Young voters have had it with politics in America, losing faith that getting engaged with politics and elections will do anything to make their lives or futures better, according to a poll released Monday morning by Harvard University’s Institute of Politics.
But that doesn’t mean they’re ready to give up on voting just yet, the survey found.
The IOP, which has been polling people 18-29 for more than two decades, found that 36% of likely voters say they will “definitely” vote in this fall’s midterm elections – virtually unchanged from 2018, when there was record overall turnout for a midterm election.
But there are signs that youth turnout could indeed drop off, further imperiling vulnerable Democrats who tend to attract bigger shares of the youth vote.
The poll found that 36% of respondents 18-29 agree that “political involvement rarely has any tangible results” – up from 22% who felt that way in 2018. Those who agree that “I don’t believe my vote will make a real difference” went to 42% in the current poll, an increase from 31% in 2018. And well more than half – 56% – believe that “politics today are no longer able to meet the challenges our country is facing,” up from 45% who felt that way in 2018.
Further, 49% of young people believe the nation is on the wrong track, with just 13% seeing the country as headed in the right direction, the survey found.
“There is clear growing discontent with the people and the politics of Washington, D.C.,” said John Della Volpe, director of the poll. There is “a growing disdain for political discourse,” with “young people seriously questioning whether politics can even meet the challenges our nation is facing,” added Della Volpe, author of the book “Fight: How Gen Z Is Channeling Their Fear and Passion to Save America.”
The discontent is not helpful to Democrats, who face a daunting election season this fall as they struggle to hang onto control of the House and Senate.
President Joe Biden has a 41% approval rating among young voters – a drop of 18 percentage point from a year ago. Biden is holding a smaller portion of his voters – young people who showed up for him in 2020 – than either Barack Obama or Donald Trump did at this stage in their presidencies, Della Volpe said.
Further, while those 18-29 still prefer Democratic control of Congress (40% want Democratic control, 28% want GOP control and 32% are unsure), Republicans are more motivated this year to go to the polls, the survey found.
Compared to the 2018 survey, young Democrats are less inclined to vote this fall by 5 percentage points, while young Republicans are more likely to show up at the polls, by 7 percentage points from 2018, the poll found.
Heavy turnout in 2018 helped Democrats regain control of the House – a pivotal election that allowed for Trump’s two impeachments and a halt to much of Trump’s legislative agenda. But with discontent among young Democratic voters and disappointment with Biden, the tables could be turned on congressional Democrats this fall, the survey suggests.
“The Democrats cannot look at young voters as a given this November,” said Kate Gundersen, a Harvard junior who worked on the poll.
Biden’s poor numbers aren’t about his policies, the polling team said. Just 1 in 10 said Biden does not share their values, and 14% said he was not following through on his campaign promises. The biggest single complaint about Biden was his “ineffectiveness,” the poll said, with 36% of young people agreeing with that statement.
If there was any good news for Democrats in the poll, it was that there wasn’t much good news for Republicans, either.
More than half – 51% – of young voters say the GOP cares more about the elite than people like them (21% believe Republicans care about people like them). That 30-point divide is triple that for Democrats – 39% think Democrats favor the elite compared to 28% who believe Democrats care about people like them.
Still, 36% young people say they will vote this fall – virtually unchanged from 38% who said the same in 2018.
“Young people, I don’t think, are ready to pack it in or ready to give up on it,” Della Volpe said. Despite the negative view of politics right now, “there is still overwhelming concern, and a vision for younger people seeing the government doing big things for the country,” he said.