As political polarization continues to be a powerful force in the U.S., Americans are more divided along ideological lines than ever before. Democrats and Republicans not only cite the opposing party's policies as harmful to the country, but also view members of the opposing party as immoral, dishonest, and unintelligent. In tandem with the increase of partisan polarization, Americans also are polarized over which issues are most important to them. However, this isn’t the case across all generations, according to recent research from the YouGov Social Change Monitor. While older generations — Gen X (born 1965-1981) and Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964) — are starkly divided along party lines on which issue is most important to them, younger generations — Gen Z adults (born after 2000 and only including those who are 18 or older) and Millennials (born 1982-1999) — are more united across party lines on their important issues.
There are significant differences in which issues matter most between Baby Boomer Democrats and Republicans.
The issues the highest share of Boomer Democrats say is their most important one are health care (24%), climate change and the environment (22%), and gun control (19%). For Boomer Republicans, the most-named top issues are immigration (22%), taxes and government spending (21%), and jobs and the economy (20%). Boomer Republicans' top issues also are the ones with the widest partisan gaps among Baby Boomers. For example, just 1% of Boomer Democrats say immigration is their most important issue, a 21-percentage-point difference. The partisan gap for climate change and the environment is 21 points — Democrats more likely to name as their top issue, and taxes and government spending is 19 points more likely to be named most important by Republicans.
As with Baby Boomers, Gen Xers also are largely divided along party lines.
Gen X Democrats’ top issues are health care (20%), climate change and the environment (17%), and jobs and the economy (16%). Gen X Republicans’ top issues are jobs and the economy (32%), taxes and government spending (18%), and immigration (13%). Although jobs and the economy is one of the three issues named most often as the top issue among both Gen X Democrats and Republicans, there is still a considerable partisan gap: Republicans are 16 points more likely to name it as their most important issue.
Unlike with preceding generations, among Gen Z and the Millennial generation similar shares of Democrats and Republicans choose each issue as most important to them. The average partisan gap across important issues is 12 percentage points for Boomers and 9 points for Gen Xers, compared to a mere 5 points for Gen Z and 4 points for Millennials. For instance, among Millennials, Democrats and Republicans are more likely to name jobs and the economy, health care, and climate change and the environment as the most important issue facing the country today than any other choice available — albeit not in the same order.
Millennial Democrats’ top three issues are climate change and the environment (19%), health care (16%), and jobs and the economy (16%). Millennial Republicans are most likely to name jobs and the economy (26%), climate change and the environment (11%), and health care (11%) as their most important issue. Although Millennials share the same top three issues regardless of political affiliation, there remain significant gaps between the share of Democrats and Republicans who say each of these issues are most important to them: an 11-point gap for jobs and the economy, —more likely to be Republicans' most important issue — and among two issues bigger with Democrats than Republicans, an 8-point gap for climate change and the environment, and a 6-point gap for health care.
As with Millennials, Gen Z Democrats and Republicans have common ground in which issues they're most likely to say are most important to them — again in a different order.
Among Gen Z adults, Democrats’ top issues are climate change and the environment (17%), jobs and the economy (16%), and health care (14%). Gen Z Republicans’ top issues are jobs and the economy (26%), education (11%), and health care (11%). There is consensus among Gen Z Democrats and Republicans about the three most important issues today, yet there are still significant gaps on certain issues. Republicans are 10 points more likely to name jobs and the economy as their top issue, while Democrats are 8 points more likely to name climate change and the environment and 6 points more likely to name civil rights and civil liberties.
Despite the intensifying partisan polarization in the U.S., Gen Z and Millennials are united across party lines when it comes to their top issues. Political polarization has made it difficult for people to find common ground or pass legislation, and has even eroded trust in our institutions. However, younger generations could break this cycle — or themselves become more polarized as they age.
Methodology: The YouGov Social Change Monitor is a biweekly survey of a nationally representative sample of 1,500 U.S. adult citizens interviewed online. A total of 25,500 interviews were conducted between September 2022 and March 2023. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, and education based on the 2018 American Community Survey, conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, as well as the 2020 Presidential vote choice. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all U.S. citizens. The margin of error is approximately 0.5% for the entire sample.
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