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Harvard’s Institute of Politics releases its poll on what young Americans think about politics, public service

The Institute of Politics (IOP) at Harvard Kennedy School has released new findings from the Harvard IOP Youth Poll. For nearly twenty years, the Harvard Public Opinion Project has provided the most comprehensive look at the political opinions, voting trends, and views on public service held by young Americans.

The latest Harvard IOP Youth Poll indicates young voters between 18 and 29 years old are experiencing anxiety as much as joy, don’t think baby boomer voters or elected officials care about them and are increasingly concerned about the moral direction of the nation.

“It is no secret that social media has exacerbated the stress and anxiety that is already so prevalent in the late-teen and early-adulthood years of young Americans. However, for the first time, we now have evidence that the state of our politics is contributing to the mental health challenges millions of young Americans already face,” said John Della Volpe, Director of Polling for the Institute of Politics at Harvard Kennedy School. “To empower young voters, to persuade them to vote requires candidates willing to share and align their values with this emerging generation — and understanding the stress inherent in our politics today is a critical first step.”

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By election day 2020, the Millennial and Gen Z generations will represent more than a third of eligible voters. As indicated by the unprecedented youth turnout in the 2018 midterm election, the youth vote is likely to play a historic role in the upcoming primary and general elections. The poll finds that political engagement is heightened compared to this point in the 2016 contest.
Top findings of this survey, the 37th in a biannual series, include the following:

Additional details on results can be viewed HERE.

• The youth vote — especially young Democrats — is poised to play an even more significant role in 2020 than in the 2016 presidential contest. At this stage in 2015, 36 percent of young Americans indicated that they would likely vote in their party’s primary or caucus; today, 43 percent say the same.

• Generational conflict between young voters and Baby Boomers is brewing. By wide margins, younger Americans do not believe that the Baby Boomer generation, especially elected officials within that cohort, “care about people like them.” Overall, only 16 percent of 18-to-29- year-olds agree with the statement that “elected officials who are part of the Baby Boomer generation care about people like me.” A similar percentage (18%) agree that “voters who are part of the Baby Boomer generation care about people like me.”


• Protecting the environment is now central to both domestic and foreign policy agendas of young Americans. In the Spring 2015 poll, 32 percent agreed with the statement “government should do more to curb climate change, even at the expense of economic growth” — 23 percent disagreed (Net agreement: +9). Today, we find that agreement has increased to 46 percent, while disagreement has dropped by seven points, and now stands at 16 percent (Net agreement: +30).

In addition, 34 percent of young Americans believe that “protecting the environment” should be a top goal of U.S. foreign policy. In this context, the environment trails protecting human rights (39%), is statistically tied with preventing the rise of terrorist groups — and considered more important than preventing the spread of nuclear weapons and defending our allies.

• Concern over the moral direction of the country rising since last presidential campaign. At this stage of the 2015 presidential campaign, 52 percent of young Americans agreed with the statement that they were “concerned about the moral direction of the country,” while 16 percent disagreed (Net agreement: +36).  Today, we find 61 percent agreement, and nine percent disagreeing (Net agreement: +52). Among those likely to vote in the 2020 general election, concern was greater reaching 68 percent.

• Half of young Americans experience anxiety, and it is correlated with views related to state of our nation. In the 24-hour period before the poll was taken, 48 percent of young Americans, and roughly the same number of Democrats (49%), Republicans (46%) and independents (50%) experienced anxiety. While political affiliation is not a predictor of whether or not someone becomes anxious — we found that views related to our civic health are correlated.

Nearly three-in-five (59%) young Americans who strongly agree that “politics today are no longer able to meet the challenges our country is facing” experienced anxiety, compared to only 29 percent who strongly disagreed with that statement, indicating that the state of our politics was not a serious concern for them.

“Building upon the historic impact of the youth vote in the midterm election, we will continue to see this generation step up, take action, and ensure their voices are accounted for in our elections.” said Mark D. Gearan, Director of the Institute of Politics at Harvard Kennedy School. “This presidential election serves as a consequential moment in time to shape how young Americans engage in politics and I hope candidates thoughtfully listen and engage with their agenda.”

In addition, the Harvard IOP Youth Poll found that:

• The 2020 electorate is shaping up to be more progressive than 2016 on a range of social and economic policy related issues, including on health care, poverty, and trade policy.

• Support for Single Payer Health Care (-8, to 47%) and Free College (-5, to 51%) fall after cost estimates are provided for each policy initiative.

• A solid majority of young Americans (58%) are concerned that gun violence will affect them, or someone close to them.

• Current financial standing (68% say it’s very or fairly good), and employment forecast (42% of students think getting a job will be easy), is as strong as it has been in years.

• More than 4-in-5 young Americans check their phone at least once per day for news related to politics and current events. Facebook (46%) remains the most prominent platform for this use, followed by Instagram (34%), Twitter (30%)and Snapchat (20%).

Additional Harvard IOP Youth Poll findings and questions, including approval ratings of the President and Congress, trust in institutions, views of politics and public service, are available in the topline and crosstabs.

The Institute of Politics at Harvard Kennedy School was established in 1966 as a living memorial to President John F. Kennedy. The Institute’s mission is to unite and engage students, particularly undergraduates, with academics, politicians, activists, and policymakers on a non-partisan basis to inspire them to consider careers in politics and public service. The Institute blends the academy with practical politics and offers students the opportunity to engage on current events and to acquire skills and perspective that will assist in their postgraduate choices.

The Harvard IOP Youth Poll examines the political opinions and civic engagement of young Americans ages 18 to 29. Since 2000, the student-led Harvard Public Opinion Project has provided the most comprehensive look at the political opinions, voting trends, and views on public service held by young people.

Harvard Youth Poll

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