Millennial Generation's Enthusiasm Waning as Election Draws Near, Harvard Poll Finds

Contact: Esten Perez
Phone: (617) 496-4009
Date: October 21, 2010

Washington, D.C. – A new national poll of America’s 18-29 year-olds by Harvard’s Institute of Politics (IOP), located at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, finds waning enthusiasm for participation in the midterm elections as less than three-in-ten (27%) say they will definitely be voting in November, a drop of nine points from eleven months ago (36%).

The poll also finds a solid majority of Millennials (53%-42%) say they would prefer a Democrat-controlled Congress as an outcome of the November election. A detailed report on the poll’s findings is available on the Institute’s homepage at www.iop.harvard.edu.

“Although Millennial enthusiasm for the midterm elections seems to have slipped over the past year, recent election cycles show candidates who can motivate this critical demographic will have an important advantage in November,” said Harvard’s Institute of Politics Interim Director John C. Culver.

“In 2008, Millennials took control of their own destiny, entered the political process and changed the direction of the country,” said John Della Volpe, Director of Polling for the Institute of Politics. “Two years later, the challenges they face as a generation could not be higher. Let's hope they reverse the current decline in interest and participation, and continue the process of becoming this era's defining political force.”

The web-enabled survey of 2,004 18-29 year-old U.S. citizens with a margin of error of +/– 2.2 percentage points (95% confidence level) conducted with research partner Knowledge Networks for the IOP between September 24 and October 4, 2010 finds:

  • Millennial interest in 2010 midterm elections waning. Enthusiasm by America’s 18-29 year-olds for participating in the upcoming midterm elections has slipped over the past year. October 2010 IOP polling shows less than one-third of Millennials (27%) say they will definitely be voting, a drop of four percentage points from February IOP polling (31%) and nine points from polling eleven months ago (36%). Among those enrolled in four-year colleges, 35% indicate that they will definitely vote, a similar proportion to what was found among four-year college students in 2006 IOP polling (34%). The proportion of Millennials considering themselves politically engaged and active has also dropped over the past eleven months from 24% in November 2009 to only 18% today.
  • Solid majority of Millennials prefer a Democrat-controlled Congress. A solid majority of young Americans today (53%-42%) say they prefer a Democrat-controlled Congress as an outcome of the Congressional elections. However, among young Independents a plurality say they would prefer a Republican-controlled Congress after the November elections (48%-43%).
  • Job approval ratings continue to slide for President Obama as well as Democrats and Republicans in Congress. Barack Obama’s overall job performance rating has continued to decline over the last year, as less than a majority (49%) now say they approve of the job he’s doing as President – a drop of seven percentage points from February IOP polling (56%) and nine points from November 2009 polling (58%). Millennial approval of Congress’ job performance has also declined with fewer approving of the job performance of Republicans in Congress (Oct.-28%; Feb.- 32%; Nov. 2009-35%) and Democrats in Congress (Oct.-39%; Feb.-42%; Nov. 2009-48%) over the past eleven months.
  • In 2012 preview, Barack Obama bests potential Republican challengers by 25 to 30 points, dead heat against "generic" Republican. In a proposed election match-up between Barack Obama and “the Republican Party’s candidate for President,” a dead-heat emerges (31% Obama, 30% Republican, and 39% “Don’t know”). However, when three possible Republican candidates were named in the match-up, the results changed dramatically in favor of Obama (Obama 44% - Newt Gingrich 14%; Obama 48% - Sarah Palin 23%; Obama 43% - Mitt Romney 18%).
  • Plurality of Millennials say 2001 tax cuts should be extended for those who earn less than $250,000 per year. The IOP poll found a plurality (44%) of Millennials saying the President George W. Bush-era tax cuts should continue only for those earning less than $250,000 per year, with 38% saying the cuts should continue for everyone. This finding stands in contrast to other national polling that indicates a plurality of Americans believe that the tax cuts should be extended to all Americans. In a Sept. 8-13 AP-GfK poll of N=1,000 adults nationwide, more than four-in-ten (44%) of respondents believed the 2001 tax cuts should be extended for everyone, with only 39% saying the cuts should continue only for those earning less than $250,000 annually.

Harvard students designed the poll in consultation with IOP Polling Director John Della Volpe, whose firm SocialSphere, Inc. commissioned Knowledge Networks to conduct the survey. Complete results, which include detailed findings on immigration, the proposal to build an Islamic cultural center and mosque in downtown New York City a few blocks from the site of the World Trade Center, and President Obama’s job approval ratings on seven major issues, are available – along with past surveys – online at www.iop.harvard.edu.

Methodology

Knowledge Networks conducted a study of young adults on political issues on behalf of Harvard University’s Institute of Politics. The goal of the project was to collect 2,000 completed interviews with Knowledge Networks panelists 18-29 years of age in English and Spanish. The main sample data collection took place from September 23 to October 4, 2010. A small pretest was conducted prior to the main survey to examine the accuracy of the data and the length of the interview.

Three thousand, seven hundred and fifty-six (3,756) KnowledgePanel members were assigned to the study. The cooperation rate was 53 percent resulting in 2,004 completed interviews.  One hundred forty eight (148) interviews were conducted in Spanish with the remainder done in English.

The survey was conducted using the web-enabled KnowledgePanel®, a probability-based panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. Initially, participants are chosen scientifically by a random selection of telephone numbers and residential addresses. Persons in selected households are then invited by telephone or by mail to participate in the web-enabled KnowledgePanel®. For those who agree to participate, but do not already have Internet access, Knowledge Networks provides a laptop and ISP connection at no cost. People who already have computers and Internet service are permitted to participate using their own equipment. Panelists then receive unique log-in information for accessing surveys online, and are sent e-mails throughout each month inviting them to participate in research. More technical information is available at http://www.knowledgenetworks.com/ganp/reviewerinfo.html and by request to the IOP.

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Harvard University’s Institute of Politics (IOP), located at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, was established in 1966 as a memorial to President Kennedy. The IOP’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 strives to promote greater understanding and cooperation between the academic world and the world of politics and public affairs. More information is available online at www.iop.harvard.edu/.

Knowledge Networks delivers quality and service to guide leaders in business, government, and academia – uniquely bringing scientifically valid research to the online space through its probability-based, online KnowledgePanel®. The company delivers unique study design, science, analysis, and panel maintenance, along with a commitment to close collaboration at every stage of the research process. Knowledge Networks leverages its expertise in brands, media, advertising, and public policy issues to provide insights that speak directly to clients’ most important concerns. For more information about Knowledge Networks, visit www.knowledgenetworks.com.

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