Millennials are now the largest generation in the electorate, says John Della Volpe, polling director at Harvard Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics. In its latest poll, the IOP offers a detailed view of the youngest cohort of millennials—18- to-29-year-olds—and finds them both anxious and energized. One year from the 2018 U.S. mid-term elections, 67 percent say they are more fearful than hopeful. Della Volpe offers his thoughts in a conversation focused on what the numbers are telling us about young voters.
Q: Is this lack of hope and fear about the future unprecedented, and what are young Americans fearful of?
A full two-thirds of young Americans express more fear than hope about the future of our nation. We have tracked a rising sense of fear and anxiety for a couple of years now; it is not unprecedented, and will likely increase as the Post-Millennial generation comes of age. Sensing this concern, we asked several questions about whether our nation’s greatest threats emanate from inside or outside the country—and overwhelmingly we learned that young Americans believe our greatest threats are from inside the country.
We asked our poll of 2,037 young Americans to provide examples of what they viewed as our greatest threat, and domestically, the focus was on the deepening divide within communities. We found that racism, President Trump, and “ourselves for allowing all of this to happen,” were the most common responses to our open-ended question.
Q: The poll finds young people preferring a Democratic Congress by a 2-to-1 margin; Democrats more motivated and politically engaged; Republicans’ approval of President Trump dropping by 12 points in six months. Does this portend something for young Americans’ involvement in politics and in the 2018 U.S. midterm elections?
The youth vote played a significant role in the recent Virginia elections. Twice as many young people participated than eight years ago, and the Democratic margin for Governor-elect Northam was 21-points greater than Hillary Clinton’s margin a year before. This data, along with increasing enthusiasm from young Democrats and a growing lack of interest among Republicans, means that Democrats should fare well with the youth vote in 2018. However, with only 34 percent of young Americans believing that the Democratic Party cares about people like them, there is much work to do to rebuild trust and motivate young people to participate in November.
Q: There seems increasing concern about the state of race relations, with more blacks and Latinos feeling they are under attack “a lot.” Is this concern for and awareness of race new?
Nearly four-in-five are concerned about the state of race relations in our country. While this concern is not new, it is heightened over the last year. Additionally, we have found for many years now that a solid majority of young people of color do not have confidence in the American justice system—and now we find that 68 percent of young black Americans and 46 percent of young Hispanics feel under attack a lot in the United States today. This sense of anxiety has increased by six points among blacks in the last year, and 16 points among Hispanics. One of the main reasons that President Trump’s job approval has slipped seven points overall, and 12 points among Republicans since April, is his very low level of approval handling race relations.
Q: How do millennials, who have grown up with social media and the reality of hacking, view the questions of fake news and interference with the elections?
Half of young Americans believe that the Russians will likely continue to meddle in the upcoming midterm elections; and cyber-terrorism is the number one threat from outside forces that we measured. These issues will grow in prominence over the next year, and young Americans of all political stripes believe that social networking companies like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have an obligation to regulate and protect Americans from fake news. This is not a partisan issue, as 53 percent of Democrats and 52 percent of Republicans hold these views.
Q: This is the 17th youth poll you’ve conducted. Do you see clear trends among young voters?
On most every issue we track, for the last seven years we seen a clear trend toward a progressive-inspired agenda. From the role of government, tax policy, health care, climate change and affirmative action—there is a consistent tack to the left. At the same time, we do not see a greater number of young people choosing to affiliate with the Democratic Party, which leaves the door open for a significant Millennial-led independent movement that could reshape American politics in the future.