By Kathryn Watson | Watchdog.org, Virginia Bureau
ALEXANDRIA, Va. — The much-mentioned, so-called millennial generation in Virginia is facing an uphill economic climb.
The average student loan debt of 18- to 35-year-olds polled by Christopher Newport University’s Wason Center for Public Policy is $33,500. Four out of five say they believe the economic challenges they face are greater than the ones their parents did at the same age, according to poll data released Thursday.
Of those polled, 31 percent listed jobs and the economy as their top priority, followed by education (12 percent) and health care or health-care reform (9 percent). A whopping 58 percent are skeptical the government is working to solve the crises they face.
IT’S A MESS: Indiana University senior Randall Burns holds a sign he said represents the average debt a college student has after graduating. In Virginia, the average student debt in a recent poll was $33,500.
Still, even with an average of $33,500 in student debt, millenials were more likely to list marijuana legalization and drug reform — a key component of Libertarian Robert Sarvis’ campaign — as their top priority (6 percent), than to mention the cost of education as their top concern (3 percent). A small percentage (1 percent) listed government regulation as their top concern, while 8 percent said budget and tax issues ranked highest.
In other words, millenials want government to help solve their problems, but also want it to get out of the way.
While Virginia millenials generally consider themselves to be more liberal than their parents and 47 percent said they’d vote for Democratic Sen. Mark Warner if the election was held that day, there’s another strain emerging in the poll — a libertarian-leaning one. Of the millenials polled, 24 percent said they’d vote for Sarvis, more than double the amount that said they’d vote for Republican Ed Gillespie (11 percent).
For comparison, a CNU poll of registered Virginia voters of all ages earlier this month read like this — Warner, 51 percent; Gillespie, 39 percent; Sarvis, 3 percent.
All the influence of millenials in Virginia hinges on whether they actually turn out to vote, said Quentin Kidd, director of the Wason Center for Public Policy.
“The appeal of Libertarian Robert Sarvis among Virginia millenials is clear, but Mark Warner’s position is strong,” Kidd said in a statement. “There is, however, a real question as to whether millenials will turn out to vote.”
CNU interviewed 481 Virginians ages 18-35 for the poll by landline telephone from Oct. 15-21. The margin of error rate was plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.
— Kathryn Watson is an investigative reporter for Watchdog.org, Virginia Bureau, and can be found on Twitter @kathrynw5.