Young adults are less likely to say that political parties are very different or represent them well

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Almost six in ten American adults (59%) see a big difference between the two major political parties, up from 55% just two years ago and significantly more than in previous decades. Yet, as in the past, there are large age differences in these views: young adults are less likely than older adults to see a large difference between the parties, and they are less likely to say that the Either party represents the interests of people as well.

About three-quarters of those 65 and over (77%) say there is a big difference between the two major parties, compared to 64% of those aged 50 to 64, 53% of those aged 30 to 49 and 42% of those from 18 to 29 years old. This trend can be seen in the Democratic and Republican coalitions. Three-quarters of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents aged 65 and over say there is a big difference between the two parties, as do 80% of their Republican and Republican counterparts. But only 42% of adult Democrats and Republicans under the age of 30 say that.

To gauge Americans’ views on political parties and their representation, we surveyed 10,221 American adults from July 8 to 18, 2021. All participants are members of the American Trends Panel (ATP) of the Pew Research Center, a panel of online survey that is recruited through national random sampling of residential addresses. This way almost all American adults have a chance of being selected. The survey is weighted to be representative of the adult United States population by gender, race, ethnicity, partisan affiliation, education, and other categories. Learn more about the ATP methodology.

Here are the questions used for the report, along with the answers and its methodology. For more on the political typology, see “Beyond Red vs. Blue: The Political Typology ”.

A graph showing that in the Democratic and Republican coalitions, older people are more likely to feel represented by the party

Across all age groups, the majority of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents say the GOP very or fairly represents the interests of people like them. However, older Republicans are more likely than younger ones to say this: 84% of Republicans 65 and older say the GOP at least represents the interests of people like them at least well enough, compared to 59% of adult Republicans from less than 30 years old.

The pattern is similar among Democrats and Democrat-leaning independents. Almost nine in ten Democrats 65 and over (89%) say the Democratic Party at least represents the interests of people like themselves at least fairly well. Democrats between the ages of 18 and 29 are 24 percentage points less likely to say this.

Overall, young adults in the United States are less likely than older adults to identify with a party – and more likely to identify as independents who skinny towards one of the two main parties. Yet even among those who identify with a party, younger Republicans are less likely than older Republicans to say that the GOP represents the interests of people like them well, and younger Democrats are less likely than Democrats. older to say this about the Democratic Party.

These age patterns are reflected in the Pew Research Center’s 2021 Political Typology, which segments the American public into nine groups based on their political values. Within each party coalition, groups that stand out for their mixed ratings of the party they tend to support are on average younger than other groups.

A graph showing that among typology groups, the ambivalent right and the foreign left are less likely than others to say that one of the two main parties represents them well

Only half of the ambivalent right – a Republican-oriented group that departs from traditional GOP positions on immigration and some social issues and is less positive than other GOP groups about former President Donald Trump – says the Republican Party represents the interests of people like them very well (4%) or quite well (46%). By comparison, at least eight in ten in each of the other three Republican-oriented groups say so. The Ambivalent Right is also significantly younger than other GOP-oriented groups: they are the only Republicans-oriented group in which a majority (63%) is under 50.

Outsider Left – a group that has liberal attitudes on a wide range of issues and votes overwhelmingly Democrats – is nonetheless lukewarm towards the Democratic Party. About half of Outsider Left (53%) say the Democratic Party represents very well (4%) or somewhat (50%) the interests of people like them. By comparison, at least eight in ten in each of the other Democrat-oriented groups say the Democratic Party represents the interests of people like them somewhat or very well. Outsider Left is the youngest typology group overall.

Vianney Gomez is a research assistant specializing in US politics and politics at the Pew Research Center.

André Daniller is a policy research associate at the Pew Research Center.


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