follow the youth”. 

INTERNATIONAL TREND

Younger voters spurred other right-wing victories this year. Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy was the largest party among under-35s. Similarly, Geert Wilders’ PVV was just as popular with this demographic as it became the Netherlands’ largest party in last month’s election. And recent polling suggests Donald Trump is now preferred to Joe Biden by under 30s. Emerson College finds this breaking at 47% to 45%, reversing Biden’s significant winning margin in 2020. 

UNITED IN DISRUPTION

Right-wing is a catch-all term for these movements garnering youth support. The Liberal Alliance, Denmark’s most popular party with under-35s, supports a small state but is intensely relaxed about immigration and social issues. In contrast, Marine Le Pen, winner of 49% of 25-34 votes in the last French election, pursues a more nationalistic agenda. But the parties are united in their outsider status. They are disruptors. Contrast this success with the current fortunes of the UK Conservative Party. The traditional centre-right outfit polls at 8% with under-24s and 13% with under-49s. It is only the most popular party with over-65s and is on course for a landslide defeat at the next election.

ECONOMIC BURDENS

Millennials are often called the first generation to be poorer than their parents. Similar problems beset the elder members of Generation Z. Both groups feel the economy has been rigged against them by boomers. Speaking on Triggernometry recently, the historian Niall Ferguson addressed this. “The intergenerational balance has simply not been maintained. The liabilities of welfare states in most Western countries are hugely skewed in favour of the elderly. The young will pick up the tab for the very generous forms of welfare that the baby boomers essentially voted for themselves.” Considering this, Ferguson thought it peculiar that the young were not pursuing more radical options. 

Recent elections signal young voters are considering these more radical alternatives. They are squeezed for cash and often have little prospect of getting onto the housing ladder. Why would they vote for high taxes to increase the size of a state providing services they do not use? This group is overwhelmingly a net contributor to the health service and pensions: services for the asset-rich older generation. Outwardly libertarian leaders like Milei promise to quash their tax burden by limiting this welfare state. Bigger government options promise to reduce the strain by reducing immigration. Either way, young voters eschew the centrist consensus in favour of something new. 

Speaking at ARC Conference 2023, Konstantin Kisin advised the audience of centre-right thinkers, “I can tell you Conservatives something: you will never get young people to want to conserve a society and an economy that’s not working for them.” Traditional outfits like the UK Conservative Party have courted older voters at the expense of the young. They support NIMBY causes to avoid offending this demographic with new housing or infrastructure projects. During the Covid pandemic, they enforced lockdown policies most popular with over 65s. Younger workers will carry the debt burden for this despite having been at little risk themselves. It is notable that every leader of these surging parties expressed scepticism about the Covid response.    

SOCIAL CONSERVATISM

None of this means that younger generations have suddenly become devotees of Ayn Rand or Friedrich Hayek. Radical economic solutions are attractive because of a disdain for what has come before. But the evidence suggests that behind the ostentatious shows of left-wing activism, there is a growing counter-cultural conservative moment. Its pioneers question whether modern economic and social norms work for these younger disenchanted generations. Louise Perry is the author of “The Case Against the Sexual Revolution”, described as “one of the most important feminist books of its time” by the Guardian. It argues the sexual revolution and its consequent ‘anything goes’ morality has made women and men deeply unhappy. 

Perry’s book tapped into a prevalent feeling of isolation. Economic prosperity is intrinsically linked to feelings of purpose. When young people cannot afford things, they cannot plan. A culture of hedonistic permissiveness does not compensate for this. Look at the most popular motivational podcasts with this demographic: Jordan Peterson, Chris Williamson’s Modern Wisdom and Huberman Lab. They are all conservative-minded, advocating discipline, structure and integrity. These social ethics clearly resonate with young listeners. 

NOTHING TO LOSE

Young voters are not tied to a coherent political philosophy. Vox quotes a 24 year old Milei voter saying, “I know that those who are in power now and who were in power before will screw me over…With Javier, I at least have the possibility he won’t be like that.” It reflects mistrust of mainstream politics that is not delivering for them. Political commentators tend to assume this dissatisfaction will spill over into support for left-wing parties. Promises on climate change, social issues and state aid are thought to be the vote winners. But recent electoral evidence suggests an appetite for more conservative politics amongst young voters. Perhaps 2024 will spring a few more surprises.  

 

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