Foreign Policy

What Do Millennials Think About Foreign Policy?

September 17, 2015

Understanding the unique preferences of millennials has become something of an obsession for the media, social scientists, the government, parents, and even millennials themselves. On any given day, news stories feature headlines like “Millennials Are Annoyed When Your Grammar’s Not on Fleek” and “How to Win The Millennials With Paid Vacations.” Other recent articles have examined millennial home ownership, entrepreneurship, and health care patterns.

Likewise, the foreign policy views of millennials have not been ignored.

A. Trevor Thrall, a professor at George Mason University, has determined that there are several notable differences between the foreign policy views of millennials and those of previous generations. For one thing, millennials “perceive the world as significantly less threatening than their elders do, and they view foreign policies to deal with potential threats with much less urgency.”

A second significant difference is that “Millennials are more supportive of international cooperation than prior generations.” Thrall applies this to China in particular. Millennials see China as a potential partner and want to cooperate with it rather than viewing it as a rival and expecting a confrontation.

Millennials are more supportive of international cooperation than prior generations. —A. Trevor Thrall and Erik Goepner

Perhaps most importantly, Thrall finds that millennials are “far less supportive of the use of military force and may have internalized a permanent case of ‘Iraq Aversion.’” In a July 2015 interview, Thrall said he thinks that this means “it’s a lot less likely that you see a millennial national security advisor, secretary of State, secretary of Defense or president hawkishly calling for war without exploring other avenues first.”

Is it too soon to consider a millennial in one of those roles? Yes, but it’s not as premature as you might think.

Thrall defines millennials as those born between 1980 and 1997. That’s 87 million Americans, a full quarter of the population. Millennials are now the largest generation. The 2016 election cycle will be the first one in which a millennial would meet the constitutionally required minimum age of 35 to become president. Nine sitting members of the United States House of Representatives were born in or after 1980 and millennials, at least one of whom was born as recently as 1996, are serving as representatives to state legislatures. Almost five million American millennials are millionaires.

Thrall will be speaking more about the fascinating trends uncovered in his research and the influence millennials may have on the United States’ future foreign policy decisions on a panel hosted by Stand Together Trust on September 22. The panel, “The Politics of American Foreign Policy,” will also feature analysis from Michael Desch and William Ruger.