Washington: Young Americans under the age of 30, mobilised in part by strong disapproval of President Donald Trump and a desire for Democrats to control Congress, are likelier to vote this year than they were ahead of midterm elections in 2014 and 2010, according to a new poll.
The survey, from the Institute of Politics at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, provides new evidence that young voters could play a larger role than usual in this year’s midterms — and that their enthusiasm has grown in the final months leading up to the election.
The poll, obtained in advance by The Washington Post, also points to views among younger Americans that could have longer-term implications for future elections and the nation: a desire for more government intervention perhaps born out of their experiences living through an economic recession and an epidemic of mass shootings.
“The good news is they’re more mobilised than they’ve been in many years,” said John Della Volpe, director for polling at the institute, which is set to release its findings Monday. “The bad news is that they’re mobilised because of the trauma they’ve endured.”
According to the survey, 40 per cent of voters under 30 said they will definitely vote this year — 54 per cent of Democrats, 43 per cent of Republicans and 24 per cent of independents. Enthusiasm has increased among both parties since the institute’s spring poll and is higher than it was ahead of the last two midterm elections, including 2014, when 26 per cent said they would definitely vote.
Republican enthusiasm has grown seven points since the institute’s April poll — and is higher than it was ahead of 2010, when a Republican wave swept the country and led to GOP control of both houses of Congress. Like other polls, that finding suggests uncertainty about early predictions of a Democratic wave this year. Democratic certainty to vote is up three points since April.
“This poll shows some of the highest engagement that this poll has ever seen,” said Teddy Landis, 21, a Harvard junior who helped write the survey questions. “The most important finding is that 40 per cent of young people say they’re definitely going to vote. That’s incredibly exciting to me.”
Actual turnout has typically trailed the poll’s findings by “the high single digits,” Della Volpe said. But even if next month’s results follow that pattern, youth turnout will exceed that of recent prior midterms.
Trump holds just a 26 per cent approval rating among those age 18 to 29. And two out of three likely young voters said they want Democrats to control Congress.
At least six in 10 likely voters expressed support in the poll for liberal government policies that the Trump administration and GOP-controlled Congress do not favour: universal health care, free college tuition for qualifying families and a federal jobs guarantee.
Of particular interest to Della Volpe and his students, who helped craft the poll, were the findings related to young Americans’s attitudes about the economy, capitalism and socialism. According to the poll, slightly more likely voters, 53 per cent, support “Democratic socialism” than do capitalism at 48 per cent.
When it comes to how young people view the effectiveness of political engagement, Della Volpe, citing his institute’s surveys from 2000, 2001 and 2013-2018, said he has not seen such a strong shift in attitudes since the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. At that time, souring views of the war in Iraq, combined with the organising acumen of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, paved the way for historic participation among young voters in the 2008 presidential election.
The findings suggest a potentially parallel opportunity for candidates and parties who choose to make young voters a priority, he said.
Less encouraging are the reasons for heightened engagement among voters under 30, Della Volpe said: a generation that came of age during the financial crisis of the late 2000s and during an era when mass shootings made “active shooter” drills a commonplace reality in high schools throughout the country. Indeed, 65 per cent of likely young voters are more fearful than hopeful about the future of America, the poll found. Fifty-nine per cent of them said they would be even more fearful if Republicans retain control of Congress.
These voters want change from government, whether in the form of new curbs to gun violence or in different approaches to economic security through health care, tuition assistance and jobs programs, Della Volpe said.
Support among young people for gun-control measures has been growing since before the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, last February, he said, adding that the wave of political activism by survivors of that shooting has also had an impact this year.