broning11_LIONEL BONAVENTUREAFP via Getty Images_young voters far-right LIONEL BONAVENTURE/AFP via Getty Images

Are the Kids Leaning Right?

It has long been assumed that younger voters will tend to support progressive and left-leaning parties, irrespective of the specific issues at stake in any given election. But though this pattern has been borne out historically, it is far from being an iron law, and recent trends suggest that it may be changing.

NEW YORK – For decades, young people’s leftward leanings were considered an iron law of politics. “If people are not conservative at 40, they have no head,” Winston Churchill probably never said, “but if they are not liberal at 20, they have no heart.” From John F. Kennedy, Bill Clinton, and Tony Blair to Barack Obama and Jacinda Ardern, the leading lights of the left have regularly built political careers on the promise of youthful progressivism.

This pattern is so culturally ingrained that it is largely taken for granted. But electoral outcomes in many Western democracies have begun to suggest a very different dynamic. In the first round of the French presidential elections this month, Emmanuel Macron achieved only a narrow victory (27.85%) over the right-wing populist Marine le Pen (23.15%). His success was based not so much on the fervor of the young as on the caution – and alarm – of older voters.

Post-election studies show that Macron carried only one age group comfortably: voters aged 65 and older. Le Pen outperformed him among those aged 25-49. And while the far-left candidate, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, gained slightly more than one-third of the youth vote, Le Pen and the other far-right candidate, Éric Zemmour, received the combined support of an unprecedented 22% of first-time voters. Among voters between the ages of 25 and 34, the far right’s support increased to more than 35%. In France, it seems, the kids are not d’accord.