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Monday, December 5, 2016

By David Lauter, Tribune Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — Members of the huge millennial generation are less religious, less likely to call themselves “patriotic” and significantly more liberal than older generations, new research shows.

Although adults aged 18-33 are much more likely to call themselves political independents than their elders are, they are also far more likely to vote Democratic. Their views favoring activist government, as well as their stands on social issues such as gay rights, reinforce that voting behavior, an extensive study by the Pew Research Center shows.

The youngest generation of adults, born after 1980, has the most optimism about the country. That comes despite the economic difficulties many of them have experienced since entering the workforce. And it stands in contrast with some previous generations: Baby boomers, for example, born between 1946 and 1964, were less optimistic than their elders at this stage of their lives.

The millennials are also the only generation of adults with more people who identify themselves as liberals than as conservatives. Just less than one-third of millennials call themselves liberals while about one-quarter identify as conservative. And nearly half say they have become more liberal as they have aged, with 57 percent saying their views on social issues have become more liberal over time.

By contrast, among members of the baby boom generation, 41 percent call themselves conservative and only 21 percent identify as liberals. And baby boomers are more likely to say that growing older has made them more conservative. On this and most other issues, the views of Generation X (born between 1965 and 1980) fall between those of the baby boom and millennial generations, and the views of those born before the baby boom are more conservative.

The liberal views of the youngest adult generation show up on a range of issues. Nearly seven in 10 say they support same-sex marriage, for example, just more than half identify themselves as “supporters of gay rights” and they are twice as likely to see gay and lesbian couples raising children as a good thing for the country than as a negative, which puts them at odds with older generations. They are also far more likely to favor legalization of marijuana. Opinions on abortion and gun control, by contrast, show little generational difference.

Just more than half of millennials say they favor a “bigger government providing more services” rather than a smaller government — a polling question used for years as an index of people’s attitudes toward government’s role.