Romney Too Extreme for the Millennial Generation


AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

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Today’s Millennial generation is the largest, most diverse, and most progressive generation in American history. By the 2020 presidential election about 90 million eligible voters, comprising nearly 40 percent of the electorate, will hail from the Millennial generation, and 44 percent of all Millennial adults will be people of color. These voters, ages 18 to 34, are already demonstrating their political clout. And their progressive leanings will have repercussions as Millennials shape and transform the cultural, economic, and political attributes of America.

In analysis and research conducted previously by the Center for American Progress of 21 core values and beliefs garnering majority support among these young Americans, only four of those values were classified as conservative. 44 percent of young Americans self-identified as progressive or liberal in contrast with the 28 percent identifying as conservative or libertarian.

This represents a huge challenge for the Republican candidate for president, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. His vision of the United States and our country’s path forward differs dramatically with that of today’s young people. Even younger, self-identified Republicans have a significantly more progressive worldview than that of Gov. Romney. These young Republicans often have more in common with their fellow Millennials than they would with older conservatives, which means the contrast between Gov. Romney’s policy positions and those of the majority of Millennials highlights just how antiquated his policies really are. Specifically, among young Republicans:

  • 59 percent say that the economic system unfairly favors the wealthy.
  • 56 percent favor the Buffett Rule to ensure economic fairness in our nation.
  • 51 percent say that the government should do more to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor.
  • 49 percent favor allowing gay and lesbian people to marry.

So let’s take a closer look at Gov. Romney’s policy positions to see how out of sync they are with the vast majority of the Millennial generation, from the economy to the role of government in our society, and from immigration reform and women’s health rights to gay and transgender equality.

The economy

The current generation of young Americans has a vastly different vision of the economy than Gov. Romney. This generation sees a clear role for the government to play in strengthening the economy and also believe that the system unfairly benefits the wealthy.

Economic fairness

When it comes to the most fundamental issues of economic fairness, Millennials disagree strongly with Gov. Romney’s stated policies. Nearly three-quarters of Millennials, including the majority of Republican Millennials, believe that the current economic system unfairly benefits the wealthy. While they admire those who work hard to become wealthy, the majority of all Millennials believe that the problem is that not everyone is given an equal chance in life.

To address this problem Millennials believe the government should be doing more to give those less fortunate a hand up as they seek their own opportunities in our economy today. Seventy-two percent favor increasing the tax rate on Americans earning more than $1 million a year in order to create a more broad-based middle class. This, again, includes the majority of Republican Millennials.

While Millennials are concerned about the current economic system being unfair, Gov. Romney has professed the opposite viewpoint by declaring himself “not concerned about the very poor.” In fact, he supports the Bush-era tax cuts for those making over $1 million a year, putting himself in opposition with nearly three-quarters of Millennials who would favor moving in the opposite direction by adopting a policy such as the Buffett Rule, which would apply a minimum tax rate of 30 percent on those making more than $1 million a year.

Indeed, on just about every economic policy position, the core values of the Millennial generation conflict with those of Gov. Romney. Specifically:

  • 73 percent of college-age Millennials ages 18 to 24 agree that “the economic system in this country unfairly favors the wealthy.”
  • 72 percent favor “increasing the tax rate on Americans earning more than $1 million a year.”
  • 69 percent agree that “the government should do more to reduce the gap between rich and poor.”

In contrast, Gov. Romney is clear where he stands:

  • “I support the Bush tax cuts. The Bush tax cuts helped get our economy going again when we faced the last tough times.”
  • “I’m not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there.”

The role of government

With such basic and wide-reaching differences in the Millennials’ assessment of whether the economy is working for everyone, it is not shocking that the disagreements between Millennials and Gov. Romney extend sharply into the role of the federal government. The majority of Millennials believe the federal government should prioritize spending to help our economy recover rather than reducing the budget deficit. And over the long term, four out of five Millennials believe that it’s government investments in education, infrastructure, and science that are necessary to ensure U.S. economic growth.

Unfortunately, these views are not shared by Gov. Romney. He wants to “cut, cap, and balance” federal spending, which conservatives want to do to limit federal spending to an impossibly low set percentage of Gross Domestic Product, the largest measure of economic growth. While young Americans would prefer to invest money in education instead of tax breaks for the wealthy, Gov. Romney believes we need fewer teachers and less government intervention. As he put it, “Instead of thinking in the federal budget, what should we cut—we should ask ourselves the opposite question. What should we keep?”

Here’s what Millennials think of the proper role of government in our economy:

  • 80 percent agree that “government investments in education, infrastructure, and science are necessary to ensure America’s long-term economic growth,” compared to 6 percent who disagree.
  • 55 percent think “the higher priority for the federal government should be spending to help the economy recover rather than reducing the budget deficit.”

In contrast, Gov. Romney thinks:

  • “Instead of thinking in the federal budget, what we should cut—we should ask ourselves the opposite question. What should we keep?”
  • “I am for cut, cap, and balance.”
  • “[President Obama] says we need more firemen, more policemen, more teachers. Did he not get the message of Wisconsin? The American people did. It’s time for us to cut back on government and help the American people.”

Gay and transgender equality

Survey after survey has shown that Millennials strongly believe in equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals. Majorities of young Americans strongly support allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry, allowing same-sex couples to adopt children, enacting employment-discrimination protections for all Americans, and allowing gay and lesbian couples to form civil unions.

Gov. Romney takes the opposite stance. He is opposed to gay marriage, opposed to civil unions, and supports the Defense of Marriage Act, federal legislation that defined marriage as between a man and a woman. He believes that society has “established marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman because access to both genders is helpful in the development of a child.”

Here’s what Millennials believe about gay and transgender equality:

  • 79 percent favor employment discrimination protections for gay and lesbian people.
  • 71 percent favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to form civil unions.
  • 69 percent favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to adopt children.
  • 62 percent favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry, including 49 percent of Republican Millennials and 44 percent of white evangelical Millennials.

In contrast, Gov. Romney believes:

  • “Marriage is a sacred institution between a man and a woman and I have been rock solid in my support of traditional marriage. Marriage is first and foremost about nurturing and developing children.”
  • “When I am president, I will preserve the Defense of Marriage Act and I will fight for a federal amendment defining marriage as a relationship between one man and one woman.”
  • “Society has, from the beginning of recorded time, established marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman because access to both genders is helpful in the development of a child.”
  • “I indicated my view, which is I do not favor marriage between people of the same gender, and I do not favor civil unions if they are identical to marriage other than by name.”


As the most diverse generation in U.S. history, Millennials have personal and firsthand knowledge of the benefits of diversity. As a result, it is not surprising that they are among the most progressive when it comes to immigration policies. Broadly, more than two-thirds of Millennials believe that “newcomers strengthen society,” which in turn forms the basis of their opinions on specific immigration policies. Over 80 percent believe there should be a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, and more than two-thirds support legislative versions of that path such as the DREAM Act, which would provide a path to citizenship for undocumented youth.

While Millennials are embracing diversity and eager to make the immigration system better to build a stronger United States, Gov. Romney again heads in the opposite direction. He opposed a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, stating “there should be no special pathway to permanent residency or citizenship for those that have come here illegally.” He also is opposed to specific proposals such as the DREAM Act, and he has indicated that he would strike down recent executive action that provides temporary relief to younger undocumented immigrants.

Indeed, Millennials strongly favor comprehensive immigration reform, with:

  • 81 percent saying they believe in providing a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, compared to 17 percent who oppose doing so.
  • 69 percent saying that “newcomers strengthen society,” compared to 27 percent who say that “newcomers threaten customs and values.”
  • 64 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds saying they support the DREAM Act, compared to 31 percent who oppose it.

And once again, Gov. Romney is out of step with the majority of Millennials, saying:

  • “I disagree fundamentally with the idea that the 12 million people who’ve come here illegally should all be allowed to remain in the U.S. permanently. … That is a form of amnesty, and that it’s not appropriate.”
  • “For those who come here illegally, the idea of giving them in-state tuition credits or other special benefits I find to be contrary to the idea of a nation of law.”
  • “Some people have asked if I will let stand the president’s executive action. The answer is that I will build my own long-term solution that will replace and supersede the president’s temporary measure.”

Women’s health rights

Millennials wholeheartedly support the rights of women to make their own health decisions. From reproductive rights to pro-choice abortion protections, the Millennial generation stands with progressives in protecting and expanding the health rights of women. This includes doing everything possible to make prescription birth control affordable and accessible to those who want it.

Gov. Romney is on the opposite side of the Millennial generation by advocating for overturning Roe v. Wade and saying that “states should be allowed to put in place pro-life legislation.” He has also called for getting rid of Planned Parenthood, an organization dedicated to providing women with access to preventative health care, such as mammograms. A prominent Romney supporter, Foster Friess, has even gone so far as to recommend that “gals” use Bayer aspirin as contraception by putting it “between their knees.”

Millennials by around three-to-one support women’s health rights, with:

  • 84 percent agreeing that “we should do everything we can to make sure that people who want to use prescription birth control have affordable access to it and that cost is not an obstacle.”
  • 83 percent agreeing that private insurance should cover birth control.
  • 79 percent agreeing that government-sponsored insurance should cover birth control.
  • 66 percent opposing “cutting off federal government funding to Planned Parenthood.”
  • 60 percent of college-age Millennials believe that “religiously affiliated colleges and hospitals should be required to provide their employees with health care plans that cover contraception at no cost.”

Gov. Romney and his presidential campaign spokespeople, of course, disagrees with all of these positions, saying:

  • “Planned Parenthood, we’re going to get rid of that.”
  • “I’d love to have an America that didn’t have abortion. But that’s not what the American people [want] right now. And so I’d like to see Roe v. Wade overturned and allow the states to put in place pro-life legislation.”
  • Spokeswoman Andrea Saul: Requiring all university health insurance plans to cover contraceptives “is a direct attack on religious liberty and will not stand in a Romney presidency.”


On issue after issue, Gov. Romney is on the wrong side of history and on the wrong side of the Millennial generation. Studies show that Millennials are progressive, hopeful, diverse, and believe in the power of people to create real and lasting social change.

Millennials believe in a just and fair economy that ensures everyone is playing by the same rules. They believe that we cannot have a sustainable economy without ensuring the middle class is growing and that all Americans have the opportunity to live out their dreams.

Policies that reduce the rights of women, immigrants, minorities, voters, and the gay and transgender community have been handily rejected by this generation. Millennials have refused to follow leaders and political ideologies that treat any American as a second-class citizen.

Time and time again we see that Gov. Romney’s extreme agenda is in direct contrast to our generation’s values and ideals. Over the course of the next few months, Campus Progress Action and will highlight these differences through youth-led reporting, original reports, fact sheets, infographics, social media, and more.

Tobin Van Ostern is the Policy Manager for Campus Progress Action. Joshua Murphy, Sharon Reshef, and Doug Lavey contributed to this report.

Download this issue brief (pdf)

Endnotes can be found in the PDF version.

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