Harvard poll: Younger Americans will vote self-defensively against Trump

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Harvard Institute of Politics Director IOP Polling Director John Della Volpe moderates an online discussion of the poll results with students on April 23, 2020. Screenshot

MANCHESTER, NH — Young people — ages 18-29 — will be voting in self-defense come November, says John Volpe, director of polling at Harvard University’s Institute of Politics (IOP). 

“Stress related to debt, the cost of housing, access to health care, mental health resources, and concern about whether or not loved ones will survive Coronavirus are the prism from which young Americans will view and engage in this campaign,” Volpe said. “Self-defense, in 2020, is one of the primary motivations for voting.” 

Volpe and his students on Thursday released the results of the Harvard IOP’s biannual Youth Poll, conducted online and via focus groups in New Hampshire and South Carolina between March 11 and March 23. 

“Well before COVID-19 struck, we knew this to be a generation anxious about their future,” Volpe said. “The pandemic brought these anxieties into focus.”

COVID-19 and healthcare topped the list of national issues for the young Americans surveyed, trumping, at least temporarily, worries about the environment revealed in last year’s spring poll. 

Clip from the Harvard Kennedy Institute of Politics Poll Web Presentation from Carol Robidoux on Vimeo.

A key finding of the spring 2019 IOP poll was the perception of a growing political divide between baby boomers and their grandchildren. Only 16 percent of the respondents to the 2019 survey, given to more than 3,000 voters across the country, reported believing elected officials from the baby-boom generation cared about them. Eighty-two percent of those surveyed said baby-boomers who vote do not care about the youngest generations of Americans. In spite of this mistrust, the Harvard IOP reported earlier in April 2019 that Sen. Bernie Sanders was the darling of the 18-29 voting pool.

“Technically neither [Sanders nor Biden] are part of the baby boomer generation,” Volpe said at the time. “I think that young people are looking for folks who are authentic and whose values and ideologies kind of align with them.”

According to the new poll, that alignment has switched to former Vice President Joe Biden. In the poll, Biden leads President Donald Trump among all young Americans 51 percent to 28 percent and 60 percent to 30 percent among the 18-to-29-year-olds most likely to vote. This, Volpe and his students said, is less about liking Biden than it is about not liking President Donald J. Trump. By a two-to-one margin, respondents to the IOP poll say Trump has made their lives worse and that the Trump presidency has been their springboard for political activism.


Below: Poll results slides

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Other findings: 

  • Two-thirds of 25- to 29-year olds carry debt, and 63 percent of all young adults under 30 are concerned about the impact housing costs will have on their future. 
  • Eighty-five percent of young Americans — including 94 percent of Democrats and 76 percent of Republicans — favor student-loan-debt relief or reform.
  • Young Americans are divided sharply along racial lines in their identification with and trust in American institutions. Only 58 percent of those surveyed agreed with the statement, “America was built for people like me.”
  • Less than 10 percent believe that the country is working as it should be; the majority of young Americans prefer reform over the replacement of current institutions. 
  • More than 3-in-5 young Americans, and 75 percent of likely voters believe the outcome of the 2020 presidential election will make a difference in their lives.

Check out the complete results, as well as links to prior Harvard IOP Youth Polls here

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