Generation Frustrations: Politics Conflicts


Peyton Ludwig

Recently, a new generation-based meme has circulated: “OK Boomer”. It’s used by the younger generations to give a simple shutdown to a conversation with someone they find intolerant. Older generations have not taken to this well, calling it “offensive” and “ageist” (Photo courtesy of Peyton Ludwig).

Welcome to part three of Generation Frustrations! While the first part discusses the uses of technology and the second talks about the differences in humor, this time will be addressing the political rifts that seem to divide each generation. 

The older generations of Gen X and Baby Boomers have the reputation of being conservative, traditional, hard set in their views, and intolerant. The younger generations of Millennials and Gen Z, on the other hand, have the reputation of being more liberal, progressive, open to different views, and often called “sensitive” and “snowflakes” by the older generations. 

But, really, are these reputations true to life, or just broad, inaccurate representations that fail to account for different views? Are the older generations as intolerant as the younger generations believe? Are the younger generations as sensitive as the older generations believe? 

Finally, do the different generations have anything they can agree on? 

First, let’s examine the data, helpfully provided by the Pew Research Center.

Right off the bat, the differences are notable. According to a PRC article by Kim Parker, Nikki Graf, and Ruth Igielnik, “On a range of issues, from Donald Trump’s presidency to the role of government to racial equality and climate change, the views of Gen Z…mirror those of Millennials. In each of these realms, the two younger generations hold views that differ significantly from those of their older counterparts.”

Statistically, the two younger generations share nearly the exact same view of Trump: only 30% of Gen Z-ers and 29% of Millennials approve of the way Trump is handling his job as president. The two older generations are more supportive, with 38% of Gen X-ers and 43% of Baby Boomers approving.

“I agree with his views. I think he’s done good things for the country,” said Andrew Evans, a Millennial with views that challenge his generation’s stereotype. “He’s kind of going against the political grain, which I respect. He catches a lot of backlash, but you know, he’s not a politician — he’s a businessman.”

While political parties obviously vary from person to person, there is a trend: the younger generations lean more Democratic, and the older generations lean more Republican.

Pew Research Center
This statistic shows the relationship between generations and political parties, with the trend of the younger generations being more Democratic and the older generations being more Republican (Photo courtesy of Pew Research Center).


A majority of Millennials — 59% — affiliate with the Democratic party. This makes a gradual decline with the older generations, with both Gen X and Baby Boomers being 48% Democratic. Gen Z-ers also are found to lean more towards Democratic ideologies.

“I’m an independent because I can find the merit in Republican and Democratic values. [Overall, I’m] mostly Democratic, though,” said sophomore Isabel Sanders.

However, it’s also known that the older you are, the more conservative you become.

This can be due to two things: one, how our brain is changing, and two, how the world is changing.

As was mentioned in the previous installment, Boomer Humor and Gen Z Irony, the terror management theory — the anxiety and fear that possess the old as death draws closer — plays a large role in how we think while we age. Years of research have shown that people become more conservative when they feel afraid. In fact, a 2003 review of research found that the concept of fear fueling conservative views was universally true.

Along with this, brain scans show that conservatives have both larger and more active right amygdalas than liberals, the area of the brain associated with expressing and processing fear. 

This raises the question: will the younger generations become just as conservative as the older generations as they age? Well, not quite.

The second reason for the differences is how society is growing and developing. The older and younger generations were brought up in vastly different circumstances and often hold different views. 

“Younger generations have been brought up in a more socially liberal world…Now, when my students voted this year for the first time, the death penalty is a distant memory, abortion rights are firmly entrenched, gay marriage is legal, and accusing someone of racism is regarded as the ultimate end-of-argument put down,” said James Tilly, professor of politics at Oxford. 

The younger generations have grown up in a time much different than the old, so only time will tell if they will follow the same trend of edging towards conservatism as they grow older. 

While these things seem separated by generations, these two factors can influence both the young and the old. Despite being an older generation, Gen X-er James Otto suggests he’s the opposite of this trend because of how the world is changing:  “I don’t think that I’m any more conservative than I was when I was 21, and in some cases, I’m less conservative than I was when I was 21. I’ve always been right of center, but my opinions on some issues have changed noticeably and have become more moderate as I’ve gotten older.” 

On many controversial topics, the trend remains of the younger and older generations having their differences, but they do have some agreements. 

Immigration is still a frequently debated topic that remains with generational gaps; Millennials have the most positive view, with 79% saying they strengthen rather than burden the country, compared to 66% of Gen X and 56% of Boomers. A separate study shows that Gen Z matches Millennial’s views, with 76% believing that immigrants are good for our country. Despite these differences, there is now majority support and the public view has shifted towards a more positive outlook on immigrants.

Pew Research Center
Over the years, there’s been a strong increase in the positive views of immigration (Photo courtesy of Pew Research Center).

Yet again, Evan’s opinion on this subject is a stereotype-breaking one: “[Illegal immigration is] absolutely ludicrous. I think Trump is handling it great. I mean, he’s doing the best he can. We have our own homeless population that needs to be addressed and taken care of before we start taking care of other people’s or other countries’ people. There’s a legal way to come into the country.”


The opinions on same-sex marriage nearly follow the same trend: 73% of Millennials believe that gay marriage should be legal, compared to 65% of Gen X and 56% of Boomers. Another study has found that not only are Gen Z greatly supportive of gay marriage, but they also are the most likely to be LGBT+; only 48% identify as “completely heterosexual”, compared to the Millennial’s 65%. Much like immigration, despite the generational differences, it has majority support and this opinion stands at its highest on record, with a 2:1 support. 

Otto returns to the idea of him becoming more accepting of these ideas over time: “That is an example of an opinion that’s probably changed over time as I’ve gotten older…I would say I am more accepting of it today than I ever have been. I generally am accepting of it’s in almost all cases.”

Pew Research Center
Both the views of same-sex-marriage and abortion are in the majority — over 50% — for Gen Z, Millennials, Gen X, and Boomers. While there are more generational gaps in same sex-marriage, it’s overall more positive than the views of abortion (Photo courtesy of Pew Research Center).

There’s less of a generational gap in views of abortion, but it’s also generally less in approval. They still remain in the majority, however: 62% of Millennials, 59% of Gen X, and 53% of Boomers say that abortion should be legal in all or most cases. In a different study, it was found that 71% of Gen Z believe that abortion isn’t morally wrong. In general, views about abortion have changed little over the past decade.

“It’s not the rule of the government to rule on something like that. I think a lot of the things comes in where you have taxpayer money going to fund organizations like Planned Parenthood. You shouldn’t be using other people’s money to fund services like that. If there is a procedure that you need, you pay it on your own, but it’s not up to the government to divide that. And it’s not up to the government to decide to spend other people’s taxpayer money that might not support that decision on such services,” said Evans.

Finally, let’s look at the recent news.

The younger generations are well-known for their desire for social change. Greta Thunberg is one of the best-known examples of this. As a member of Gen Z and only 16 years old, she has taken the world by storm as a strong environmental activist and protester for climate change, creating a ripple effect of change across the globe. Especially with her accusal of older generations betraying the young, the Boomers have loudly vocalized their skepticism and dislike whereas the younger generations have expressed their approval.

“Climate change is real, it’s happening, and we should all be ashamed of ourselves for refusing to really do anything about it. I really respect Greta Thunberg and the courage she has to look these people in the face and say that they suck, basically,” said Sanders.

However, many of the older generations are fully supportive of her fight. Celebrity Gen X-er Leonardo Dicaprio recently met up with her and calls her a “leader of our time”. Famous actor and Baby Boomer Arnold Schwarzenegger recently went cycling with her, and similarly calls her a “friend and hero”. Many kids and adults alike admire her courage and ambition. 

“I’m tired of the hypocrisy of [many environmentalists]. I’m not gonna sit in and listen to other people talk about what needs to change if they’re unwilling to do with themselves. I’m a believer in human ingenuity, and that humans have the ability to help correct some of the things that are happening now with global warming and climate change,” said Otto.

Following this trend, Baby Boomer Jane Fonda has been similarly speaking out for action against climate change. She, along with fellow Baby Boomers Catherine Keener, Rosanna Arquette, Ted Danson, and Sam Waterston, have all been arrested for protesting, but they show no signs of stopping. Jane Fonda has even been motivated by Thunberg’s work, taking part in “Fire Drill Fridays”, a series of weekly rallies started by Thunberg, along with saying she was inspired by her calls for more sustainable living. 

Not only can both the younger generations and older generations agree, but they can even work together to fight for what they believe in. It’s a powerful message that entertains the idea of what good we could bring if we could forsake generational divides and fight as one. But of course, there will be trends that show the conflicts and differences of generations, and changing the world won’t be as easy as just proclaiming the power of teamwork. 

But, really, isn’t it worth a shot?