The number of young people planning to vote in upcoming midterm elections has declined to 23 percent, marking an 11 percent drop since the last poll in fall 2013, according to a survey released Tuesday morning by Harvard’s Institute of Politics. In light of this number, IOP Polling Director John Della Volpe predicted the lowest voter turnout among millennials in the November midterm elections since 2000.
The national poll, conducted biannually by the IOP, surveyed 3,058 members of the millennial generation—young Americans aged 18 to 29—on a range of political and social issues, including trust of different government branches, support for the legalization of marijuana, and opinion of Hillary Clinton and Chris Christie.
“The Institute’s spring poll shows 18-to 29-year-olds’ trust in public institutions at a five-year low–and their cynicism toward the political process has never been higher," IOP Director C. M. Trey Grayson ’94 wrote in a statement.
Alexander A. Wirth ’15, student chair of the Harvard Public Opinion Project, the student-led group responsible for the IOP survey, said he was surprised by millennials’ distrust in government.
“For the first time since we’ve been polling, a majority of young Americans don’t have trust in a single government institution,” Wirth said.
Only 20 percent of respondents said they trusted the federal government to do the right thing. Trust in President Barack Obama, Congress, and the National Security Agency stood at 32, 14, and 24 percent, respectively.
Obama’s approval rating among millennials increased from 41 percent when the last poll was conducted five months ago to 47 percent now, marking a higher approval rating among young people than across all demographics. Despite this rise, young Democrats said they are are less enthusiastic about voting than Republicans. Of those who voted for Mitt Romney in the 2012 Presidential Election, 44 percent said that they plan to vote in the upcoming midterm elections in November. Meanwhile, 35 percent of previous Barack Obama voters said they plan to cast a ballot in the upcoming elections.
The poll illustrated a disparity in opinion between younger millennials and older millennials on the legalization of marijuana. Of those aged 18 to 24, 39 percent oppose legalization, compared to 38 percent who supported it. Of those aged 25-29, 50 percent support legalization, with just 28 percent opposing it.
The IOP poll also found that 64 percent of millennials believe that the income gap between the “rich and everyone else in America” has increased in their lifetimes. Many more Democrats than Republicans believe that such a gap is the result of “factors outside one’s control,” at levels of 44 percent compared to 29 percent. Republicans, meanwhile, were more likely to credit the gap to “certain people working hard and making smart choices.”
Wirth also said that the poll shows a change in millennials’ views on foreign policy and military action abroad.
“We saw a nine percentage-point drop in the number of younger Americans who agree that sometimes it’s necessary to attack potentially hostile countries rather than waiting until we are attacked to respond,” he said.
—Staff writer Theodore R. Delwiche can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on twitter @trdelwic.
—Contributing writer Rachel H. Star can be reached at email@example.com.