Government Watch / Politics

Don’t Give Up on the Young—Prager University Hasn’t

AMAC Exclusive – by David P. Deavel

A new study by the conservative Christian pollster George Barna, conducted for Foundations of Freedom, has some worrying as well as some hopeful news about the largest adult cohort (78 million) in the population. The Millennials are a somewhat mixed-up generation—like every one since that afternoon in the Garden of Eden, I suppose—combining some very new and mistaken views with some very traditional ones. Less atheist than agnostic, less America-Last than they are marinating in cosmopolitanism, and less doctrinaire than they are leaning toward relativism, they are a generation that is still young and still open to being persuaded. While some Gen-Xers and Boomers might be tempted to write them off, it is a mistake to think these young-to-early-middle-aged adults have no hope. Every generation when young will carry the fevers of youth. Better to follow the example of one of the most successful initiatives of the last decade and try to treat the fevers with a dose of calm persuasion: Dennis Prager and Allen Estrin’s Prager U.

“Millennials in America,” which surveyed 600 millennials, defined as those born between 1984 and 2002, asked them questions in August about “lifestyle, politics, faith, relationships, and emotional conditions.” Though they have a positive view of Jesus, they suffer from a greater lack of belief in the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jesus than other generations. Only 35% believe in the “all-powerful, all-knowing, perfect and just creator of the universe who rules that universe today.” The rest are divided up into beliefs in an undefined “higher power” (25%), a realization of human potential (12%), old-fashioned polytheism (8%), atheism (5%), a belief that “Everyone is god” (5%), and sheer agnosticism (11%).

This declining religious belief probably accounts for a tendency towards agnosticism about life itself. What characterizes 50% of them is the conviction that “life is what you make of it; there is no absolute value associated with human life.” 75% are “searching for a sense of purpose in life.” It may also account for a good percentage of them having a drift toward liberal/progressive views on sexuality and toward the political left. If life has no meaning or sacredness, it would be hard to identify any rules for how to treat it, yet people have a need for order and the Progressive left gives that without putting any brakes on the libido. The poll found that 40% of them identify on the left side of the political spectrum while 29% identify as conservatives. Only half have positive associations with the United States and with democracy. And half embrace socialism in the economic and political realm—even if atheism and other personal aspects of socialism are shunned.

All this adds up to a generation that is deeply confused and divided. And it is important to note that division. Younger conservatives are very conservative. And while that group looks to be a bit less than a third, one can see that there is a big group in the middle who are absolutely open to ideas of traditional faith, morality, ordered liberty, and free markets. To give one example, while the generation embraces newer ideas of sexuality in greater numbers, still nearly half (47%) think marriage is a relationship exclusively between a man and a woman.   

The difficulty, one might observe, is that Millennials suffer from having not been taught a great deal about the Bible, religion, or the basics of our country. As a Gen-Xer myself, I observed in my generation’s public education the transition away from serious history and civics to “social studies.” And in the religious realm, Catholics and Evangelicals both had large contingents of their populations abandon serious teaching of Scripture and theology for baking cookies, platitudes, and entertainment.

And yet there is a hunger out there for serious things.

One of the most successful groups feeding that hunger is the non-profit media group Prager University, founded in 2009 by radio host Dennis Prager and his longtime producer Allen Estrin. The media behemoth began as a way to provide conservative and generally religious perspectives on and answers to big-picture and controversial questions. While Prager and Estrin initially thought of having a brick-and-mortar institution of some kind, they decided that providing videos that would be accessible online would have a greater effect more quickly. Leading scholars, journalists, and entrepreneurs have provided perspective on hundreds of questions in five-minute videos for over a decade now. Those videos on historical, political, economic, religious, and scientific topics, which anchor the company’s project, have now been augmented with: podcast shows with popular conservative figures including Candace Owens, Michael Knowles, and others; man on the street interviews and short documentaries by filmmaker Will Witt and others; first-person accounts of people who left progressivism and Hispanic/Latinos who love America; and educational shows on history and civics for children.    

Today, Prager U, as it was eventually rebranded, has a $50 million annual budget funded by over 200 thousand donors. In their most recent bi-annual report, from which I’ve taken these statistics, they claim over 5 billion views of their videos and note that 45% of their current viewership began in 2020 or 2021. 32% of their viewership under 35 watches daily and 70% of their overall viewership agrees that they have learned more from watching Prager University than they did from their own university experience. The about page for the website adds the details that 60% of the YouTube viewership is under 35 and that 70% of viewers have had their minds changed on at least one topic by one of the videos. 

As you might expect, such success has made the non-profit media company a big target for those unhappy with their perspectives. Prager U proudly points to some of the famous attacks on them in such places as New York Times., Media Matters, Vice, and Buzzfeed. One might add that the entry at Wikipedia, now a partisan online reference guide, reads mostly as a summary argument against the company, citing a series of attacks on particular videos for having inaccuracies. And as a number of the attack articles observe, an entire sub-genre of videos supposedly debunking Prager U has arisen. Some of these have poked holes in a few of the presentations, but most of them I’ve watched seem to involve sputtering disbelief that conservative views like the ones from figures such as former CKE CEO Andy Puzder, conservative academics Carol Swain and Jordan Peterson, or journalist Michael Knowles are allowed. It’s not the arguments but the conclusions that are being protested—that’s why you have so many accusations that videos are “dog whistles” or “alt-right.” When all else fails for the left, they usually call you a racist or a Nazi. And if not all else, a lot has been failing for the left with regard to Prager U. The more journalist attacks are all made with the tacit and sometimes explicit admission that Prager U has been successful in helping shift the positions of Millennials and even the teenage Gen-Z kids. The bi-annual report quotes from a Mother Jones article subheaded, “Inside the Right-Wing YouTube Empire That’s Quietly Turning Millennials into Conservatives.”

What’s the secret to the success of the Prager U videos? I don’t think it’s simply glitz or tech wizardry. One of the consistent complaints of many of the video “debunkers” is that the original Prager U videos have bad graphics and musical accompaniment. I don’t think that entirely fair, but when it’s true, it’s part of the charm. Barna and his research group say Millennials put a high priority on authenticity. Prager U presenters come from a variety of different positions, backgrounds, and kinds of expertise. One need not agree with every single video or every part of every argument to see that the presenters are passionate and informed but also calm, thoughtful, and not reliant on the wizardry of tech effects to get their points across. In short, the videos have an authenticity that, whether it is immediately effective or not, comes across to those who are open to listening. How else to explain somebody like Andy Puzder, the genial former lawyer and businessman whose videos “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Does Not Understand Capitalism or Socialism,”  “Capitalism vs. Socialism,” and “Who Does a 15 Dollar Minimum Wage Help?” have 21 million, 16 million, and 9.7 million views respectively?

The great thing is that Prager U is not the only resource conservatives have for conversing with Millennials and others. But it is a really effective one. And, as Barna, notes, most Millennials still claim that the influencers they trust most to tell the truth and do the right thing are parents (46% say “always” and 32% “sometimes”) and friends (36% and 40%). While there are many areas of life in which persuasion has been made impossible, Millennials are still open to family and friends who will show them a video and reason together in search of the truth about God and a sane approach to politics, economics, and even the sacredness and meaning of life.

David P. Deavel is editor of Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture, co-director of the Terrence J. Murphy Institute for Catholic Thought, Law, and Public Policy, and a visiting professor at the University of St. Thomas (MN). He is the co-host of the Deep Down Things podcast.

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Eileen Ruth
6 months ago

Listening to Dennis has been a priority in our household for the last 25+ years. We have learned an incredible amount of facts & wisdom & each time – he has set our gyros straight! We just wish that our children were still young enough to send to Prager U! During the 70’s, we taught our 4 children at home. We thought we had seen the worst of society & never realized that it was yet to come. We are watching our grandchildren be influenced by this present generation & it is NOT a pretty sight. I thank God regularly for Dennis & all that he offers…..America needs more people like him. I was born & raised in a typical, New England Yankee home where the youth had rules – & followed them! Church played an important role & the back pew was our “family pew”. I learned much from our kind & reverend pastor. The wisdom I learned as a child stays with me to this day & I am grateful for Rev. Scott & Dennis Prager. They have been the most influential men in my life. Their kind, wise, & soft- spoken manners taught me much. It’s important that I still learn & I have them both to thank. Rev. Scott has gone home to heaven, & I rely mightily on Dennis’s instruction these days. Thank you & may God continue to bless you!

Stephanie Staker
11 months ago

I love PragerU and occasionally forward the videos to my grandchildren who are all grown. I watch Dennis Prager’s Fireside Chat every week and I so admire the man. Someone posted on here that Dennis promotes bi-sexuality. I have never heard that and I would certainly appreciate a link to the story where he supposedly (allegedly?) said that. I don’t think he did. He is a very religious man and studies the Bible so if he said that, I want the link to confirm it. I don’t want what someone thinks he said either. I want the link where he said it. Thank you.

11 months ago

I am 69, soon to be 70 and was a late comer to Prager U, once I started listening to all it had to offer especially the 5 minute videos I was hooked! It just presents common sense to issues and makes one take a second look on what our values are and how important it is we protect our Freedoms.

11 months ago

I love and support Pragar U. Tons of educational videos. Also love his fireside chat podcast.

Doni Juarez
11 months ago

I hope you will rethink promoting Dennis Prager. This is the man who says bi-sexual is the norm.
I will NEVER again support ANYTHING he says or does.

11 months ago

I have been a supporter of Prager U since a friend sent me a video of theirs to watch. That was back in the beginning. I have the Prager U app on my phone and watch their video’s on YouTube as well sharing them all the time with friends and family. I have learned from these videos and found presenters that are engaging enough for me to research them further. What Prager U is doing is amazing and educational and everyone reading this should invest some time in checking them out. One of the best avenues for getting to our indoctrinated young people – Great job Prager U!

John S.
11 months ago

Dennis Prager and Prager U have been very loyal to Mr. Trump for the past several years, and to me, that is what everything comes down to — I can and will judge absolutely everyone in public and private life based on their commitment to following Mr. Trump’s wishes.

I am waiting to see whether Prager will endorse Mr. Trump’s brilliant strategy of having conservatives BOYCOTT the elections in 2022 and 2024, unless Trump is installed as President as a result of the investigations into the 2020 election.

If Prager agrees with this strategy, which is one of the best and boldest that President Trump (I am not afraid to call him that!!) has ever come up with, then I will have even more respect for the man. I look forward to seeing what he will say.

11 months ago
Reply to  John S.

John, I have messaged you privately about my concerns — that you are so extremely supportive of Trump that you would even do something as destructive as sit out the vote if he told you to. I do not like having this argument on here, in public, but you are going down a dark path.

Your loyalty should be to conservatism, not to one man. And if that one man defies conservatism, we cannot be loyal to him, at least in that regard.

John S.
11 months ago
Reply to  Arnold

My friend, you have it backwards.

If conservatism defies one man, we cannot be loyal to conservatism. And frankly, any conservatism that would defy Donald J. Trump is not true conservatism.

11 months ago
Reply to  John S.

I am disappointed that you feel this way, obviously. But I see many others talking like you. I loved Donald Trump as well and I would have done almost anything for him. However, sitting out the vote is one thing I cannot do — even if it specifically defies Trump.

Kevin S
11 months ago

I’ve been a huge fan of Dennis Prager since he had a late Sunday night TV show in the early 80s.
Also a member and contributor of Prager U, since I heard of it – a great concept done quite well.

R.J. from Arizona
11 months ago

I’m old enough to remember civics when I was in grade school and being taught why this country was founded in the first place. My parents taught me why America is a great country. Problems? Sure, but we learned from our mistakes and moved on. You want something? You work so you can buy it. We need to return to the common sense days.

11 months ago

I listen to Dennis Prager daily on my car AM radio. He’s what I consider not only Conservative but with Common Sense! I find that I never disagree with whatever he’s saying.

Eddie Van Halen
11 months ago

“IF” the White House can be taken back by a Conservative, action has to be taken to have treasonist professors removed / imprisoned ( like those in Hahvahd and Yale ). Liberal leaning colleges have become expensive communist training camps. It is up to the parents / grandparents to close their wallets to these communist training camps.

11 months ago

These „apairatchics” in humanities are responsible for stupefying young people who later work in media, administration and education. In KGB paper (shown for short time during Gorbachov “Pierestroyka”, it was statement that “West cannot be won militarily without mutual ani annihilation, or economically because they have more experience in running economy, but it could be stupefied through destroying its education system (teachers unions, programming which people do not control and check etc.) thus for little money it can be destroyed from within. Does it sounds well describing what we have now in our country?

Kevin S
11 months ago

Any wonder Leftists in governance block parents involvement in Their OWN Kids education?

Stephen Russell
11 months ago

AMAC should donate X% from dues to Prager U
& host ads in magazine.

11 months ago

AMAC should not donate part of dues to anyone, but use it to support this site & magazine. Individuals can donate if they choose to do so to others.

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