A new study proves just how misguided it is to view young people as a monolith.
GenForward is a survey of the Black Youth Project at the University of Chicago with the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. The first of its kind monthly poll asked 1,965 young adults age 18-30 about topics including the 2016 campaign, policy attitudes, and perceptions of race and racism.
On almost all of the issues, the survey found opinions differed significantly across racial and ethnic categories.
While the national conversation becomes increasingly influenced by the burgeoning awareness of concepts like intersectionality, a term coined by African American Policy Forum co-founder Kimberle Crenshaw that gives name to how multiple identities influence one another, it is becoming more and more clear how detrimental overgeneralizing populations can be. Belonging to an age group can translate into vastly different or even conflicting experiences when accounting for other factors like race and gender.
As Fusion senior writer Daniela Hernandez explains, because research fields are dominated primarily by white men, “science—the very thing that’s supposed to be unbiased—ends up reinforcing our prejudices and injustices.” Having never been required to pay attention to those realities, white male researchers often overlook the nuances in how people of color move through the world even while studying them. Researchers of color play a vital role in rectifying this situation.
Cathy Cohen, the principal investigator of the Black Youth Project and a professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago, hopes she and GenForward can fulfill this role, stating that the survey was conducted to give voice to those who are usually excluded from public opinion polling.
Just days after the second mass shooting of police in two weeks, allegedly in retaliation for racist policing as symbolized by two viral videos of officers killing Black men in Minnesota and Baton Rouge in the same time period, the racial divide is once again forced into stark contrast. Results from a New York Times/CBS poll released last week show 69% of all Americans think race relations are bad – the highest percentage since the 1992 Los Angeles riots during the Rodney King case.
The GenForward survey, perhaps unsurprisingly, reveals that 85% of Black respondents support the Black Lives Matter movement, which erupted to counter state violence against Black people 3 years ago. 68% of Asian Americans, 53% of Latinx Americans, and just 41% of White young adults support the movement.
The poll also found that 8 in 10 young Black adults consider race a major problem, along with 3 in 4 Latinx Americans, and more than 3 in 5 Asian-Americans. Only a little over half of white respondents agreed.
The data indicates that young voters are often overgeneralized, but it also exposes the problem of lacking an intersectional analysis of race. Despite much of the media promoting the narrative of Hillary Clinton’s overwhelming support from Black voters while running against Bernie Sanders, the survey exposes the important reality that the majority of Black young adults who voted this year supported the Vermont Senator in the Democratic Party primary (54%).
Against a candidate like Trump, young people’s desire to move to the Left politically may have less impact on the success of a Clinton campaign. But the poll proves that the Democratic party as a whole must refuse to take the “youth vote” for granted, and neither can it take “the Black vote” or the votes of other communities of color. With influential figures in these communities like Cornel West encouraging voters to consider the Green Party’s Jill Stein, and the GenForward survey showing only a small percentage of all young adults think the current two party system works well (though they overwhelmingly think it can be improved), the Democratic party still has plenty of work to do to retain their support.
Relying on oversimplified analyses that imply a unified “Black vote” or “youth vote” erases many of those who live at the intersection of those two identities. GenForward and the nuance it provides should lay bare this crucial fact for pollsters exploring these issues in the future.
The survey authors explain that “young adults now represent the largest generation of Americans, and they are by far the most racially and ethnically diverse generation in the country.” When considering the impact of this generation on the election system, we must also consider the diversity that is so integral their shared identity.
And with gender, sexuality and other identities playing such a large role in how people experience life even within the category of race, a sustained trend of deepening our intersectional analyses will only lead to even greater understandings of our world in the future.
Photo: Open Source