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Millenials: A generation politicians shouldn't take for granted

The millennial generation came of age in what progressives see as a recipe for instilling left-leaning opinions: Dire economic circumstances, low wages,

The millennial generation came of age in what progressives see as a recipe for instilling left-leaning opinions: Dire economic circumstances, low wages, disappearing benefits, and empowerment over racial, sexual, and gender equality.

Peter Beinart’s recent column in The Daily Beast, “The Rise of the New Left,” touches on an idea that Democrats may want to hear: That the millennial generation is embodying and embracing being “liberal” and electing candidates like Elizabeth Warren and Bill De Blasio, politicians who made unabashedly “liberal” policies like regulating Wall Street and taxing the wealthy their campaign cornerstones.

“This is a generation that’s very much deeply invested in the principles of America: Equal access, equality, no matter what your background, no matter what your sexuality,” said Lehigh University professor James Peterson. “There’s a test here.”

But is this significant for the millennial generation, or is it about life cycle? Melissa Harris-Perry’s Saturday panelists looked at whether this assertion is real, or if the younger progressive political generation will shift more conservative as they grow older.

“We have come of age in a time of political and economic instability, and Barack Obama embodied our diversity,” said Valarie Kaur, a senior fellow at Auburn Seminary. Yet she continued, “We’ve seen those numbers of engaged political millenials decline since 2008.”

In 2008, 41% of millenials identified themselves as Democrats, while 22% identified themselves as Republicans, according to the Pew Research Center. But that’s actually less than the Boomers in 1974 and the Silent Generation in 1956.

“This is the story, right? That when you’re young you’re liberal. As you age and you pay more taxes you become more conservative,” said host Melissa Harris-Perry.

This generation is expected to grow as an overall voting block over the coming years. In 2016 and 2020, the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, estimates that they will encompass a third or more of the entire electorate.

But the panelists argued that it actually takes specific individuals in a specific environment to spur millennials to become inspired and actively engaged in policy. They say the bigger concern right now on the left for maintaining this generation’s trend isn’t necessarily about them growing more conservative, but becoming discouraged by ongoing political gridlock and disengaged from policy matters overall. De Blasio, of course, won a Democratic primary in blue New York City and Warren won her seat in blue state Massachusetts during a major election year.

“If millenials threaten not to show up, and we see this in off-year elections, we’re going to see this down the road," said former Virginia congressman Tom Perriello. “Those Democrats are not going to win those races.”

Watch the full discussion from Melissa Harris-Perry in the video player above.