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UC study finds younger people more conservative

By David Scharfenberg Daily Planet Staff
Wednesday September 25, 2002

Young people are more conservative than their parents on school prayer, abortion and federal aid to faith-based charities, according to a new nationwide poll by UC Berkeley researchers. 

The survey found that 69 percent of teenagers support school prayer, compared to 59 percent of adults ages 27 to 59. Likewise, 67 percent of high school-age teens favor federal aid for faith-based charities, versus 40 percent of adults 27 to 59. 

An informal street poll of Berkeley residents found little support among young people for conservative religious issues like school prayer. But there was a broad consensus that even in Berkeley, renowned for its liberalism, a growing conservatism among young people exists. 

“Berkeley is so liberal,” said Josh Grassel, a Berkeley High School senior. “One way kids are rebelling from their parents is to be more conservative.” 

Grassel was quick to note that “conservative” in Berkeley would likely be considered liberal elsewhere. 

Phoebe Calef, a BHS junior, said her mother is more liberal than she is because she grew up during the protest era of the 1960s. 

“My mom was born and raised in Berkeley and graduated from Berkeley High in 1969,” Calef explained. 

Berkeley resident Toby St. John, 49, said her 16-and 19-year-old daughters are just as liberal as she is. But St. John agreed that young people are on the whole more conservative. 

“I think it’s a sad thing,” she said. “I think the values of this country and the values of youth are, ‘I’m here to get as much as I can.’ ” 

UC Berkeley Annie Bowman, a member of Berkeley Students for Life, took a more positive view of the survey results. But, as a student at UC Berkeley, she said there is little evidence of a growing conservatism. 

“It’s surprising,” she said, of the poll results. “My classmates, my friends here, try to make a point of showing their individualism. They try to fit in with radical views.” 

Bowman’s sister Molly, a junior at UC Berkeley, said her generation’s conservatism may be a response to the breakdown of the family, which she linked to “radical feminism” and other movements of the 1960s. 

But Chris Cantor, a member of Students for Justice in Palestine, disputed the notion that his generation is more conservative than the Baby Boomers. 

“The younger generation, I don’t think it’s more conservative, it’s more comfortable,” he said. 

Cantor argued that a record period of prosperity left his generation unconcerned with politics. Now that the economy is in decline he predicts things will change. 

“I’d expect that the younger generation is going to become more radical as the economic conditions become less accommodating,” he said. 

The UC poll found that while young people are more conservative about religious issues, they are more liberal than their parents on assistance for the poor and protection of the environment.  

The study found few generational differences on other issues like military defense, gun control, tax policy and criminal punishment. 

Researchers did not come to any conclusions about why there is a split on religious matters, but parity on other traditionally conservative issues. 

“We need to explore why youths seem to be more conservative than their elders when it comes to religious politics and abortion politics, but not other issues,” said Douglas Strand, project director at the university’s Survey Research Center. 

Strand speculated that the mobilization of religious conservatives in the late 1970s and an increase in pro-school prayer, anti-abortion messages may have affected young people’s political views. Baby Boomers, he noted, were not exposed to as many of these messages in their formative years.  

The UC poll, in addition to locating a “generation gap” on religious issues, found that individuals who do not participate heavily in politics are more conservative on “family values” issues, and are more liberal on racial issues, federal domestic spending and campaign finance reform. 

Mobilizing these people, the study suggests, could push the political debate over campaign finance reform or domestic spending to the left and pull the discussion on “family values” issues like homosexuality and abortion to the right.