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Millennials, the generation born between1981 and 1996, see America’s role in the 21st century world in ways that, as arecently released study shows, are an intriguing mix of continuity and changecompared to prior generations.


For over 40 years the Chicago Council onGlobal Affairs, which conducted the study, has asked the American publicwhether the United States should “take an active part” or “stay out” of worldaffairs.


This year, an average of all respondents –people born between 1928 and 1996 – showed that 64 percent believe the U.S.should take an active part in world affairs, but interesting differences couldbe seen when the numbers are broken down by generation.


Generational views on world affairs



The silent generation, born between 1928and 1945 whose formative years were during World War II and the early Cold War,showed the strongest support at 78 percent. Support fell from there througheach age group. It bottomed out with millennials, of whom only 51 percent feltthe U.S. should take an active part in world affairs. That’s still moreinternationalist than not, but less enthusiastically than other age groups.


(译注:沉默世代(silent generation,出生于1928-1945):指的是艾森豪威尔时代大部分美国人的心理,他们满足于默默遵循流行的商业及社会准则)

Party identification by generation



There is some anti-Trump effect visiblehere: Millennials in the polling sample do identify as less Republican – 22percent – and less conservative than the older age groups. But they also werethe least supportive of the “take an active part” view during the Obamaadministration as well.


Four sets of additional polling numbershelp us dig deeper.


· Military power: Only 44 percent of millennials believe maintainingsuperior military power is a very important goal, much less than the othergenerations. They also are less supportive of increasing defense spending.


· Alliances and international agreements: Millennials are especiallysupportive of NATO, at 72 percent. In this measure, they are close to the othergenerations’ levels of NATO support. Their 68 percent support for the Parisclimate agreement is higher than two of the other three age groups. And their63 percent support for the Iran nuclear nonproliferation agreement is even withboomers and higher than Gen X.


Generational support for NATO


· Globalization and key trade issues: Millennials’ 70 percentagreement with the statement that “globalization is mostly good for the UnitedStates” is higher than all the other age groups. Similarly, 62 percent believethat NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) is good for the U.S. economy –well above the others surveyed. The margin is also positive although narroweron the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement.


These and other polls show millennials tohave a world view that, while well short of isolationist, is also not asassertively and broadly internationalist as previous generations.


Millennials’ worldview and its implications


Why do millennials see the world the waythey do? And with millennials now the largest generation and emerging intoleadership positions, what does it mean for American foreign policy?


In my view, the “why” flows from threeformative experiences of millennials.


First, the United States has been at war inAfghanistan and Iraq for close to half the lives of the oldest millennials, whowere born in 1981, and most of the lives of the youngest, born in 1996. DespiteAmerica’s vast military power, neither war has been won.


So, from the millenials’ point of view, whymake military superiority a priority? Why spend more on defense? Why not beskeptical about other uses of force?


Second, as a generation which is generally“defined by diversity,” as Brookings demographer William H. Frey describesthem, millennials take a less extreme view of Islam. A 2015 Pew Research Centerpoll showed only 32 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds agreed that Islam was morelikely than other religions to encourage violence among its followers. Comparethat to 47 percent of 30- to 49-year-olds and a little more than half of thetwo older age groups.


In this respect in particular, we’d do wellto learn from millennials’ more measured views.