Initial Research With Millennial Political Identity

cover of Millennials Rising by Neil Howe and William Strauss

In my first few weeks of research I’ve largely been laying out how I’m going to organize my topic, the political identity of Millennials, into digestible parts so that my work can be one cohesive unit of research by the end of the summer. I’ve determined that I want to break down my analysis into three distinctive parts; the way Millennials perceive political history, the way they understand the organization of civic life, and their relationship with political media. In each of these categories, my research will start with texts from a reading list I’ve compiled from leading scholars on generational identity, political science, and sociology. From these I hope to glean common characteristics of millennials that researchers have deduced before, analyzing these observations from a variety of perspectives. Next, I will use statistical data resources such as the Pew Research Poll, Gallup, and the Brookings Institute, to come to some of my own conclusions about the political behavior of Millennials.

So far, I’ve focused mostly on the historical understanding of Millennials, trying to comprehend how we view events from the past differently than those that came before us. To consider this I have read three books so far, Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation by William Strauss and Neil Howe, The Next America: Boomers, Millennials, and the Looming Generational Showdown by Paul Taylor, and The Millennials: Connecting to America’s Largest Generation by Thom Rainer.


What I’ve determined thus far is that a complex discussion of generational behavior has been going on throughout the 20th century and into the 21st. Many see Karl Mannheim’s Theory of Generations discussed in his text, The Problem of Generations (1923), as the foundational theory on generational development, essentially positing that individuals within a generation are sociologically shaped by the structures and events of their early years.

William Strauss and Neil Howe build off of this theory, creating a more nuanced theory of generational cycles. Strauss and Howe contend that there are four generational cycles that have repeated indefinitely, High, Awakening, Unraveling, and Crisis, each lasting roughly 20-30 years, with participants taking the roles of Heroes, Artists, Prophets, and Nomads according to where their generation falls in the cycle. I see great applicability in these models for my research, but remain skeptical about their poignancy with political behavior specifically. I hope that further research will help me decide whether these classifications can be used to understand political behavior in addition to overall sociological patterns. I’m hoping that the next component of my research will give me more explicit political insight, allowing me to make a more developed hypotheses about Millennial political behavior.