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High school boys tend to be conservative

A popular narrative suggests that young people are liberal and increasingly liberal. So social media erupted when a chart appeared in the spring that seemed to suggest that 12th grade boys had become overwhelmingly conservative.

As with many Reddit posts and viral tweets, the truth was more complicated. But the numbers do say this: Boys in the twelfth grade are nearly twice as likely to identify as conservative versus liberal, according to a respected federal survey of America’s youth.

In annual surveys over the past three years, about a quarter of high school students identified themselves as conservative or “very conservative” in the Tracking the future survey, an academic effort dating back to the 1970s. Only 13 percent of boys identified themselves as liberal or very liberal in those years.

The figures represent a striking shift in boys’ political views. As recently as the late 2000s, liberal guys occasionally outnumber conservatives. In the Carter era, both boys and girls leaned liberal.

Nowadays, it’s the girls who are drifting to the left. The share of 12th grade girls who identified as liberal rose from 19% in 2012 to 30% in 2022. Only 12% of girls identified as conservative in last year’s survey, administered by the University of Michigan.

Young women too, are liberal tendencies. Women ages 18 to 29 are more likely to identify as liberal now than at any time in the past two decades, according to Gallup polls. Young women are almost twice as likely as young men to claim the liberal label, a widening gender gap in political beliefs.

The political leanings of young men have changed little over the past two decades, according to an analysis by the Survey Center on American Life. Last year, 43 percent of young men identified as moderate, 31 percent as conservative, and 24 percent as liberal. Twenty years earlier, the numbers were more or less the same.

But just the leftward drift of young women has been enough move the needle in young adults as a whole. Gen Z favors liberalism over conservatism by a margin of 48 to 33, according to a 2022 NBC News poll. Ten years earlier, young adults were evenly split between the two political camps.

The drift to the right for high school boys is relatively subtle. In fact, when it comes to politics, most guys seem reluctant to pick a side. In the 2022 Monitoring the Future survey, the largest group of older boys, more than two-fifths, said they were not into politics at all, answering the liberal-conservative question with “none of the above” or ” I do not know”. Almost a fifth identified themselves as moderate. Only 36 percent chose liberal or conservative ideology, and only there did the trend emerge.

Jean Twenge, author and professor of psychology at San Diego State University, presented the data in his new book, “Generations”. To highlight the widening gender gap, he crunched the numbers into a chart that divided boys and girls along ideological lines, leaving out moderates and undecideds.

“Among liberals, the future is female,” she wrote. “And among conservatives, the future is male.”

In April, someone posted Twenge’s graphic on Reddit. The image too circulated widely on Twitterthe platform has since been renamed X. Other researchers took note.

The chart gave the impression, at least at first glance, that two-thirds of the 12th grade boys were now conservative. In the fine print below, Twenge noted that he had omitted the moderates.

The full story is messier and murkier. High school students, boys and girls alike, are more likely to claim no political identity than to play liberal or conservative.

Much has been written about the liberal drift of young women. Donald Trump’s presidency mobilized millions of women, outraged by words and alleged actions that, to Trump’s critics, suggested unrepentant misogyny. More women embraced liberal politics in response to the conservative drift of the US Supreme Court, a landmark move by a 2022 ruling that struck down the constitutional right to abortion.

There has been less talk about the politics of 12th grade boys.

Trump himself may be a key to the conservative trend of this group. The 45th president fired up male voters with his rhetoric — his “overt hypermasculinity,” as an NPR analysis said soand his frequent use of the language could be heard in a high school cafeteria.

“Donald Trump talks like a high school student. Maybe there’s a connection,” said Robert Palacios, 21, a student at the Catholic University of America and president of the District of Columbia College Democrats.

“If you grew up playing video games that weren’t age appropriate and you were sitting [virtual] in the lobby, yelling into the microphone, Trump was your president,” said Ethan Benn, also 21, a student at George Washington University (GWU). “He really channeled that energy.”

More broadly, the conservative wing of the Republican party has made occasional appeals to disaffected men of all ages.

Trump, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and other conservative luminaries have it “awakened” ideology in mockeryaccusing the left of overreaching in seeking redress for injustices related to race, gender and sexual orientation.

Liberal politicians, of course, are just as keen to win the youth vote. However, the progressive agenda seeks gender and racial equality, a platform that costs them some male support, especially among whites. In the 2020 election, black and Hispanic men voted for Joe Biden at much higher rates than non-Hispanic whites, according to Data from Pew Research.

As a recent Politico article put it, Democrats have a sexism problem.

“I think traditional notions of masculinity are much more accepted within conservatism,” while feminist values ​​”are clearly one of the driving forces of liberalism,” said Delano Squires, a research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. .

“I saw male and female students saying, ‘I’m picking sides.’ Do you want matriarchy, or do you want patriarchy?”

Defenders of patriarchy reach young people where they live, on social media and in gaming circles. Benn, the GWU student, notes a “kind of intersection of Internet culture and gaming culture with conservative politics” that draws some apolitical young people to conservatism.

Conservative icons Dennis Prager, Ben Shapiro i Steven Crowder has millions of followers on YouTube, a platform whose ads and viewing suggestions make it easy for a young, male YouTuber to “get stuck in a very conservative sphere of politics and media,” Benn said .

“You could be watching a video about the latest Star Wars movie, and then the next video would be, ‘This is how women are ruining Star Wars,'” she said, referring to her own experience. “Even if you don’t look for it, it will come and find you.”

That said, Benn doesn’t remember many of his high school friends talking much about politics.

Neither does Tyler Brown-Dewese, 20, a student at American University (AU).

Brown-Dewese identifies as a “Bill Clinton Democrat.” Back in high school, though, he was a conservative.

“I went to an all-boys Catholic school in New York, and so most of us were Republicans,” he said. Classmates took cues from parents, friends and social media like millennial Republicans. “This is an Instagram page I still follow,” Brown-Dewese said.

But that doesn’t mean he and his friends spent their lunch hour talking politics. “Many of them were not politically active,” he said. “They didn’t want to talk about politics. But if you brought it up, they would defend Trump.”

Brown-Dewese’s own politics went to the left when he arrived at the AU. “What changed me was that I go to the most liberal college,” he laughed. “If I had known that, I probably wouldn’t have gone.”

Although now a Democrat, Brown-Dewese doesn’t really like the word “liberal” and suspects other young people feel the same way. Generations of conservatives have equated liberalism with weakness.

When asked to calculate the quotient of liberal women in the AU, he laughed again.

“Oh my god. All of them?”

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