When researchers at the Public Religion Research Institute and Georgetown University set out earlier this year to sketch a portrait of college-age millennials, they expected to find a lot of diversity.
What they didn't anticipate, says Daniel Cox, director of research and co-founder of the institute, was so much division.
"One of the things that we were most startled by was the significant division that we found, particularly on issues of race and religion," Cox said regarding one of the institute's latest reports, titled "A Generation in Transition: Religion, Values, and Politics among College-Age Millennials: Findings from the 2012 Millennial Values Survey."
Cox said while the Millennial Generation--today's 18 to 29-year-olds--is often thought of as more diverse and more tolerant than previous generations, "we found stark differences between the views of White millennials and African-American and Hispanic millennials, particularly around the vote."
Indeed, the survey--which the institute conducted jointly with Georgetown's Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs--found stark differences in viewpoints along both racial and religious lines not only with respect to the 2012 presidential election, but when it comes to things that range from whether poor people have become overly reliant on government assistance programs to whether Whites are being subjected to reverse discrimination.
The survey also found differences in which millennials list their religion on their Facebook pages.
When it comes to religious identity, however, it's becoming increasingly difficult to put this generation into one particular religious category, the survey found.
That's because they are moving away from the religions in which they were raised at unprecedented rates, although this phenomenon is occurring mostly among White millennials, particularly in the Catholic faith, the survey found.
Disenchanted with the establishment
Mark Taylor, a millennial expert who works with faculty to help them better connect with young people, suggests this movement is being driven by many college-age students coming to view organized religion as "strongly morally judgmental without accepting responsibility to accept truly 'religious' missions, like helping the poor and socially disenfranchised."
Taylor said there are other factors turning millenials away from identifying with a particular religious affiliation.
"Sex abuse scandals in the Catholic church, accusations of fiscal mismanagement and opulent living in the public faces of mainstream Evangelical pastors point to hypocrisies that reduce millennial support," Taylor said.
The "Generation in Transition" study adds to the growing body of research that shows millennials being less religion-affiliated and coalescing around support for various social issues, according to some specialists.
"We've also seen a rise in the percentage of young people who do not identify with a particular religion," said Scott Keeter, Director of Survey Research at the Pew Research Center.
"Their [PRRI and Georgetown's] findings on support for legal abortion are similar to ours, as are their findings on support in this age group for same-sex marriage."
The effect of race on politics
While millennials are evidently becoming less religious-affiliated, where clear religious lines do exist, often so do divergent views, the survey found.
The same is true along lines of race and ethnicity.
The upcoming 2012 presidential election is a case in which the survey found significant divisions along lines of both race and religion.
For instance, while President Barack Obama held "overwhelming leads" over a generic Republican opponent among Black and Hispanic millennial voters (92 percent vs. 2 percent, respectively, and 61 vs. …