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Young voters both encouraging and discouraging

by Eric Ferguson on February 20, 2014 · 4 comments

Just to steer clear of the false balance thing implied by the title, more encouraging than discouraging. But yes, a bit of both.


The youth vote has become vital to Democrats. We’ve been winning the people voting in their first elections by a large percentage and for several elections in a row, and without them, we would be the ones perpetually fretting about our demographics problem. This has provided a huge incentive for Democrats to get on the right side of gay rights and marijuana legalization, and Democrats who want to win will make student debt a top priority. It goes the other way too, in that if we want to make progress on issues that aren’t seen necessarily as youth issues, we need to win over the “millenials”, a term I put in quotes from uncertainty over just who that describes, but I guess it’s more compact than “30 and under but old enough to vote”.  Or are millenials now reaching their early 30s? Anyway, we need to win their support on more than the two or three issues that go on the lit pieces for candidates with a college campus in their district.


Which gets to some encouraging news: millenials (used in this article) are the age group most likely to accept evolution.


The 60 percent level of acceptance of human evolution includes all adults. But digging into particular age groups reveals that, while acceptance is significantly lower in adults older than 65 (49 percent), it is significantly higher in younger adults, between 18-29 (68 percent), with other age groups close to the national average.

Hang on. Since when do we vote on evolution? All in favor of delaying the mutation of new traits to next week say “aye”? Well, we do sometimes elect school board members based on the evolution/creation debate, but I’m thinking a bit more meta. Specifically, when kids are taught that science says one thing, but your parents, your preacher, or the blatherer on wingnut talk radio say otherwise, so believe what you want, the lesson isn’t just that there’s a debate over creationism and evolution. There’s another lesson that science is just one opinion, no better than what feels right however you get there. If science is just another opinion on evolution, then believe whoever you want on other controversial subjects.  That, I’m convinced, underlays much of our problem convincing the public on environmental issues, especially global warming.


Which leads to another piece of good news: young adults are most accepting of global warming and the least in denial. Actually, a majority of each age group accepts that global warming is real. We’re short of a majority accepting that it’s man-made, except among those 18-29. We have some work to do there, though a plurality accept that it’s man-made among the other age groups. With so many refusing to accept that it’s man-made, no wonder it’s hard to convince the general public that it’s a top priority. Younger voters are likely the most disposed to accept the urgency, which suggests hope of winning on this issue over the long-term and where we should concentrate our efforts. Forget persuading the quarter in denial because they’ll never be persuaded, and focus on convincing younger voters that they need to act, as in telling politicians this is an issue they vote on.


So what’s the discouraging news? The public has grown more credulous about astrology, with millenials most accepting of it.


Also apparently to blame are younger Americans, aged 18 to 24, where an actual majority considers astrology at least “sort of” scientific, and those aged 35 to 44. In 2010, 64 percent of this age group considered astrology totally bunk; in 2012, by contrast, only 51 percent did, a 13 percentage point change.

The majority said astrology is not at all scientific, but it’s a shrunken majority, and 18-24 year-olds mostly think there might be some science to it. Come on, millenials, seriously? I suppose we can hope there were problems in the methodology, or maybe a pollster ignorant of the difference actually asked about respondents about “astronomy”. Probably not. I did hear a theory that people who are just starting to learn science are most likely to take pseudoscience seriously, because they know a little but not enough, and they’re being open-minded. As they learn enough to figure out what makes pseudoscience “pseudo”, acceptance goes down.


Just like there’s a lot of overlap between creationists and global warming deniers (which is part of my concern that making evolution purely a matter of preference undermines all science), I’ll guess believers in astrology come from the same group mostly, but the numbers indicate there must be some small number of people who accept global warming and know creationism is nonsense, but think there might be something to astrology.  If you’re in that group, here a couple ways to see through it.


First, recall that one of the ways you know creationism is bunk is that if the universe were created as is 6,000 years ago, we would be unable to see any stars more than 6,000 light years away because their light hasn’t had time to reach us. Yet the night sky is full of stars further away than that.  Those that are other galaxies are millions of light-years away. Now think about constellations, which are supposed to influence your personality or fate. They’re not clusters of stars. They’re merely the pictures we form in our heads by using stars as a giant connect-the-dots. Those stars are very distant from each other, and appear as they do only because of our angle. If you could travel to another star, the constellations would be gone. If you could see the night sky 100,000 years from now, the constellations would be gone because the stars are moving. So essentially, constellations aren’t even real. The creators of the zodiac had no clue about any of that.


And if the alien ever says it comes from the constellation of X, that’s some bad science fiction.


Second, astrologers have the number of planets wrong. I mean, come on, how does that not put paid to the whole notion? I suppose it says something about human psychology that astrology survived the discovery of Uranus in 1781.


But if you’ve had a horoscope made for yourself and it seems a reasonably accurate description of the sort of person you are, try giving it to some other people, tell them you had it made for them, and ask them if it seems accurate. The odds are they’ll say yes. That’s how it works — they’re so generic, that of course they’re accurate.

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