Jonathan Chait

The Lottery That Made Some Boomer Men Liberal

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Via John Sides, a paper finds that Vietnam war-era males with low draft lottery numbers tended to become more liberal and more Democratic than those with higher draft lottery numbers:

  • Among college-bound menthe group most affected by the institution of the lottery in 1969those with lower draft numbers had more negative views of the Vietnam War when they were interviewed in a 1973 survey.  This is not due to actual military service, but seems to reflect a general emotional reaction to the prospect of service.
  • Lower draft numbers also made these men more liberal and more Democratic.  This trend was driven by men who up to that point had leaned Republican but, because of Nixon’s policy, fled to the Democratic Party.

That the effects of the lottery show up 4 years after it was instituted is notable.  Truly remarkable, however, is that some of these effects show up years and years later:

  • The shift toward the Democratic Party was permanent.  As Erikson and Stoker write, “A prominent effect of getting a poor outcome in the draft was to cause reevaluations of party loyalties.
  • Finally, those with lower draft numbers had less favorable opinions of the Vietnam War even when interviewed in 1982 and 1997.  That is to say, the effect of draft lottery status was evident almost 30 years after the draft itself.

It's a telling window into the effects of self-interest upon ideology. It's also interesting to consider in light of the way young voters have taken up liberal views on virtually everything, and voted heavily Democratic, the last few election cycles. This is more research showing that youthful political habits tend to persist over time. The impact of such a strongly Democratic age cohort could impact American politics for a long time.

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