Washington, D.C. – A new national poll of America’s 18- to 29- year-olds by Harvard’s Institute of Politics (IOP), located at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, finds no front-runner among prospective Republican candidates in a still-emerging presidential primary race – with no candidate capturing more than ten percent.  Hillary Clinton is in command of a hypothetical Democratic presidential primary with 47%, with potential candidates Elizabeth Warren garnering eleven percent, followed by Joe Biden (8%), Martin O’Malley (3%), Jim Webb (2%), and Bernie Sanders (1%).  Overall – a solid majority of 18- to 29- year-olds prefer a Democrat (55%) winning the 2016 campaign for president over a Republican (40%).

The IOP’s newest poll results – its 27th major release since 2000 – also shows America’s 18- to 29- year-olds are split (49%-49%) over confidence in the U.S. judicial system’s ability to “fairly judge people without bias for race and ethnicity.”  A detailed report on the poll’s findings is available online http://bit.ly/HarvardIOPSpringSurvey2015.

“The Institute of Politics has been polling America’s Millennials, the largest generation in our nation’s history, for fifteen years,” said Harvard Institute of Politics Director Maggie Williams.  “Our spring poll shows there are millions of 18- to 29- year-olds who remain hopeful about our nation’s future.  They are ready to engage in the 2016 election – from voting to volunteering – if political leaders build trust not only as candidates but also in the political process itself.”

The KnowledgePanel® survey of 3,034 18- to 29- year-old U.S. citizens with a margin of error of +/– 2.4 percentage points (95% confidence level) conducted with the Government and Academic Research team of GfK for the IOP between March 18 and April 1 finds:

Solid Majority of 18- to 29- year-olds Prefer Democrats Maintain Control of White House after 2016.  Overall, young Americans prefer that a Democrat (55%) win the White House over a Republican (40%) in the 2016 race for president, a view held within the younger (18-24 year-olds – 53%: Democrat; 41%: Republican) and older (25-29 year-olds – 57%: Democrat; 39%: Republican) segments of the age-group.  ‎This view is stronger among young African-Americans (87%: Democrat; 8%: Republican) and young Hispanics (68%: Democrat; 27%: Republican). A majority of young whites, however, prefer Republican White House control after 2016 (53%: Republican; 41%: Democrat). 

Hillary Clinton Holds Large Lead over Potential Democratic Presidential Candidates. Among potential Democratic primary voters (definite, probable or 50-50; n=619) a hypothetical match-up showed Hilary Clinton (47%) with a commanding lead over potential candidates Elizabeth Warren (11%), Joe Biden (8%), Martin O’Malley (3%), Jim Webb (2%), and Bernie Sanders (1%), with 28% undecided.

No Front-Runner in Still-Emerging Republican Presidential Primary. Among potential Republican primary voters (definite, probable or 50-50; n=486), not one of 16 prospective Republican presidential candidates garnered more than ten percent of the vote.  In a hypothetical match-up, Ben Carson captured ten percent, closely followed by Rand Paul (8%), Jeb Bush (7%), Mike Huckabee (7%), Scott Walker (5%), Sarah Palin (5%), Ted Cruz (5%), Chris Christie (4%), Rick Perry (3%), Rick Santorum (3%), Marco Rubio (2%), Carli Fiorina (2%), Bobby Jindal (1%), George Pataki (1%), Mike Pence (0%) and Lindsay Graham (0%) – with 36% undecided.   

Nearly Half of Young Americans Don't Have Confidence in Fairness of U.S. Justice System, with Deep Divisions by Race.  When young Americans were asked how confident they were in the U.S. judicial system’s ability to “fairly judge people without bias for race and ethnicity," 18- to 29- year-olds ‎were split. 49% said they had “not much” (35%) or “no” (14%) confidence in the fairness of our justice system; an equal proportion (49%) said they had “some” (40%) or “a lot” (9%) of confidence.  Young whites were more confident in the justice system's fairness (55%: some/a lot of confidence; 43%: not much/no confidence) than young Hispanics (44%: some/a lot; 53%: not much/no) and African-Americans (31%: some/a lot; 66%: not much/no). By political party, Republicans are more confident in the system’s fairness (66%: some/a lot; 33%: not much/no) than Democrats (46%: some/a lot; 54%: not much/no‎).

Young Whites and African-Americans Differ Strongly on Support and Efficacy of #BlackLivesMatter Campaign; Four-in-Five Believe Use of Body Cameras Will Reduce Racial Inequalities in the Criminal Justice System.  When asked if they supported or opposed national protests of police treatment of African-Americans centered around the #BlackLivesMatter slogan, America’s 18- to 29- year-olds were evenly split (49%-49%).  Less support was seen for the protests by young whites (37%: support) than among young Hispanics (59%: support) and African-Americans (81%).  A majority (59%) of 18- to 29- year-olds said they believe the #BlackLivesMatter protests will either be “not very” or “not at all” effective toward making meaningful change to improve the criminal justice system (39%: protests are somewhat/very effective).  Young Americans also strongly favored (80%: effective; 19%: not effective) requiring “police officers to wear body cameras while on patrol” as a possible policy change to reduce racial inequalities in the criminal justice system. 

Solid Majority Support Sending Ground Troops to Defeat ISIS; Other Signs of More Forceful Presence Abroad may also be Emerging.  When asked if they supported the U.S. sending ground troops to participate in a military campaign against the Islamic State (IS/ISIS/ISIL), almost six-in-ten (57%) young adults said they either somewhat or strongly backed the action (40%: somewhat or strongly oppose).  Additionally, over the past year, support has grown by ten percentage points for the U.S. to “take the lead in solving international crises and conflicts” (35%: Mar. 2015; 25%: Mar. 2014) and by seven percentage points for the statement: “it is sometimes necessary to attack potentially hostile countries, rather than waiting until we are attacked to respond” (23%: Mar. 2015; 16%: Mar. 2014). 

Three-in-Four 18- to 29- Year-Olds Believe that Global Warming is a Fact; Opinions Split on Keystone, as Most Oppose Use of Fracking.  55% of 18- to 29- year-olds surveyed in the IOP’s spring poll blame global warming’s cause on emissions “from cars and industry facilities,” with another 20% blaming the cause on “natural changes” in the environment – totaling 75% of young Americans who believe global warming is a “proven fact.”  By contrast, 23% said global warming is a “theory that has not yet been proven.”  America’s 18- to 29- year-olds are split on support of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry Canadian crude oil through the U.S. to refineries on the Gulf Coast (50%: support; 48%: oppose), and most in the age-group oppose the practice of fracking (58%: oppose; 40% support). 

Sexual Assault is Personal for More than One-Third of 18- to 29- Year-Old Women.11% of 18- to 29- year-old women surveyed in the IOP’s spring poll say they have been a victim of sexual assault, 20% say they know a close friend or family member who has been a victim – with another 5% saying that they have both been a victim and a friend of a victim. 

Hints of Optimism Emerge as Trust in Institutions Begins to Improve, but Low Levels of Trust Persist for Federal Government and Congress. Ending a multi-year period of decline, 18- to 29- year-olds’ level of trust in most institutions is beginning to improve.  Over the past twelve months, young Americans’ trust has increased slightly in: the President (37%: Mar. 2015; 32%: Mar. 2014); the U.S. military (53%: Mar. 2015; 47%: Mar. 2014); the Supreme Court (42%: Mar. 2015; 36%: Mar. 2014); and the United Nations (37%: Mar. 2015; 34%: Mar. 2014).  Although they both also increased slightly, lower levels of trust continue to be seen for the federal government (25%: Mar. 2015) and Congress (17%: Mar. 2015).  In the last year, trust in Wall Street increased from 12% to 14% and trust in the media increased from 11% to 12%. 

Obama Approval Ratings Increase Across the Board, Especially among Hispanics. Among 18-to 29- year-olds, President Obama’s job performance has improved seven percentage points over the past six months (50%: Mar. 2015; 43%: Oct. 2014).  The president’s job approval also increased across all major subgroups, including among young Hispanics – rising sixteen ‎percentage points over the same time period (65%: Mar 2015; 49%: Oct. 2014). The president’s approval ratings on handling the economy (47%: Mar. 2015; 36%: Oct. 2014), health care (43%: Mar. 2015; 37%: Oct. 2014) and race relations (50%: Mar. 2015; 47%: Oct. 2014) all also increased since October.  Tracking with the president, job approval of Democrats in Congress improved five percentage points (40%: Mar. 2015; 35%: Oct. 2014) since the fall, while approval of Republicans in Congress remained at 23% for the third straight IOP poll.       


The goal of the project was to collect 3,000 completed interviews with young Americans between 18- and 29- years old.  The main sample data collection took place from March 18 through April 1.  A small pretest was conducted prior to the main survey to examine the accuracy of the data and the length of the interview.

Six thousand and seventy-five (6,075) KnowledgePanel members were assigned to the study.  The cooperation rate was 51.3 percent which resulted in 3,034 completed interviews included in this report (after data cleaning).  One hundred sixteen (116 ) interviews were conducted in Spanish with the remainder done in English.  The web-enabled KnowledgePanel® is 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, GfK 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/reviewer-info.html and by request to the IOP.


Institute of Politics
Contact Phone Number