Two-thirds of youth fearful about America’s future, prefer Democratic control of Congress, Harvard youth poll finds

  • Trump’s approval rating now 25%, down 12 points among Republicans since spring 2017
  • 68% of black Americans, 46% of Hispanics feel significantly under attack in America
  • 61% of young Americans believe in stricter gun laws

CAMBRIDGE, MA – A new national poll of America’s 18- to 29-year-olds by the Institute of Politics (IOP) at Harvard Kennedy School, finds that two-thirds of young Americans (67%) are more fearful than hopeful about America’s future. Less than one year before the 2018 midterm elections, likely young American voters cite preference for Democratic control of Congress, 65% to 33%.

The Fall 2017 poll, the IOP’s 34th major public opinion poll since 2000, also shows that President Trump’s approval ratings continue to decline, heightened concern about the state of race relations in the country and increased support for stricter gun control laws.

“American political institutions are at a tipping point,” said John Della Volpe, Polling Director at Harvard Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics. “Millennials are now the largest generation in the electorate. This poll and the Virginia election show that they are becoming more motivated -- and I believe the fear that exists today about our future will soon be turned into the fuel that will reform our government. The only question is whether this comes from inside or outside the traditional party structure.”

This poll of N=2,037 18- to 29-year-olds, which was organized with undergraduate students from the Harvard Public Opinion Project, was conducted between October 31 and November 10, 2017. The margin of error for the poll is +/- 3.05 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level.

A detailed report on the poll’s findings is available online at

Key Findings

1. 14% of young Americans believe America is generally headed in the right direction; at this moment, fear outpaces hope for our future, 67% to 31%


By nearly a 4:1 margin (54% to 14%), young Americans believe the country is on the wrong track, compared to the right direction. When asked whether they are more hopeful or fearful about America’s future, 67% expressed fear, while 31% expressed hope. Over four in five Democrats (82%) voiced fear compared to 17% expressing hope; in contrast, 58% of Republicans expressed hope while 39% expressed fear.

2. President Trump job approval rating down 7 points to 25% since spring; down 12 points among young Republicans, 8 points among Independents

Just one quarter (25%) of 18- to 29-year-olds approve of the President's job performance overall, which is a 7-point decrease since the spring release. Two thirds (66%) of young Republicans approve of the President's job performance, which is a 12-point drop since the spring. The President's approval rating on specific issues is flat or down across the board; his highest rating on any issue comes from his handling of the economy and his response to the hurricanes with 34% approval on both. Approval of the President's handling of ISIS is 32%, gun violence 30%, tax reform 29%, health care 26%, North Korea 25%, climate change 24% and race relations 22%.

3. 79% of young Americans concerned about the state of race relations today; 68% of black Americans and 46%of Hispanics believe their race is under attack “a lot” in America, while 15% of whites feel the same way

Nearly four in five (79%) young Americans register concern about the state of race relations in the country today, a five-point increase over the last year. The percent of young Americans across all racial backgrounds who felt that their race was under attack “a lot” also increased by five points (24% to 29%) since last fall. The percent of young whites who felt under attack “a lot” remained stagnant at 15%, while the percent of young blacks who felt under attack “a lot” increased from 62% to 68% and the percent of young Hispanics increased by more than half, from 30% to 46%.

4. Democratic control of Congress preferred 2:1; Democrats more engaged, Republicans less so, compared to 2014 midterm cycle; motivation among Democrats +9 since January

Among 18- to 29-year-olds who are likely to vote, 65% would prefer to see Democrats control Congress after the 2018 midterms. One third of young voters (33%) prefer Republican control. Independent voters prefer Democratic control by over 30 points (66% to 32%). Across most measures, young Democrats in our poll are more engaged politically than they were at a comparable time in the 2014 midterm cycle, while Republicans are less engaged. The percentage of Democrats who consider themselves politically engaged has increased 8 points, from 24% to 32%, while Republican engagement is down 7 points, from 31% to 24%.

5. Despite Democratic advantages, only 34% agree that the party cares about people like them; 21% believe same is true for Republican Party and 19% for President

When young Americans were asked whether the major parties and the President cared about people like them, only about one in five believed that the Republican Party (21%) or President Trump (19%) did so. Thirty-four percent (34%) of young Americans agreed that the Democratic Party cared about people like them.

Included in the topline and executive summary presentation of the report are additional findings, including:

  1. 67% of Millennials believe that America’s greatest threats come from forces inside, not outside, our country. In response to an open-ended question about top threats, President Trump, “ourselves,” and racism were the top responses.
  2. 61% of young Americans believe gun laws should be more strict, representing a marked change since 2013 when less than half (49%) felt the same way.
  3. 50% of young Americans have little to no confidence that the U.S. midterm elections in 2018 will be free from Russian interference.
  4. By more than a 3:1 margin, young Americans believe that social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have an obligation to regulate fake news; this is a non-partisan issue, as Democrats (53%) and Republicans (52%) hold similar views.
  5. A majority of college students (51%) agree that opportunities to hear highly controversial speakers adds value to the educational experience.
  6. College Democrats (60%) are significantly more comfortable than Republicans (25%) sharing political opinions on campus without fear of censorship or repercussions.
  7. 56% of young Americans in our survey support single-payer health care policies, while 21% oppose.
  8. A majority of 18- to 29-year-olds (53%) approve of some professional athletes’ decision to kneel during the National Anthem, but this issue is among the most divisive in our poll: 80% of Democrats approve, while only 17% of Republicans feel the same way.
  9. 46% of young Americans support and 28% oppose race-based affirmative action programs designed to increase the number of African-American and Hispanic students on college campuses, again on highly partisan grounds; 70 percent of Democrats support these initiatives, compared to 18% of Republicans.
  10. Young Americans are more likely than two years ago to believe that global warming is man-made and mostly caused by emissions; nearly two-thirds (64%) agree, compared to 55% who agreed in the spring of 20


Institute of Politics (IOP) at Harvard Kennedy School was established in 1966 as a memorial to President Kennedy. 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.  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


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