Something unusual appears to be happening among young Americans. “For much of the past two decades,” the Survey Center on American Life recently noted, “young women and men have had similar political profiles. But the ideological differences between them grew rapidly over the past few years as young women became increasingly liberal.” The Survey Center, a project of the Washington-based American Enterprise Institute, cited Gallup polling that shows 44 percent of young women aged 18 to 29 considering themselves “liberal” last year, compared to only 25 percent of men in the same age range—a major change from 30 percent of young women and 27 percent of young men considering themselves liberal a decade earlier. What’s causing this political divergence?

Daniel Cox is a senior fellow in polling and public opinion at AEI who co-authored the Survey Center’s recent report on the “growing gender divide in American life.” Cox says the dramatic increase in progressive politics among American women of Generation Z, the cohort born between 1997 and 2012, comes out of a series of trends, including fewer young women being married than in previous generations and more of them being more formally educated and religiously unaffiliated. Many of these young women were affected by the #MeToo movement, Cox says, while spending formative adult years during the presidency of Donald Trump, whom a strikingly high ratio of them disliked. As Generation Z becomes more politically engaged in the coming years, Cox sees the potential for their convictions to alter U.S. political priorities. It’s a question, though—given the prominence of disillusionment, disconnection, frustration, and pessimism in their attitudes about American political life.

Graham Vyse: What patterns stand out to you in the political tendencies of Generation Z in America?

Daniel Cox: To understand how Gen Z relates to politics differently than older U.S. generations do, you have to understand how people in this new generation have been raised. Many of their parents have emphasized individual achievement, education, and enrichment as primary goals for their children. At the same time, Gen Z has experienced less, compared with previous generations, in the way of traditional institutions like organized religion in their childhood—whether that’d be regular participation in worship services or Sunday school, or even saying prayers with their families.

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