Youth Hesitant to Use Force, Shun US Exceptionalism in Foreign Policy

Summary of Study

Bottom Line: Compared to older generations, Millennials favor a less active, less military-centric foreign policy, which broadly aligns with the views of previous youngest generations.

As Millennials (people born 1981-86) continue to age, they continue to dominate conversations about policy and politics. Adding to this interest is the fact that two Millennial presidential candidates (Pete Buttigieg and Tulsi Gabbard) have made headlines in recent months.

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs set out to determine what Millennials think about a variety of foreign policy issues, and to compare their views with those of other generations.

Of all the generations surveyed by the Chicago Council, Millennials are “the most likely to self-describe as Democrats...and liberals.” A similar percent of Generation X (born 1965-80) describes themselves as moderate or conservative Democrats, as do most Boomers (born 1946-64). The Silent Generation (born 1928-45) is the most likely to lean conservative and Republican.

“While partisanship and ideology certainly drive views toward foreign policy, there is still an underlying influence of birth year that set the generations apart from each other.” For instance, Millennials lived through the end of the Cold War and 9/11, which could help explain why only 62 percent favor the United States “taking an active part in world affairs,” a smaller proportion than any other generation.

However, Millennial foreign policy reticence could also be due to the fact that Americans tend to favor more active U.S. intervention as they age. Looking back, Boomers were the least supportive of U.S. intervention when they were the youngest generation, and Millennial support for intervention has grown as the generation has aged.

Millennials also have a less sterling view of the United States than previous generations. “They are the only group to respond in majority numbers that the United States is no greater than other countries.” Only 32 percent of Millennials said they were extremely proud to be an American, compared to 45 percent of Gen Xers, 54 percent of Boomers, and 55 percent of the Silent Generation.

As is usually the case with the youngest generation, Millennials are the least likely to perceive threats as “critical” to the United States, with one exception. Sixty-two percent of Millennials view climate change as a critical threat, compared with just over half of Gen Xers and Boomers, and under 40 percent of the Silent Generation. In contrast, 82 percent of the Silent Generation believe international terrorism is a critical threat, compared to 62 percent of Millennials.

Millennials are “less comfortable with military superiority and spending” compared to other generations. Only 56 percent of Millennials “believe that maintaining US military superiority makes the United States safer,” compared to 84 percent of the Silent Generation. Millennials are more likely than any other generation to say that diplomacy is more effective at securing peace than military intervention.

Access the full survey here.

Feature Charticle

Should the US Take an Active Role in World Affairs?

Chicago Council